We return with another Path to Fellow, a recurring feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. For more information on this feature and on the honor of being named a Fellow or Associate Fellow, click here. If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and haven’t been contacted to participate in this feature, please email Kevin Cuddihy.
I’m not a fan of aphorisms, but this one seems particularly apt: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My path to STC Fellow was a series of steps, each one building my skills and my confidence so that I was prepared to take the next one.
My first contact with STC came when a colleague persuaded me to be part of a panel presentation at the 1983 Summit (then called the International Technical Communication Conference, or ITCC). I’d never been to an event like that before. The conference showed me that there was a larger professional community beyond my office, that the people in that community shared a lot of the same concerns and interests, and that many of them were willing to share their knowledge.
I began attending the Carolina chapter’s monthly programs. After a couple of years, the chapter was looking for a Public Relations manager. I might be the only person in STC history who volunteered for a job without being invited personally. (Simply broadcasting an appeal for volunteers almost never works—but it did in my case.) Once I began volunteering in STC, I was hooked. Chapter secretary. Vice president. Newsletter editor. President (for three years).
Then I was asked to fill a vacancy on the Society-level Board of Directors, after which I served as Assistant to the President for Professional Development, managed the Associate Fellows Nominating Committee, and headed the Society’s strategic planning activity. For the strategic planning work, I was recognized with the STC President’s Award in 2010.
I certainly didn’t set out to become an STC Fellow or to win the President’s Award. Instead, my path was a steady progression. Each successive STC job came as I gained confidence and felt willing to take on new responsibilities. Each job:
- Taught me more about the organization. When people ask why something in STC is a certain way, or why a certain decision was made, I usually know the answer—even though I might not always like it. And if I don’t like it, I usually know how to do something about it.
- Gave me a chance to fail. While I never set out to fail, my failures had far less serious ramifications in a volunteer situation than if they’d happened in my paying job. I learned a lot about what I’m good at—and what I’m not so good at.
- Provided a great set of transferable skills. I tackled new kinds of tasks and I gained exposure to industry best practices. I probably became a better writer, and I certainly became a better manager, because of my experience in STC leadership.
- Helped me build and sustain relationships with other professionals. This has been the best benefit of all: many of those relationships have evolved into lifelong friendships.
Try becoming involved in STC. Start small. If you like it, try becoming involved at a higher level. (Don’t be afraid to fail—there’s a lot of grace.) Be a mentor to others, perhaps in different communities, who are doing the same kind of work. You stand to gain a lot of benefits: job satisfaction, new skills, and a network of professional colleagues and friends.
At the annual honors banquet, just before you receive your Associate Fellow or Fellow plaque, you wait backstage with the other honorees until your name is called. I remember feeling a sense of awe as I looked around and saw the people who meant so much to our profession. Knowing that I belonged to that group was both humbling and breathtaking. You might think that I’m making this into something bigger than it is, but I’m not. It really is that big.
Larry Kunz is a project manager and information architect with Systems Documentation, Inc. (SDI) Global Solutions in Durham, NC. In over 30 years as a writer, manager, and planner in the software industry, he has experienced the transition from book-based documentation to today’s integrated delivery of information from a wide range of sources using different formats and media. Larry has held a variety of leadership positions in STC and in the STC Carolina chapter. He was named an STC Associate Fellow in 1996 and a Fellow in 2001.