Tech Comm Café: Aug. 10 recap; next meeting Sept. 14

Tech Comm Café: Aug. 10 recap; next meeting Sept. 14

The Tech Comm Café met on August 10, 2016, for an informative discussion of current topics of interest to the technical writing community.

One person who attended is an active volunteer with another group. We discussed the challenges that are common to many professional associations nowadays: it’s hard to maintain membership, attendance, and volunteer numbers when information and networking opportunities are available in ways that didn’t exist in the early days of tech comm. However, all agreed that face-to-face contact is still important. It’s more enjoyable to network, learn, and chat in person, and a short trip to a meeting with a congenial group of fellow writers is well worth it. Supportive advice and fresh ideas from one’s peers: priceless.

Another person mentioned that she’s building a website for a school where she works, while she takes classes in a technical communication certificate program in the evenings. Though she isn’t charging for the work, we agreed that she’s gaining valuable experience and a solid portfolio piece. If she lets the staff and parents know that she’s preparing for a technical writing career, she’s also building a network of potential contacts who might help her find work in her field.

We also discussed scope creep in a small project with a finite number of hours. What do you do if the client keeps wanting to change the work or add “just one more thing”? At what point do you tell them that you’re happy to keep going but the budget has to increase? The sooner the better, of course, and most people find that the client is willing to stretch so they can get a finished product they’re happy with. However, most writers had occasionally worked for free for the final few hours so they could present a product they were proud of.

Finally, we talked about the pros and cons of working as a lone writer. One person had worked in a technical field and gradually created the job of technical writer, learning as she went along and convincing management of the need for her skills. A student wondered whether it was better to be the sole, indispensable, isolated writer, or to work with a team of people where she could learn from their experience but might feel restricted by the rigid standards of a big company. There’s no right answer; do whatever fits best into your career plan and your own preferences.

Next meetings: The next Tech Comm Café on the Lower Mainland will take place on September 14; details below. The Vancouver Island Tech Comm Café will meet on October 3, 2016, from 6 to 8 p.m. Watch for details at, or contact admin (at) to be added to the mailing list for one or both locations.

Next Vancouver-Area Tech Comm Café: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The TCC provides networking opportunities, job leads, answers to work-related dilemmas, and a burst of professional energy to keep you motivated. We discuss technical writing tools and techniques, career planning, portfolios, and anything else related to working as a technical communicator.

We welcome anyone who’s interested in technical communication — contractor, in-house, student, long-time tech writer, STC member, non-member, career-changer, or recruiter. We hope to see you at the next meeting!

Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Time: 6:30–8:00 pm Pacific Time

Location: To be announced. If you plan to attend, please RSVP to


  1. Introductions. Take 60 seconds to introduce yourself, your background, current activities. A good chance to try out that new elevator speech.
  2. Announcements and job leads. If you know of an interesting event or a job opening, or you’re looking for work, share it with the group.
  3. Brainstorming Q&A. Ask about a work-related problem and discuss potential solutions.
  4. Speed networking. Spend a few minutes with a new contact, exchange business cards, and discuss your professional backgrounds and goals.

Heather Sommerville is a senior technical writer and editor with over 20 years of experience delivering clear, concise writing for business and technical audiences. She is an STC Associate Fellow and has served in many volunteer positions with the STC Canada West Coast chapter.