(Or any Tech Writing Society/Group/Association for that matter)
My first reaction: Why not? There is so much to learn, so much to share, so much to contribute. I’ve been a member of ASTC (Vic) for a number of years, before re-joining the national TWIA/ASTC last year. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the journey from being an ordinary member to a webmaster (not so successful, I must admit) to being a general committe member currently.
Disclaimer: All opinions, thoughts and comments in this write up are my personal view point and does not represent views of the TWIA/ASTC committee. I feel it is a privilege to serve the TW community in any form or manner as I can.
Any voluntary society (of this kind) runs and thrives on member contributions and engagement. While the membership number has remained steady over the years (to find out why I know this, read on), there is a now an increasing need to get new members, along with engaging the current ones to share, mentor and guide.
I’ve worked in a number of organisations where I was the sole (and often their first) Technical Writer. Much as I had a chance to work with some brilliant/funny/sharp people, there used to be periods where I wished I could talk “Tech Writing” with someone. Because I was already a part of the TWIA/ASTC, I was fortunate enough to chat with writers in similar environments as mine and get a perspective on how they tackled various issues and people. Being a part of a group, a society allows you to do that – talk about “Technical Writing”.
Over the years, I have learned as much about Technical Writing, Contracting, Handling difficult SMEs through networking and TWIA/ASTC, as much as being a part of some great organisations.
If there is anyone out there who believes networking doesn’t work, is either doing it wrong, or probably living under a rock. I could throw some statistics around (if I had them handy) to show that a majority of writing jobs out there were filled in via networking and online job sites only account for about 20-25% of the hiring process. It’s not about how many you know (though the more the better), but it is about who you know. I have worked on some freelance projects that were never advertised, and were only known to me via the TWIA/ASTC and other networks.
According to some recruiters and hiring managers I have spoken to, LinkedIn is the first place they go to source and contact candidates before advertising for a role/job. More often than not, they would rather speak to someone in their network before putting the role out there. Being a part of a society not only makes it easy for you to approach some of these people directly, you can also use this to be aware of opportunities and movements in the market.
Adding to your skills
This is the probably the best return on investment I have derived from being a part of the society. Although I love being a Tech Writer and will always be one, I understand the value of adding multiple skills to my arsenal. I’ve had ample opportunities to do this by being a committee member.
In a previous life, I was the webmaster on the ASTC (VIC) committee. I had put my hand up for a website redesign. Unfortunately, it did not work out due to various reasons. However, as part of the process, I got a chance to learn new skills, specifically PHP, MySQL and website management.
As a Tech Writer, you crave to try out and implement new stuff, be it systems or processes at the workplace, which may or may not eventuate. As a committe member for the last 10 months, I have had a chance to work on that and some other (and non tech writing) skills, such as:
- Regularly contributing articles for the quarterly published tech comms journal
- Organising speakers for local events and the national conference
- Assisting with setting up the new website, selecting themes and content migration
- Getting new members to join the society
- Putting my hand up for managing the periodic member updates via MailChimp (Since I have send email updates, I am aware of subscriber/member numbers)
- Managing the group’s social media presence, specifically Twitter
- Testing out various content management tools such as Alfresco
As a comparison, over the same period at my workplace/s, I worked on content for 2 software version releases, a few training/user guides and work instructions. Go figure.
Building a community
While trying to organise speakers for our national conference, I met some wonderful professionals in parallel (and often simlar enough so as to be confusing) fields such as information design, content, knowledge managers who have built strong communities outside the ASTC. While the core aim of TWIA/ASTC is to promote the interest of technical communicators and provide support, we have often overlooked the need to promote ourselves and our profession better.
Type in the keyword “Community” on any job portal and be prepared to be amazed with the amount of roles out there related to building, creating and managing communities. Not only have they become a key area in any organisation, they are often thought to be the front face of the organisation, the ones that talk and interact directly with the users.
Now is the time for us to stand up and be counted.