STC Election 2016: Interview with VP Candidate Alyssa Fox

new-stc-logoBiographical Questions

1. Who are you? What’s your background? What do you do for a living?

I have been involved in technical communication for 20 years, since working a co-op job in college. I have served in many different roles within tech comm, from individual contributor to my current role as director of a global information development team. I have also taken on release management, process improvement, and program management roles. My STC service includes several roles at the local chapter level, as well as multiple roles at the society level, including currently serving as STC secretary.

2. When did you join the STC? Why?

I joined STC 15 years ago and have been an active volunteer most of my membership time. A mentor of mine introduced me to STC and its benefits. I have reaped many of those benefits throughout my career, including education, networking with industry leaders, and the opportunity to give back to the society that has helped me so much.

Candidate for Office Questions

Alyssa Fox STC VP CandidateViews on the Profession

1. Where do you see the profession of technical communications heading in the next five years?

I’m enthusiastic about the multiple paths our profession has taken the past few years and the continued evolution of technical communication. Whether you consider yourself a technical writer, a user experience professional, an SDK documentation expert, or a business analyst, all of these roles have strong roots in communication.

One of the biggest upcoming opportunities I see in the technical communication discipline is the ongoing demand for high-quality content and an improved experience to help people make buying decisions, to help people do their jobs, and to help people understand increasingly complex products and services. Technical communicators have the skills to create this content and improve user experience.

I also believe the integration between technical communication and business is growing. We must use our communication skills to help solve our organizations’ business problems. We can do that through content marketing, we can do it through improved user experience, we can do it through technical documentation serving as a useful and lucrative pre-sales tool. The key is identifying your customers’ pain points and showing how the advantage you have due to your communication skills makes you useful to have on important projects.

What would you do as VP and later as President to support or change this course?

One of STC’s greatest strengths lies in its unique position to educate our members on these foundational communication skills that help them succeed in today’s business world. I want to ensure that the society continues its high-quality webinars and online courses, increases the number of business-related educational offerings it provides, and explores additional types of education events. Developing and executing a plan for alignment of our education with our recently relaunched certification program is critical.

Additionally, I’d like to work with staff and volunteers to continue to raise the bar for the society’s premier education event, the annual Summit. Diversifying the speaker set, including session topics to reflect topics in related fields and disciplines, and targeting specific hot topics in the world of technical communication will further engage our current members and draw non-members to the Summit and the world of STC.

Operations of the STC

The STC has had well documented challenges and some wins over the last number of years. As one of the elected leaders of the organization your views on the organization’s operations is very important. The next questions will cover this area.

What do you see as the right roles for international board and the local and regional organizations?

The board is responsible for setting the vision and strategy for the society, and works closely with the Executive Director to execute on that strategy by implementing benefits and programs that line up with that vision. The board and Executive Director work together to manage the financial health of the society, and ensure we are investing in the right areas to provide maximum benefit to our members.

The communities within STC offer a closer interaction with our members through local programs, networking events, and regional conferences. Whether it’s an online discussion about a particular topic within a SIG, or a chapter meeting with a local speaker, these day-to-day interactions provide more customized, personal value to our members as well.

Where should the organization and its board focus its financial resources in the next year?

STC should invest in the areas that support our vision and provide a unique value proposition for our members. STC should be the place our members go to for education and guidance in furthering their careers. In addition to continuing education in foundational communication skills, STC should provide education about business topics, certification, and distribution of data to help members demonstrate their economic value.

STC should also continue its investment in the certification program. This program provides unique value for our members, and can have a direct impact on the marketability of our members and demonstrate a higher economic value for certified communicators.

How does your role as an elected leader differ from that of the full-time paid staff?

The elected leaders of the society were chosen by the membership because the membership feels they best represent their goals and desires. Board members should use their industry and business experience to work with the Executive Director to set strategy for the organization that reflects those goals and benefits our members.

The Executive Director then works directly with the staff to define and execute the best way to implement those goals. Maintaining a healthy working relationship among the board, Executive Director, and staff is key to healthy society management, and it’s important that we all understand our roles and the importance of them.

Members and Chapters

How should STC address the changing needs of organizations for technical content and the potential skills gap of STC members?

STC is best positioned to guide our members through this ongoing transformation in technical communication. In addition to continuing education in foundational communication skills, STC can provide education about business topics, certification, and distribution of data to help members demonstrate their economic value. The continuation and building up of the certification program helps in this area as well. Partnerships with associations in related fields such as user experience, content marketing, and business strategy garners such benefits as education in those related areas, an opportunity to shape tech comm futures, and possible additional jobs available to technical communicators. Finally, STC’s continued efforts to build a body of knowledge and learn from industry and academic program leaders helps cultivate the lifelong learning necessary for our members to be successful, and develop the next generation.

Although membership in STC surges from time to time, the general trend is downward. What would you do to reverse that trend?

We did have membership growth for the first time in 8 years in 2014, and this is a good sign. One thing we must do is examine the agility and relevance of current and future programs to ensure we sharpen our focus on those that provide the most benefit to our members and align with our reworked vision. We can not be everything to everyone; we need to work at doing a few things, and doing them well. Setting strategy and adjusting investment levels is a key responsibility of the STC board, and we need to maximize the return on investment for our members who participate in our programs.

I believe beefing up our education offerings would make a difference as well. Not only is it essential that we provide education in core foundational skills, but we should also look at providing education about how to use the salary data the STC provides our members, business skills, and even soft skills. Exploring different ways of packaging our education offerings or putting on different types of events (both virtual and in-person) will go a long way toward professional communicators seeing STC as the premier center for expanding their careers.

Should the STC keep supporting the local chapters? If Yes, Why & How? If no, Why?

Yes, the local communities are a vital part of our organization, and in many cases, the only exposure some members have to STC. Many times, the local programs, face-to-face meetings, and networking lunches offer tips and knowledge specifically for a regional area. I’d like to see communities offer some more virtual programs, as well, especially for members strewn across large metropolitan areas. The networking opportunities and local support one gets from membership and activity in a chapter can be invaluable when job hunting, also. However the STC board and staff can support continued leadership and local programs, we should.

The Office of Vice President and President Elect

What can you reasonably expect to accomplish as VP and President?

As Vice President and then President, I would be one of nine voting members on the board, so expect to work well with that group to move STC forward. I expect to use my leadership and communication skills to help the group build consensus and conduct society business in a collaborative and forward-thinking way. I hope to continue to help increase member value by working with the board and Executive Director to streamline and improve current programs, enhance education offerings and partnerships, and build and publicize certification. I want to help STC be the #1 spot people think of when they want to expand their tech comm careers.

What will you do in the first 100 days?

During my first 100 days, I will work with the board to examine our progress on current goals and make plans to accelerate our headway on evaluating and streamlining programs for our members’ benefit. I would also like to work with the Executive Director to refine any outstanding strategic areas he thinks the board has not addressed, so that we can move forward with programs and education that line up with those strategic areas.

What legacy do you want to leave after you’ve finished your terms as VP and President?

I’m aiming for membership growth, education that includes business and soft skills, and a slimmer but stronger program portfolio for our members’ benefit. STC should be the technical communicator’s career center, and I want to do everything I can to enable and support that goal.

The Big Last Question …

Why are you the right person to be the next VP for STC?

I believe I have the leadership experience, communication skills, and enthusiasm to be the next STC Vice President. My leadership philosophy is to put people first over processes, numbers, and output. If you put people first, the rest generally falls into place.

I have a vast array of leadership experience from a number of positions in my career, personal life, and volunteer experiences. In my current job, I oversee the work of about 50 employees. I have served as chair of various committees and been a release manager, roles that involved leadership through influence rather than given authority. I have served as STC Houston President and in other positions, and currently serve on the STC board as Secretary. I have also been a den leader and committee manager for my son’s previous scout troop.

My top leadership skills include facilitating communication among groups with different goals, growing people beyond their comfort zones, and helping people see the big picture.

My current roles at work and as STC Secretary involve strategic thinking, budgeting, business analysis, and collaboration across multiple groups. I’m familiar with the strengths and the challenges of STC, and have 3+ years of experience working toward helping our society serve our members and educate the world at large about what we do as technical communicators. I believe my efforts in this area have been successful, as both the Nominating Committee and STC board allowed me to run unopposed for a second term in this position.

Finally, I don’t shy away from healthy conflict or heated debate to do the right thing. If I can find a way to make a compromise, I will. However, I won’t compromise quality or tolerate other people being stomped on. Often, doing the right thing means you won’t be liked by some. I’m okay with that. Serving as STC VP/President, I’d be here to do what’s best for the society. I’m willing to explain why, I’m willing to compromise where I can. But ultimately, I’m here to help make decisions that will improve life for our members.

Connie Giordano

Connie Giordano is a partner in INKtopia Limited and editor of TechWhirl's Tech Writer Today online magazine. She has been a list member and contributor since the days when 14,400 baud was high speed communications, and Windows 95 was state-of-the-art.

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