STC India vs the State

By, Nibu Thomas

STC India, stands accused of not returning enough value to its members. This is a record of the happenings (fictional, of course) in a technical communication ‘court’. The prosecutor and the defense attorney will remain faceless. Or you could just use your imagination.
And you, our readers, are the jury.

Prosecutor: Your honor, it’s a matter of concern that the 20-year-old accused is taking members for a ride. The prosecution intends to prove that this 20-year-old is no longer relevant and offers very little or no value to its loyal members. The prosecution will present evidence that will prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty and must be ignored and condemned to remain irrelevant.

Defense Attorney: Your honor, the defense feels that there is no case against our client. We intend to clear up any misunderstanding and prove that our client is not only innocent of all charges, but is actually worth the investment.

Prosecutor: Isn’t it true that the chapter doesn’t get any part of the fees that is paid by members? Why should you encourage people to become members when such is the case?

Defense Attorney: Your honor, it is true that membership fees are paid in dollars directly to STC US. It is also true that the chapter does not charge any monies as chapter fees. However, we would like to point out that the premise of the question itself is flawed. When a customer buys something, in this case, membership, should the customer worry about what the shopkeeper did with the funds or should the customer check if there was sufficient value returned for the price that was paid?

Prosecutor: And what value does STC provide?

Defense Attorney: First, you have to understand that STC is a 60-year-old brand. So the few dollars that you pay is more than worth the association. If you are a member of the STC India chapter, you also get to attend the annual conference at half the price! If you are keeping track of your investment, your honor, please note that you’ve already broken even here. Everything else that you get as a member is a bonus. Members get to attend several learning events during the year (at multiple locations) at no charge. Non-members are charged anything from 100 to 500 rupees per event! Members also get a shot at leadership opportunity in the admin council. (You can only be a city representative as a non-member). After 5 years of continuous membership, you become senior members. And senior members get the opportunity to become associate fellows and fellows of the community.

I’ve also come across hiring managers who take notice if a candidate is an STC member. It shows that the candidate has no qualms in investing in themselves and don’t always wait for their organization to intitiate learning. Such writers are more likely to be aware of the latest trends in the industry. More is also expected of such writers, so they also have better opportunites than the typical 9 to 5 writers.

It’s not just writers who benefit. The best managers in our industry will agree that it’s very difficult to hire good writers by just a few conversations or how performance is guaged by rolling out a written test. When you network at STC events, the most promising writers catch your attention. And if you are inspiring enough, you can catch theirs. Some managers unfortunately look at these events as a threat. But let me tell you a secret. If the writer isn’t happy working with you, it was never meant to be. Find out if they’ll stick with you through thick and thin. If you’ve given them enough reasons, it’s unlikely that they will move.

In nearly 20 years, there’s just one fellow and one associate fellow from the India chapter. Which means there’s a lot of opportunity for growth and recognition! At an international level. Besides, there are the member-only magazines published by STC. And the list doesn’t end there.

Prosecutor: How relevant are the member-only magazines?

Defense Attorney: I could tell you, but then, we might need to look for a new prosecutor after that 😉 It’s a magazine that any technical writer looks forward to. Contributors are usually the best in the world.

Prosecutor: If it does offer so much of value, why are your numbers so dismal?

Defense Attorney: This is simply because of wrong assumptions being made. It’s also because the value of being a member is not really understood enough to be appreciated. There is, of course, another reason the numbers aren’t higher. If members pay only half the fees for the annual conference, volunteers get to attend for free! So it pays more to just be a volunteer. Fortunately, the volunteers we have had so far were all hardworking. Then, another reason for low member count are corporates who sponsor employees for the conference. There is a section of users who only attend sponsored conferences. We never see them in any city events.

Prosecutor: But aren’t you treating members like an entitled lot? Isn’t the community run mostly with the help of volunteers, who may not be members?

Defense Attorney: There is some truth in what you say. That is the reason the council had to step in and cut back on freebies. However, it doesn’t change the fact that it is members who vote the council into their positions. Volunteers have no say. The reason we had to go get volunteers from non-members is that members showed little or no interest in volunteering. We hope we can influence members to volunteer and inspire our volunteers to become members.

Prosecutor: Shouldn’t you be focusing on volunteers and allow your members to follow, based on the value you can show?

Defense Attorney: We are grateful for our volunteers and ensure that they are getting value for their contributions. However, it is the member that is at the center of what we do.

Prosecutor: Is it not true that you encourage only the writers from the cream?

Defense Attorney: Not true. In fact, we have consciously decided to work with the category writers who we call the weak link. It’s not such a great thing to work with the best writers and deliver excellent value. That’s the only thing that can happen! But for the entire community to move up a notch, we have to address our weakest links. If we can work with the less than average writers, with those who are willing to learn and then help them deliver, that’s something worth commending.

Prosecutor: How do you intend to do this?

Defense Attorney: We have started with INDUS. So far, we accepted only articles that were written by good writers and their articles had to be remarkable. However, we are now working with those writers who turn in average ideas. You must remember that that doesn’t mean we accept anything now. Our editors iterate with the writers to improve these articles so that in the entire process, we have a better writer and a new perspective to an old idea. Like it or not, there are weak links in all communities. But we choose to work with these folks and help make a difference. A community is only as strong as these links. We are doing everything in our power to help them up. And like all our initiatives, First the member, then the rest.

Prosecutor: What about the leadership issue?

Defense Attorney: We have had some of the best in the industry at the helm of affairs at some point of time. While some believe that leaders are born, others believe that leaders are made. But one thing is for certain: a leader who does not help create other leaders hasn’t lived up to his or her potetial. But things are changing. We will have people with radical ideas to lead the chapter. They may not be likable. But then, that’s not how leaders are measured. And in a way, average leadership is also a good thing. Because suddenly, there’s now a reason to inspire more people who are capable to come forward and accept the challenge. And the single thought driving them is this – “Even I can do better than them”!

Prosecutor: Your honor, I’m still not convinced. And I hope I was able to expose this organization of being guilty as charged.

Defense Attorney: Your honor, the prosecutor is partially right. We are guilty, but of showing more value than can be perceived by the prosecution. There is another thing that we are guilty about: we dared to dream of seeing the chapter rise to be being the best in the world. And this will happen.

So what does the jury feel? Let’s hear your verdict. Leave a comment or write in to!

About the Author

Nibu Thomas works as a documentation manager with GT Nexus, an Infor Company. He’s also the 2017 President of the STC India Chapter admin council. He’s one of the proud editors of Udaan, an experience created for attendees of the 2015 STC India Annual Conference in Pune, India. He’s based out of Bengaluru and you can connect with him on LinkedIn. But whether you connect with him or not, do check out his blog posts on LinkedIn.