The Technical Communication UK (TCUK) Conference took place in Daventry, UK last week. Run by the ISTC, it is the biggest conference in the UK for anyone involved in technical communication.
As someone whose attended (and in the past help organize) these conferences, is the changing role of Technical Communicators. It is almost as if the profession is trying to find where it fits best. Are we writers, illustrators, e-learning producers, or just editors. That is perfectly demonstrated by the array of subject matter on display in the conference’s agenda.
The Conference Agenda
The agenda saw presentations on how our profession can improve the marketing and user experience (UX). It also covered more technical topics like using Github and designing a Chatbot. There was also the perennial favorite topics like DITA and videos. All in all it has something to appeal to most of us.
So why didn’t I attend? After all, I had the budget for our team to attend.
Part of the reason is our workload. Our team has two major deliverables due the week after the conference. That said with some careful planning, we could have shoehorned in a couple of days away in Daventry. It would have been pretty full on, but we’d have coped.
No. My major reason for not going was the potential information on offer. As an industry, we seem stuck in a rut, unable to answer the question of identity I posed at the start of this post. This results in a conference agenda that covers a lot of subjects, but is of little practical use to my team.
There is the argument that covering topics that are irrelevant now, gives you knowledge that may prove useful later. That’s certainly true, but only if those topics are likely to be used in the very near future. If they’re not, it’s likely that the information will be out of date when you need it.
Hashtags and all that stuff
Another problem I had with the conference this year was the lack of good social media coverage. In the past there was reasonably good use of Twitter and subsequent blog posts. This year there seems to be near radio silence. even the tweets that did appear on the #tcuk18 hashtag didn’t offer a lot, as I pointed out in an effort to change things.
Tweets from the #tcuk18 conference would be even more interesting if they contained some context. Without that, they are only of use to those there.
— Colum McAndrew (@onlinecham) September 26, 2018
There were one of two people tweeting, but most of the tweets were short snapshots of words and phrases with little or no background information. We were left in the dark as to which presentation or even subject they related to. The result was more a summary for those that attended the conference, but no use at all if you weren’t there. A basic technical communication error!
Maybe it was the poor wi-fi that some reported on day one of the conference. If so, that should have been sorted. If it wasn’t, I hope the ISTC doesn’t return to the same venue until it is. Having a good internet connection at a conference is high on the list of “must haves” in my opinion.
So what next?
Personally I doubt I’ll be attending a TCUK conference anytime soon. It has always attracted a high proportion of self employed writers. It’s a great place to network with peers and potential employers. It also has a number of professionals in full time roles, often as a solitary Technical Communicator, but who crave meeting like minded folk.
That’s all cool, but for me it just doesn’t fit well with what I want. At the moment I’m looking into how my team will cope with:
- An impending Salesforce integration, and whether we’ll use it or just deliver to it.
- If we just deliver to Salesforce, what changes in technology are required.
- Changes in the Engineering Department that affects how my team works.
Another priority for me is developing the Technical Communicator team. They are fairly young. They’re keen to learn, and have done a great job to date, but I want them to see what else the industry is doing. They would almost certainly have got more out of the TCUK Conference than me, but most of it would have been fairly useless to them going forward.
The long and the short of it is, if we’re going to invest £1000 for a delegate to attend, it has to deliver more than just nice to know information.