Newsletter of the Society for Technical Communication, San Francisco Chapter
This coming June STC East Bay will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. The East Bay chapter is the Bay Area's second oldest chapter (Silicon Valley is older), and, as such, helped spin off other Bay Area chapters. Its history is part of our history too, and we should all help them celebrate.
As I write, details of the celebration are still coming together but they should soon be available on the East Bay STC Website. http://ebstc.org/ Gwaltney Mountford is spearheading the arrangements, so the celebration is sure to be an affair that everyone will want to attend.
In preparation, let's look back at the early development of the profession and the founding of each of the Northern California STC chapters.
The rise of technical communication as a specialty with its own skills and body of knowledge can be traced back to World War II, and the productivity revolution that came in its aftermath. The war brought the need to quickly and efficiently train thousands of new recruits on complex procedures and equipment. Young men were needed to fly planes, young women to build ships; and they needed to be trained in weeks, not years.
The need for training materials was met by writers and engineers who developed new and more efficient ways of conveying technical information. I still have samples of the kind of material they produced in the form of my father's Navigators Information File from when he served in the Army Air Corps. It's a binder of three-hole punched inserts, each dedicated to a different subject such as operating a piece of equipment, or estimating altitude by observing clouds. The material is procedure-based, well illustrated, dated and numbered for version control, and so on. While the look and feel of technical communication has come a long way since then, many of the principles we still use were developed in those early years.
In the post-war years, many of the writers who had crafted those technical materials entered civilian life and joined together to launch technical communication as a profession. In the early 1950s, three distinct technical communication associations were formed, two on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. After several mergers and name changes, things settled down and the combined associations became the Society for Technical Communication in 1971.
The Silicon Valley STC is Northern California's oldest chapter. It began in early 1958 as the Golden Gate chapter of the Technical Publishing Society with around 35 members. Early speakers included Anthony Boucher, noted Science Fiction writer, editor, and book reviewer, and Dr. William Pemberton, who along with S. I. Hayakawa, was an early proponent of General Semantics. The name was changed to the El Camino chapter in November 1976, and finally to the Silicon Valley chapter in June 1983. For much of the 1990s, with well over a 1000 members, it was the largest chapter in the world. During its heyday, it met monthly in both San Jose and Santa Cruz, to better serve members on both sides of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Today, it alternates meetings between several locations on the peninsula.
The East Bay chapter started as the Pacifica chapter (named for the Ocean, not the town). It held its first organizational meeting at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley in February 1962, and was recognized in Society records in June 1962. In November 1982, the name was changed to the East Bay chapter to better reflect the chapter's area of service.
In the early days, the chapter had about 35 members, mostly connected with Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Chapter dinner meetings cost $4.25 and alternated between the east and west sides of the Caldecott Tunnel. In fact the chapter held meetings all over the East Bay: Hayward, Castro Valley, Newark, Oakland, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Livermore, Dublin, Lafayette, and Concord. Today the chapter has settled down, and usually meets at the elegant Crow Canyon Country Club in Danville.
The early chapter appears to have been very eclectic in its interests. It sponsored field trips to visit air traffic controllers in Hayward and the west coast production facilities of the Wall Street Journal. On other occasions, it listened to cartoonist Charles Schultz (Peanuts), and held a slide show of an African Safari. It also occasionally held joint meetings with the Society for General Semantics.
Today the East Bay chapter primarily serves members living or working in the corridors of the 580 and 680 freeways in the eastern Bay Area. Given its large service area, it is not surprising that the East Bay chapter has helped spin off several other chapters.
The San Francisco chapter was started 1980-81 by members of other chapters who felt that it would be more convenient to meet in San Francisco. The founding members included Louis Perica, Mary V. Wildensten, and Paul Libeu. Perica is credited with naming the chapter newsletter ActiveVOICE.
In the late-1980s and early 1990s, the chapter published networking guides, a job search manual, and several regional salary surveys. It was also the first STC chapter to establish an Internet presence.
In the 1980s, the chapter met at the Engineers Club in San Francisco's financial district. Over the years, the chapter has met at the Wells Fargo building on Montgomery Street, the London Wine Bar on Sansome, and the Elephant and Castle on Clay. The chapter currently meets at the San Francisco State University Downtown Center, a leading venue for technical and graphics arts training.
The Berkeley chapter was started in 1987 as an offshoot of the East Bay chapter. Then East Bay chapter president, Dr. C. J. Wallia, saw the need for a new chapter to better serve the membership living west of the Berkeley Hills. First classed as a "subsidiary chapter," with 19 members, Berkeley held its first meeting September 1, 1987, at Spats, a popular Pub in downtown Berkeley. By December 1987, it had grown to 42 members. It became a full fledged chapter in June of 1988.
From the beginning, the Berkeley chapter received terrific support from the other chapters in the Bay Area, which at that time included East Bay, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley. Each provided the new chapter with grant money to keep it afloat until the chapter rebates arrived in August.
Over the years, the Berkeley chapter has met at several locations in Oakland and Berkeley. It currently meets at the Hiller Highlands Country Club in the Berkeley Hills. In recent years, it has served as the host chapter for Touchstone, the Northern California technical communication competition.
Paul Libeu, a San Francisco chapter founder, is believed to have hosted STC meetings in the North Bay for a time after he moved there in the 1980s. This start-up chapter appears to have been short lived. In 1994, the NorthBay chapter was restarted by Glenn Shapley, a Technical Writer at Hewlett Packard in Santa Rosa. The NorthBay chapter serves technical communicators in Telecom Valley and includes Sonoma, Marin, Napa, and other counties in Northern California.
The Sacramento Metro chapter was started in November, 1985, with 30 members, including Ellen Ashcraft, President and Lorna LaVerne, Vice President/Newsletter. The chapter held its first meeting December 5, 1985, in a conference room at Hewlett Packard in Roseville, California. The chapter quickly mailed a newsletter to all unaffiliated STC members who lived near Sacramento. That first newsletter talked about all the decisions that needed to be made to get the chapter going and the fact that the new chapter would ". . .need to lay the groundwork for activities. . ." and entice people into taking advantage of all the opportunities that STC had to offer.
The chapter thrived for some 20 years, offering many innovative services to the community including free meetings, free job lines, online newsletters, and sophisticated career/resume counseling. For many years, the chapter joined with American River College to co-sponsor an annual Writer-in-the Workplace day of presentations and workshops.
In the long aftermath of the dotcom bust, with membership numbers down, the chapter went inactive for a few years. But in recent years, under the able leadership of Prescott Williams, it has come roaring back. In 2011 it did a stellar job as the host chapter for the annual STC convention.
The Northern California STC chapters also have a long history of cooperation, jointly sponsoring the annual Touchstone technical communication competition, and the Kenneth Gordon Scholarship for technical communication. For many years, the combined chapters also sponsored regional conventions.
As you can see, there are strong historic ties between the local STC chapters. I hope to see each of you at East Bay's fiftieth anniversary celebration.
Patrick Lufkin is an STC Associate Fellow. He is Past-President of the San Francisco chapter, is current VP for Membership of the Berkeley chapter, and is on the leadership Board of the East Bay chapter.