RE: certificates and the current job market

Subject: RE: certificates and the current job market
From: "Steve Arrants" <stephena -at- compbear -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001 12:29:38 -0800

Ellen Vanrenen writes:
> As all of you are, I am concerned about the economy and lack
> of job opportunities. Granted I am working now, but I keep
> thinking, what if something happens to my job? How can I best
> prepare myself to compete on the current job market? More to
> the point, how can I best prepare myself to keep my current positon?

Improve your skills, learn new skills, network within your organization
to find out how to make yourself more valuable.

> CU Boulder, which is very close to me, has 3 relevant
> continuing education certificate programs. One of these is a
> certificate in Web graphics. I am taking one of the classes
> this Spring: Introduction to Graphics Design. I will also
> take a Photoshop class a bit later (I would love to take an
> XML class, but I really should get a stronger hold on the
> basics first).

One of the lessons from the dot-com-dot-bomb is that things like "web
graphics" and "web design" and the like are not super-specialized
skills that require a lot of formal learning, certificates, and C.E.U.s.
There used to be a number of certificate programs and vocational schools
here in San Francisco that would give you a certificate in web stuff
after a few months of night classes. And a lot of people enrolled,
because there was a shortage, and salaries (and perks) were going higher
and higher. Web graphics designers who were pulling in $80,000 to
$90,000 just a year or so ago are scrambling to find contract work for
$15-$20 an hour. The bubble burst. The pool of available labor is a
heckuvalot larger, and most firms are perfectly happy with someone who
knows a bit of Photoshop.

How will an "Introduction to Graphics Design" help you DIRECTLY with the
job you're doing now and what you may be doing in the future? Are the
skills learned there absolutely necessary for your job? Will they make
the documents you write more usable? Will it contribute to the
company's bottom line and/or make you much more marketable in the

> Another certificate is in web site design. The last sort-of
> related program is in programming.

See above. Unless the certificate program includes technical topics
such as security, web programming, back-end stuff, well, I think the
comments above apply. A certificate that proves that you know how to
use Dreamweaver isn't going to be of much use these days. 12-year olds
learn how to use Dreamweaver without much trouble.

> I wonder if investing time and money (both in short supply)
> in any of these certificates would be of use in the job
> market? Would be of use to me here?

I don't think so. Pick topics that are for skills in short
supply--network security, XML, PHP, Oracle, etc. You already write, you
need to make yourself more technical. If it is a choice between someone
who knows how to design a web site and someone who knows how to design a
web site and interface it with an Oracle database, guess who has a
better chance for a job?

> What do you think? Would I be "in demand" with a programming
> certificate passed pass/fail, which would mean a better
> understanding of programming but no real ability to program?

An understanding of programming, for a technical writer in the
computer/internet area is already a must--at least in the area I work.
An ability to understand the program and HOW it is supposed to work is
very marketable in SF Bay area. I've picked up a lot of contract work
in the past few months, taking over projects for technical writers who
know what Java is, but don't know what it can do...

> My preference is one of the graduate certificates in
> technical communication from CU Denver, but that involves a
> considerable investment, and I'm not sure that I have the
> time for it this year. Yes, but wouldn't the programming
> certificate involve considerable demands?

It is a different world, a different market now. We were literally
hiring people off the street who could string a coherent sentence
together 12 months ago. (I'm speaking of a specific market--the
dot-coms who needed people to explain the software to both end users and
programmers.) A certificate or courses in programming would be
demanding but much more rewarding, especially to your bank account.
Knowing Oracle or .NET or network security would make you much more
marketable and in demand. Being able to converse with the developers
about these topics with some knowledge would be quite valuable.

> I'd like some advice from all, but especially those involved
> with hiring.

This is just from me, my perspective. Almost anyone can design a web
site. Almost anyone can scan a photo, convert it to GIF or JPG or PNG
and optimize it for the web. Modify it. Add to it. Hell, I can teach
someone 99% of that in an afternoon. Finding someone who can write
accurately about how to install and deploy web services is a lot harder,
especially when it involves Java, Apache, and a bunch of other technical

Steve Arrants
"The dream was marvelous, but the terror was great.
We must treasure the dream, whatever the terror."

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certificates and the current job market: From: Ellen Vanrenen

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