June 30, 2010

Professional Organizations and Value

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 10:14 pm
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Belt tightening I had a bit of a revelation last week. On my way home from Scrum Club last Thursday my brain was a whirl with thoughts, making connections between the speaker’s presentation and not only my work life, but my personal life as well.

And then I got to thinking about the pros and cons of the different professional organizations whose local meetings I attend.

The first organization charges $215 a year for membership dues, $20-30 for monthly meetings (which pays for dinner), frequently schedules meeting topics that have absolutely no relevance to my career or interests, and when I do attend the meetings my impression of the members is that they’re old, out of touch with recent trends, not particularly technical, and even worse, completely uninterested or unwilling to learn or change.

The second organization has no membership fees of any sort, doesn’t charge for meetings and even provides free pizza, recruits excellent speakers sometimes with national reputations, and the membership generally impresses me as intelligent, professional, and technical.

Which professional organization would you rather belong to?

Yeah, me too.

So despite the fact that I wrote a post last year about how I was sticking with the Society for Technical Communications, I don’t see myself renewing my membership next year. I’ve been trying to be more active in the STC, posting to my mailing lists and attending local chapter meetings. I still hate leaving an organization when it’s in trouble, but I stuck with them this year, despite the fact that my dues went up by over $100 and I still lost benefits under the new a la carte pricing system. My STC dues have more than doubled in the past five years. Between the bad economy and their huge price increase, is it any wonder that the STC has had a major drop off in membership this year?

Over the past couple of months, as underemployment has pinched my budget, ROI has become more and more important to me. But the good news is, there are plenty of free resources out there, if you’re willing to look for them.

I’ll miss the STC Lone Writer’s Mailing list. But I’ll still have the TECHWR-L mailing list and HATT Yahoo group and various blog feeds to keep my G-mail inbox supplied with professional development reading material.

MadCap Software has been offering a series of free webinars. Some of the webinars are specifically for MadCap products, but many of them are tool neutral. I recognize the names of the majority of the presenters, which means they’re either industry experts or active on one of my various mailing lists. So far the couple of webinars that I’ve attended have been worth my time to attend. And you can’t beat the price.

The STC charges $79 for webinars. I haven’t signed up for one yet because I’ve attended more than one poor workshop or webinar where I wished I’d spent the money on a good book instead of the event. So far the STC’s track record for events hasn’t done anything to convince me to part with the money for a webinar.

But I think that even more than the money, I’m worried that the STC is out of touch and that the membership is graying. I’m often one of the youngest people in the room at our local chapter meetings. The Boston chapter is supposed to be the second largest chapter in the country (Silicon Valley is number one, natch), but despite the fact that Boston is a college town and has several local universities with TW programs, we don’t seem to be attracting members in their 20s and 30s.

And the fact that national actually put out a request for someone to write an RSS tutorial rather frightens me. I’ll admit that I was rather late to join the RSS party, but I somehow managed to set up three RSS feeds on two different readers without anyone providing me with a tutorial. It’s not that hard people!

So for the foreseeable future, I think I’ll be focusing my professional development and networking efforts on the local organizations that are providing free events in the Boston area:

Nashua Scrum Club

Agile Bazaar

Agile Boston

June 24, 2010

She’s Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — heratech @ 10:15 pm

Welcome Back
It’s been a couple of months since I’ve had any free time on my hands to think or write about Agile. Between ramping up to working four days a week and activities with my reenactment Guild it doesn’t seem like I’ve had much downtime in the past three months.

There was a solo weekend trip to VA in March (I live in New England) for Military through The Ages, and another weekend trip to MD in April, this time with several Guild members, for Marching Through Time. Our reenactment Guild had three weekends of workshops, as preparation for three weekends of historic encampment at the Connecticut Renaissance Faire’s Robin Hood Faire in May. As one of our Guild officers, I’m responsible for communications (natch) as well as various and sundry planning and logistical chores. And because I’m an introvert, participation in events take more out of me than I sometimes can afford. I’ve learned that it’s best to plan for a weekend of “nothing” at the end of a run of faire just to recover.

So faire is over, I’ve had time to recover. My gear is cleaned and stowed until fall. My house is tidy. And I’ve got time to think and write again. At least until the craziness starts up again in September. I’ve had time to start thinking and writing again. I’ve pulled out my list of potential post topics full of ideas, links, and partial drafts and started sifting through them again.

I went to Scrum Club tonight, and as usual, the speaker was excellent. I think I’ll probably get a couple of posts out of tonight’s talk, once I download the slides and have a chance to digest them.

I also have to send out a big “Thank you” to John S. for poking me with a stick, er, contacting me to meet for lunch recently to chat about what it is like for a lone writer to “go Agile.” His company is getting ready to make the move to Agile development, and he’s now starting the same process of thinking and planning that I went through when I started the transition to being an Agile Technical Writer.

He’d read my Agile Manifesto posts and was kind enough to tell me that he found them helpful in getting him thinking about how to adapt to Agile. One of the bits of accepted wisdom for Technical Writers is that “no one reads” what we write. So it’s always wonderful to hear that something you wrote was useful to one of your readers. Plus, that was just the motivation that I needed to get back to writing here.

Thanks John!

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