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March 5, 2012

From Boulder to Bangalore

When I was a high school student in Boulder, Colorado, my first job was as a stock boy in an India-imports store. The store, Hamara Dukan, stocked all sorts of handicrafts and objets d’art from India including clothing, wood carvings, brass bowls and knickknacks, hand-printed bedspreads, incense, Kashmiri boxes, and thousands of other items. After working there for a couple of years, I acquired an appreciation of the things the country produced, but was always curious about the people and what it was like to be in India.

Fast forward to late last year, when Sarah O’Keefe asked me if I wanted to present at the tcworld India conference in Bangalore (February 22-25). I didn’t hesitate a moment before saying “Sure!”

It’s hard not to write a travelogue detailing all the aspects of my journey. I’ll just say most of the travel went smoothly. However, the terrifying, early-morning taxi ride from the airport to the hotel was quite an introduction to Indian traffic. The best I can do is say it had all the toe-curling aspects of a Roman taxi ride combined with the scariest parts of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland.

Daily traffic in Bangalore

The tcworld India conference is a joint venture between twin—the Technical Writers of India—and tekom—the German professional association for technical communication and information development. The conference was well organized and smoothly run. The mornings didn’t begin exactly on time, but that’s quite understandable, both with the traffic in Bangalore (described to me by several people as “organized chaos”) and the security screening everyone entering the hotel had to undergo (one at a time).

The sessions were organized into three tracks: best practices, management, and technology.
There were quite a large number of Western speakers (myself included). I would have liked to have seen a few more sessions by Indian presenters. On the other hand, the tech comm community in India is working hard to acquire information about current trends in Europe and the US; it’s natural that, for now, information flows toward India.

A combination of new...

...and old.

Those attending were predominantly writers, although there were a good number of managers. They came from all over India, not just the Bangalore area. Many of those that I talked to had questions about what it was like to live and work in the USA. Many are still working in unstructured FrameMaker and Word, but there was a great interest in structured authoring, XML, and DITA.

I presented in each of the tracks: Managing the Transition to Structure, Content Strategy in Technical Communication, and a workshop on XML and Structured Authoring. All of my sessions were well attended, the audiences were attentive and engaged, and I received good, positive feedback after the sessions. At lunch on Friday, I was asked to be one of four judges in an “Innovation Challenge.” Although this was my first experience being a judge, I found it was something I was quite familiar with (innovation). The three finalists all had elegant solutions to real-world problems; I and my fellow judges had a hard time selecting a winner. We finally determined that all other things being equal, the best determining factor was which one had the greatest continuing benefit.

In summary, this was an eye-opening trip to a country full of technically astute people, all of whom are facing the same issues faced by tech comm professionals in Europe and the US. Everyone I met in India (both in the conference and outside on the street) was friendly and helpful. I would like to thank and congratulate Gururaj B.S. and Akash Dubey of tcworld India and Michael Fritz of tekom for putting on a great conference. I’d also like to thank Suneeta and Ashwathama for helping to get me out and show me more of Bangalore.

It was a long way from Boulder to Bangalore. I came away with a new appreciation of the people of India and an affection for the place. Would I go back? In a heartbeat!