The TC Camp Unconference provides a local conference for technical communicators that is driven by the members of that community–writers, editors, designers, and the people who support them.
TC Camp events are free to attend. Several morning workshops are available at low cost, thanks to the support of our vendors and sponsors. The workshops are voted on by the community and are always a hit with attendees.
What is an Unconference?
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “unconference,” it’s basically a conference where the topics/sessions are defined by the attendees on the day of the event. An unconference is an event where users suggest topics, get together and discuss them in detail. There are no presenters, but rather you gather at a table with other like-minded people who want to discuss the selected topic. The day starts with optional workshops run by techcomm luminaries, then the unconference is held in the afternoon.
TC Camp is free (except for a nominal charge for a workshop and lunch, both optional), and is a full day of learning, sharing, and networking for techcomm professionals.
How the TC Camp Unconference Got Started
TC Camp was inspired by the amazingly successful Data Mining Camp, put on by the San Francisco Bay ACM. One day, Liz Fraley at Single-Sourcing Solutions thought it was worth the experiment to bring the unconference format to technical communications professionals. It”s not really surprising, Liz and Single-Sourcing Solutions provide an extreme amount of community resources and, in fact, finds dedication to communities part of their corporate responsibility.
She had been thinking about how it was going to be possible to pull off an event like an unconference while keeping it accessible (and at a low cost) and still providing a good value to attendees. It wasn’t until the ACM had their Hackathon at the Silicon Valley Cloud Center that everything came together for that first TC Camp event. With a venue in hand, Liz contacted a wide-variety of top-notch speakers to created a fantastic agenda that had mixture of valuable content: a flexible unconference and high-value workshops. This way attendees would get quality training opportunities as well as be inspired for complex discussions in the afternoon.
That first year the event was successful that everyone who attended asked when they were going to hold the next one. (And everyone who wasn’t local asked when we were going to take it on the road!). The toughest critics in the Bay Area have said it was the best thing to happen to techcomm in a decade.
Why use the term “Camp” to describe this unconference event?
Originally, in 2005, O’Reilly Media had a Friends Of O’Reilly (Foo Camp) unconference event, where some people actually camped out that weekend.
What do attendees say?
“TC Camp’s popularity arises from its unconference format — it places more focus on the attendees instead of juried presentations. As long as you participate, vote, and interact in the discussions, you’re guaranteed to connect.”~ Tom Johnson, I’d Rather Be Writing Blog
“As technical communicators, we’re all well aware of the critical importance of keeping our skills current and our networks active. Fortunately, a value-packed event is just around the corner that can help us do just that: TC Camp … TC Camp is incredibly affordable with no compromises on quality. Many of the best minds in Northern California technical communication will be participating this year… So if you’re looking for the perfect opportunity for skill-building, networking, and fun, grab your backpack and head for camp.”~ Lori Meyer, Communication Rising Blog
I presented a morning workshop and was part of the expert panel in 2013 and earlier this year I made the trip to San Jose again as an attendee. It’s been well worth the trip on both occasions, and here’s the short list of reasons why I’m looking forward to TC Camp 2015…~ Michael Hahn, TC Camp Attendee Survey
It’s a chance to get out of the cave. Gatherings like TC Camp offer the opportunity to compare notes with people who share your concerns — and perhaps more importantly — people who have different problems to solve.
It’s a chance to teach. We all have knowledge to share, expertise on our particular set of circumstances, and the tactical and strategic opinions that go along with technical communications implementation.
It’s a chance to learn. TC Camp gives us the opportunity to listen to peers and experts in similar (and sometimes completely different) fields discuss the issues they’ve had to face and the solutions they’ve found.
And besides, it’s a chance to get out of Texas for a couple of days in January (ice storms, anyone?). I’ll see you in 2015!
TC Camp is a one-day “unconference” that packs more into one day than some weeklong conferences I’ve attended. The seminars are interesting and provide a future view of our industry. The “unconference” format gives attendees control of what they want to learn during the day. The offerings are all so leading edge that it’s actually hard to pick the top few that interest me in what time allows. Lessons learned at TC Camp help keep me at the top of my game, and, therefore, highly marketable.~ Cherie Woordward, TC Camp Attendee Survey
Last year, my favorite moment at TC Camp was a customer-led seminar. She provided real-world usage of tool implementation, and that was so interesting. Information right from the trenches! Of course, it was a success story; however, the pitfalls were also outlined, so anybody moving to that tool could sidestep these issues.
The midday forum was another highlight of the day. If you’re attending for the first time, look for TC Camp veterans who can help you through the unconference process — choosing what seminars you’d like presented is your first task. Also, finding a veteran expands your network, and TC Camp (and Tech Comms, for that matter) is all about networking. I look forward to seeing my TC Camp buddies and meeting new TC Camp friends in 2015!
I attended TC Camp last year because I was confident the program would feature very knowledgeable speakers and session topics that address current markets and technologies.~ Prescott Williams, TC Camp Attendee Survey
My favorite part of TC Camp was how much I learned about DITA from professionals who had been through actual adoption and implementation in their companies and consulting engagements. As in STC settings, everyone was quite open and willing to share the benefits of their experience. Related to this, TC Camp a great networking opportunity. I received two contracting queries as a result of my conversations there.
My advice for new attendees? Arrive early For one thing, I thought the campus roads were confusing and poorly marked. If we’ll be in a different location, of course this doesn’t apply. More important, I missed the preliminaries of setting the program, though, as I say I found the program to be very valuable overall.
TC Camp is a great deal – it’s free! Lunch is only $4. For $35, you can attend a workshop given by a tech comm professional on a very relevant subject. It is held in Silicon Valley. That is always exciting to me because I get to meet people working on the cutting edge of technology and willing to share their knowledge. This will be the third year that I will attend.~ June Harton, TC Camp Attendee Survey
The networking is great. I meet new people and refresh old contacts. The face time is very valuable.
Come ready to network, have a good time, and participate. Unlike other conferences with set agendas, attendees vote on the sessions and can actively share their own knowledge and experiences with others.
“I attended the TC Camp last year  and found it to be immensely valuable. I really liked the “unconference” format in which attendees choose what they want to talk about. The discussions I attended were timely, lively, and informative. With a dozen or more sessions to choose from, it was easy to find plenty to like. The event is also valuable for its camaraderie. I’ve long missed having a regional event where I could meet with other technical communication professionals and exchange ideas.”~ Patrick Lufkin, STC San Francisco Newsletter
“I attended last year , and it was worthwhile. Even for an “unconventional” tech writer like me (not using Adobe, or Flare, or DITA), there were plenty of workshop options. It’s a good way to meet other tech writers and discuss challenges and solutions. Even better, it’s an affordable way to learn whether attending a larger techcomm conference would be worthwhile.”~ Neil Kaplan, in the comments on the I’d Rather Be Writing Blog
I’ve been attending STC conferences and events since the early 1990s, and the TC Camps are, by far, my favorites. The “unconference” format, whose content is largely dictated by the attendees, provides flexibility and keeps the proceedings spontaneous, smart, and relevant. The formal presentations and vendor access are, of course, valuable, but mostly I enjoy the camaraderie. TC Camp is one of few opportunities around where you can engage with so many smart, dedicated technical communicators who are willing to share what they know and are savvy enough to invest a day outside of work in their own careers and professional development.~ Patrick Lufkin, TC Camp Attendee Survey
I will admit that I attended partly just to see how an unconference worked. I am a fan of creative processes and ways of working with peers that improve on older, more traditional, hierarchical strategies that, of course, have their place, but don’t solve every problem and bring plenty of their own. I have to say that this alone was worth the effort to attend. (I had to fly in from Oregon on my own dime.) It is heartening to see the excitement and engagement this conference structure encourages in its attendees.~ Paul Nagai, TC Camp Attendee Survey
I was interested in most of the user-suggested topics, and most of them were relevant to the work I do. Further, I found that the sessions I attended to be surprisingly and somewhat contradictorily appropriate for both beginners and experienced professionals. That is not to say that they were comprehensive, mind you. Rather, parts of each session were educational for people new to a topic, while other parts got sufficiently beyond the surveys or tutorials one might find on the web to hold all but the most jaded practitioner’s attention.
Finally, I found the vendor presentations informal enough, educational enough, and lacking enough “salesy-ness” to honestly feel like there was a fair trade of my time for their support of the camp.
The networking opportunities and the user-suggested sessions were a close tie for my favorite parts of TC Camp.
Get to the cookies first. Be open-minded and know that you are among friends. Please share your ideas and comments without fear of ridicule or retribution. TC Camp attendees are warm and friendly, and are investing their time and money to learn, share ideas, and network. It’s a very comfortable learning environment. And remember: Get to the cookies first!~ Victor Buccieri, TC Camp Attendee Survey, advice for new attendees
I am a fan of the format of TC Camp. I love everything about it, from attendees choosing the session topics to the small group discussions and the session summaries at the end of the day.~ Jill Ellonsali, TC Camp Attendee Survey
My advice to someone attending for the first time would be to bring a tech comm challenge you are having at work and it is likely that someone at TC Camp will have a solution for you.
I really like the unconference format. It gives everyone a chance to contribute, and the sessions are often much more engaging than a typical conference talk.~ Wendy Shaffer, TC Camp Attendee Survey
One of my favorite parts is when the session proposals go up for voting. It provides a really interesting snapshot of the variety of issues that technical communicators deal with on a day-to-day basis. It always gives me new things to think about.
Get involved! Suggest a session, volunteer to be a note taker, or just share your ideas even if they seem half-baked. TC Camp is very much an event where you get out of it what you put into it.
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