My Weekend at the STC Summit

By Suchitra Govindarajan

A weekend is a beautiful thing. You may have your hands full with work and family responsibilities, but come Friday evening, you breathe a little easier. You look forward to sleeping in, eating out, catching a movie or just staying put at home. Occasionally though, you might think of spending a weekend more usefully. And what better way to do that than to catch a conference? I really enjoy conferences because they present a great learning opportunity, but without all the stress of work (unless you’re presenting).

I’m happy to say that I spent the weekend of May 7th and 8th this year very usefully indeed. I was at the first-ever STC India Summit held at The Chancery Pavilion in Bangalore. But what is a summit? And how is it different from a conference?

I’d say it is a kind of mini-conference. It was more intimate, more informal (both very good things in my book). There was more emphasis on the content, and less on the rituals associated with a conference. Long and formal introductions, the lighting of the lamp, the keynote address, etc. were all dispensed with. While there is a place for such ceremony, it is also refreshing to see that we can be minimal about these things. Therefore, the STC Summit started with a crisp introduction and, bang, we were in the middle of the first presentation. I think it set the tone for the rest of the event.

As is the convention these days, there were two streams that you could choose from. (At times though, it makes it very hard on the audience to have to choose between two interesting presentations.)

Among the presentations that I chose to attend, a few stood out for me, personally (remember, your mileage may vary).

Planning Your Documentation Project by Larry Kunz: It’s always great when a conference manages to get someone who is well known in the online world. Larry has a very well known blog on the SDI website, so I was looking forward to his presentation. Larry was an articulate and engaging speaker with a comprehensive presentation that took us through the 11 phases of a documentation project. He also spoke about how, in today’s world, the phases are iterative rather than sequential. He talked about the importance of measuring the cost of your project, about having a great documentation plan and about proactively planning for changes.

Decoding Science writing by Manjula Kandula: Manjula’s presentation topic was a breath of fresh air. I’d love to see more sessions like this that deal with related fields (the STC conference in Delhi had one on academic writing). Manjula explained to us the difference between science writing and science journalism, and gave pointers on how to break into science writing. Her talk was peppered with great, topical examples that really demonstrated what an interesting field it could be.

  • Document Engineering at Juniper Networks by Hemanth Basrur and Sesi Bhushan Somarouthu: It can be quite a challenge to talk about your company’s documentation process and sustain the audience’s interest, but Hemanth and Sesi Bhushan did a great job of it. Their company, Juniper Networks, seems to have set up quite a robust XML-based documentation system, which solves many of the issues that other companies face. I really liked seeing the demo of the system and hearing about great features like the faceted search.
  • Starting a Technical Documentation Services Company by Vinish Garg: Many of us dream of owning our own business but are held back by fear, indecision, or the most common deterrent of all, confusion. Vinish compared the decision-making involved in starting a business with that involved in having a baby. There are emotional, financial and practical matters to consider before you go ahead. I would say Vinish’s presentation was an extremely well-structured presentation, among the best I have seen at a conference. Moreover, all of his advice was extremely practical.
  • Performance Appraisals workshop by Kiranmayee: It’s impossible to not pay attention to Kiranmayee. She is full of energy and advice and, to top it all, she had prepared a very interactive session on performance appraisals. She guided us through how we would evaluate our colleagues by getting a few volunteers to perform tasks on stage. She even gave us templates and worksheets to take home. The second part of the session talked about handling the actual appraisal session–for this, I was “volunteered” by Kiranmayee to be one of the participants. I had a great time pretending to be appraised on various fictional criteria by Tharun Unni. I’d say it went better than my usual appraisals!

Among the presentations that I did not attend, I heard that Makarand Pandit’s workshop on freelancing was very interesting and interactive. Mayur Polepalli’s presentation, intriguingly titled “Buddha jumps over the wall”, was also talked about as having been a very well-presented and informative session.

I came away from the conference with heaps of ideas, and not just from what was presented there. I find all conferences, in general, to be quite inspiring. It’s the simple fact of having a couple of days to reflect on your work. I look forward more such events in the future, whether they’re called conferences or summits or something else!

About the Author

Suchitra Govindarajan works part-time with MYOB Australia as a Technical Communications Specialist and freelances in her spare time. When she’s not at work, Suchi reads widely and writes a little. She is also learning to paint, learning to take pictures, and learning to tweet (@suchiswriting).

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