We return again with Path to Fellow, a recurring feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and haven’t been contacted to participate in this feature, please email Kevin Cuddihy.
I’ve been in the workforce for a long time, a very long time—just under 40 years, to be exact. The first years were miserable as I wandered from job to job, looking for the right fit. Then I decided that my passion was writing, and there must be “jobs working with words.” I ended up working at the Montreal location of Philips Electronics, as a proofreader with their production group, who were responsible for desktop publishing computer manuals in nine languages. Within the year, I discovered STC and got involved by desktop publishing the local chapter newsletter.
During that time period we were looking for ways to improve the publishing process, and I came up a way to reduce the publication cycle and decrease costs by quite a substantial percentage. The method involved a lot of manual processing, and looking back, seems incredibly kludgey, but in 1991, my proposal was a huge step forward to reducing time to market. Fast forward a couple of years, and a fellow STC member asked me to attend the annual STC conference to present in her stead. Speaking in front of an STC audience was a novelty, but the real thrill for me was hearing about a custom-built way of delivering modular, on-the-fly training material: content management!
The presentation still sticks out in my mind. STC member Ben Martin demonstrated how his company had used some unconventional thinking and had built a tool that solved a business problem through more effective delivery of training documentation. He probably never realized what an impact his presentation had on my career, as I consider that presentation a career-changing moment for me. I had found my niche—in team role theory, I’m a “plant”—a creative individual good at solving problems in unconventional ways. In the world of communication professionals, there are two types: those who need to read the manual before they get started, and those who don’t need a manual—in fact, they help shape the documentation. Technical communicators tend to be the latter. There is no fear in being handed a multi-thousand dollar piece of equipment (or suite of software) and being left to figure out how it works and how to make sense of that to the appropriate audiences. That was definitely me, to the nth degree.
Over the years, I’ve been called a technical writer, then technical communicator, content management consultant, business analyst, information architect, and now content strategist. Without my ongoing involvement in STC—in all fairness, I’ve augmented my membership in STC with memberships in other professional associations such as Usability Professionals, Information Architecture Institute, and Content Management Professionals—I wouldn’t have been able to develop my career to where I am now, doing work that I love and that I know pushes me to do my best. As part of the greater scheme of things, I felt that part of my own process was to share whatever epiphanies I’d had, so that others might find a nugget or two that could change their work methods, better their jobs, or possibly even their career paths.
In one capacity or another, I’ve volunteered for STC for over twenty years now, and continue to learn from my peers and share my own knowledge through publishing, speaking, and mentoring. A recent workshop I gave for content strategists was called “hard core”—and that is a strong differentiator between my personal brand and those of other prominent content strategists. For that, I have to thank my long-time association with technical communication and the STC community.
Being awarded STC Fellow isn’t about the bottom line. I’m self-employed, so getting promoted is a moot point. Clients want to know what I can do for them, not about any designation. However, being a Fellow means something more. It’s public acknowledgement of the efforts I’ve made over the years, and that recognition matters to me. Fellowship is about connecting with peers who have also put their knowledge out there in the community, sharing and innovating, and moving the profession forward.
Rahel Anne Bailie is a content strategist with a skill set encompassing content management, business analysis, information architecture, and communications. She operates Intentional Design, helping clients analyze their business requirements and spectrum of content to get the right fit for their content development and management needs, and facilitates transitions to new business processes, content models, and technology implementations.
Her experience gives her an intimate understanding of end-to-end processes, from requirements-gathering to implementation. She is an STC Fellow, and holds memberships in various associations to stay current in pertinent practice areas. She presents on the topic of content strategy at conferences across North America and Europe, and was recently cited as one of the top ten most influential content strategists.