InterChange Conference Report

The words "InterChange 2022" surrounding a drawing of a globe

by Andie Stech

Screen capture of InterChange 2022 general session
The InterChange 2022 virtual conference

InterChange 2022 was the first conference I have ever attended, let alone my first technical communication conference. I was very intimidated, stressed, and unsure about what to expect. I was more than pleased with my experience, which was informative and validated that most of my experiences and skills were on par for the course as a technical writer.

The session “Achieving a High Score While Onboarding New Writers in the New Normal Era” by Darren Fennessy and Lluis Cavallé Saula was probably the most enjoyable of the sessions I attended. The session compared playing pinball to starting as a technical writer in a new company. The metaphor was appealing and spoke volumes about the thorough and balanced onboarding process at Red Hat, the company where the two presenters work. The repartee between the presenters and their metaphor made a potentially boring subject into a fun presentation. When other participants spoke about their onboarding experiences, or lack thereof, it was reassuring to know that everyone had at least one experience where they did not have an onboarding process. In my opinion, the onboarding elements within the pinball metaphor should be used by all documentation departments when onboarding new writers.

The “Building and Sustaining a Career in Technical Communication” session presented by John Garison and the “Working Well with Others” session presented by Li-At Rathbun spoke to the personality and characteristics of technical writers and technical editors, respectively. They also spoke about the habits to acquire to set yourself up for short- and long-term success. Both presentations validated the actions I’ve taken in my own career and in my daily work-life to set myself up for success. Although what they each presented was not surprising, the information was a good reminder, especially for me, a technical writer with less than a decade of experience.

The “Writing to Win: How to Write Simply and Win Bigly!” session presented by Smriti Rao was also enjoyable and relatable. She described examples of how to write simply and in a way that captures your audience. She presented a diagram that most people read web pages in an “F” shape. Smriti applied this knowledge to writing emails in several examples; I used a few the following week in my own job.

When it was suggested to me that I should attend, I was very intimidated. I was intimidated to be among people with much more experience than me and who were probably much better at technical writing than me. Listening to the members of the conference speak casually to each other and offer their warm welcome to the attendees was reassuring. The presenters’ casual but professional attitude as well as their personal anecdotes regarding work and life were refreshing. Hearing that other people had similar experiences to mine was affirming. 

As long as we can write well and learn quickly, we can do nearly anything.

The closing panel, led by Ann Wiley, assuaged potential doubt in the future of being a technical writer. We face many challenges as accessibility to technology increases. We need to be able to adapt quickly and learn new technologies. As long as we can write well and learn quickly, we can do nearly anything. In a world where automation, robots, and AI are becoming more prevalent, our job seems like it may be a thing of the past. However, even with AI technology becoming more prevalent, the capability to write human-readable documentation will stay in our opposable thumbs for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps I am in the write profession after all (pun intended). 

Andie Stech has been a technical writer since 2014 when she graduated from the Professional Writing and Technical Communication program at UMass Amherst. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, son, and four dogs. In her free time, Andie reads and plays board games with her friends. 

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