Posts Tagged ‘Events’

One of my greatest woes as an up-and-coming technical communicator is the hailstorm of tools and programs I’m expected to know how to use. I feel like every job application I look at, I’m pelted with a new one. Viso! Flare! Framemaker! Robohelp! I’m still getting used to Adobe Creative Suite, so it can feel overwhelming.

Those that have gone before me have suggested attending live product demo events, and one of my gurus sent me a link to the Perforce Road Trip 2012, which was coming through Chicago. I was going to be in the River North neighborhood that day anyways, so it worked out perfectly!

The slogan for Perforce is “Version Everything.” I had no idea what Perforce was. I did know what versions were. I had never heard it used as verb before, but I got the picture. I decided to be surprised, rather than figure out what the product was like beforehand.

The event was held at the Westin Chicago River North, which was a beautiful hotel. I don’t stay in fancy hotels–when I travel I usually couch surf or stay in youth hostels–so I sometimes feel pretty lost inside them. I didn’t know how to find the room, and the only people I could find to help were at the “Preferred Guests” counter, and I wasn’t a Preferred Guest–I wasn’t a guest, period! But of course, all the people who work in fancy hotels are crazy nice because that’s their job, so they helped me anyway.

I checked in and got a name tag and a swag bag containing a hardcover notebook and a set of those cardboard box speakers you can assemble. (That seemed like an odd choice, but how many pens and t-shirts that don’t fit can you really use?) I was one of the first people there so I could sit wherever I wanted, but I quickly realized that the seat I had grabbed was too far back, as I was already having trouble reading the projector screen. So I moved up to the front. Even then there were things I couldn’t read. Projectors are designed to be used in the dark. If you’re going to use them with the lights on, you need to adjust accordingly.

Ironically, the guys behind me and I struck up a conversation where they were telling me about all these interns they were interviewing. Turns out I had applied for an internship for their company, but no one had ever gotten back to me. It was a completely different department, though, so they were off the hook.

I was one of the only women there, so there was no line for the bathroom!

So there were basically four lectures and two snack times.

The first lecture, “Managing the Flood of Content,” was my favorite. As a writer who does a lot of remote collaborating, the problem of figuring out which version of a document is the latest, or the “correct” version, and of knowing who changed what when, is far too familiar. And it’s something you can manage, but everyone has to be on the same page. Even if you’re just working by yourself, it’s too easy to not rename a new or old version of a file and assume everything will be fine.

The presentation featured some robo-cartoons, like XtraNormal or something, that were actually pretty funny. The line “Didn’t you get my file, ‘Project Version Two April 2012 Final 06 Really Final’?” (paraphrasing) hit home. Mr. Seiwald also made an interesting point about the problems in sharing documents via email. You end up with too many copies of the same document–all with the same file name–and it’s hard to know which have been edited. I’ve been hassled lately by the separate copies of my colleagues’ and my documents that are auto-saved in my mail downloads folder. My only complaint about the first lecture is that I understood what the product was for, but didn’t have a clear picture of how it worked. Some screenshots or demo videos would have helped.

The second lecture I had more trouble following. It was clearly geared towards developers, so as a documentation specialist I didn’t really relate to it.

Then we had a break with snacks and demos. I was hoping “demos” would mean we would get to try the product, but it was really just two stations of people showing examples of how it worked. I got one of them to let me try it anyway! I made a new branch and made an edit and saw how to merge it with another branch. That helped me a lot more than just watching.

The third lecture was even worse for me than the second. It was all about development, so there was nothing in it that spoke to me. If I hadn’t been sitting in the front row I probably would have ended up playing on my phone.

The final lecture was both interesting and over my head at the same time. It was two people who work for the New York Stock Exchange/Euronext explaining how they used the product and how helpful it was. Now, this kind of company is obviously an extreme case, which is what made it so interesting. Just the thought of all that money/all those transactions/all those countries. What a logistical nightmare, but at the same time, imagine the whole world depending on your systems. So most of the details went over my head, but I understood the larger concepts of why a product like this is important. Adam Breashears, who had a fabulous bass voice, summed it up best when he said, “If you don’t use a system like this, at some point you’re going to lose your job.” I can see that.

So then there was a reception with an open bar, where I talked to the guys who’d sat behind me and some of their colleagues, which was fun. It seemed like almost everyone there was a developer, so it was more like being around nerds than around business people. (I was all dressed up like a business person, but that’s because I need a job and you never know when you might meet a potential boss!)

Anyways, Perforce seems like a really great tool, but I don’t feel that it applies to me in my current position as a freelancer and student. It’s meant for people working on teams. I might work on a “team” with a client or a classmate, but I can’t expect every person I work with to download Perforce so they can work with me. If I were working for a big company, I would definitely want to use a tool like this.