Reflections of an STC newcomer

By Andrew Rouse, IDL SIG Member

About 6 months ago I saw a job listing for a “UX writer” for a newfangled digital therapeutics company. At the time, I had never heard of UX, but the job description captured my imagination. Basically, it consisted of taking health information and presenting it in a way that non-experts could read and understand. With a Master’s in Applied Linguistics and fairly wide-ranging employment experience, I didn’t have the exact experience to put together a strong application for that position, but I wasn’t far off.

I can’t recall what search terms I used to bring up that first job listing—I was looking for anything that would allow me to use my language skills—but afterwards, I put together a list of keywords that would produce similar jobs. Before long, I discovered that there is such a thing as a technical writer (or technical communicator, content strategist, content management specialist, instructional design specialist, etc.), and that it bears more-than-passing resemblance to what I had always told people I wanted to do when I was in my Master’s program: write materials for language learners. (Incidentally, I’m doing that right now with a volunteer-based English language program in Boulder, CO, as I build my references and portfolio for my eventually strong application for a job in TechComm.)

Enter the STC

Not long after my discovery of technical writing, as my research into the field became more intense, I learned of the Society for Technical Communicators. In my estimation, a well-established, long-standing trade group indicates a positive position for group members. With the vagaries, or better ravages, of the post-2008-financial-collapse and ongoing-global-pandemic economy, a strong trade group is a mooring on which to anchor a career. I have heard some very clever people say that industries will need strong trade groups (the word guild has even been used) if they are to hold their own in the emerging economy. I saw that STC offers that, as well as training programs, an annual Summit, and other benefits all at discounted rates for society members, so the decision to register was easy.

The special interest groups caught my eye while I was signing up to become an STC member and I immediately signed up for Instructional Design & Learning SIG. Language teachers such as myself often talk a lot about communities of practice, and I thought this group would be a good fit for my background and experience. I first attended a monthly online meetup, and since then enjoyed a breakfast with the group at the Summit last month.

Getting to know the IDL SIG

I’d like to use the rest of this piece to describe my experiences with the group, because I think an outsider’s perspective may be of interest to this audience. These are drawn from two occasions: one, when I joined the monthly online group meetup, and two, my experience having breakfast with the group at the STC annual Summit.

First, I have to say that in all of my interactions with IDL SIG I have been made to feel welcome; beyond that, I have been welcomed and encouraged as a full member from the first. Next, it won’t be a surprise to anyone to hear that the group is made up almost entirely of women. (My first time attending the monthly meetup I was the only guy there—Tim Esposito must have been otherwise occupied). The group dynamics have a decidedly matriarchal feel. What I mean is that it feels a bit like when I’m at church with my mom, and she and her friends start making plans: They ask for everyone’s input and then return with propositions; everything is simple, direct, practical. It was delightful to see and participate in a group run by professional women. And participation was not optional: I was positively engaged, I was addressed directly, questions were asked of me, I was invited to participate in several initiatives, all very germane to my up-and-coming career.

Next, I noticed a strong sense of familiarity and camaraderie: these women obviously knew each other quite well, and it was enjoyable to see. There were plenty of chatty comments and personal inquiries, but always tending towards the professional. And lots of encouragement—some of which was directed at me: I was encouraged to attend the Summit, and I was asked if I would like to do something for the group—I can’t remember what. Personally, I felt quite at home with the group, partly because throughout my academic and professional career—first studying Spanish Language and Psychology as an undergraduate, and later doing my MA in Applied Linguistics—I have always been in female-dominated fields. Somehow, that’s the crowd I fit in with. So this was an indication to me that I was in the right place.

And again, I want to emphasize that I was made to feel welcome: this group is and was open to all. This point brings me to meeting Mellissa at the Summit last month. I said hello to her, she invited me to a breakfast with the group the next day, and I went. They bought me a cup of coffee and gave me a book on technical and professional communication. It was a pleasant experience, and it was accompanied by the sense that my career is moving in the right direction.

I learned a lot at the Summit—mostly that my efforts to build my credentials are in the correct vein. This was confirmed by presentations I attended and conversations I had, all of which helped me to recognize what are the key areas for growth and professional development in the industry. I want to thank Mellissa and the other members of the IDL SIG for being so welcoming and supportive, and encouraging me to write this piece.