certification is absurd?

Subject: certification is absurd?
From: "ASUE Tekwrytr" <tekwrytr -at- hotmail -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 14:26:40 -0400

As for certification, I agree completely that there is a multitude. Each vendor offers certification in their own technology. For hiring purposes, an MCSE is a big bell ringer if I have a Microsoft network, and is worthless if I have Linux or Unix. The purpose of certification is to establish that the prospective new hire has job skills directly related to my needs, and many, many hiring decisions are based on having the right set of initials on a resume.

The argument that "the field is so varied certification is impossible" is not really valid. The biggest chunk of TWs document computer hardware or software, and the procedures are fairly consistent in those fields. How is experience in writing grant proposals relevant to writing online documentation for an SDK? Similarly, the skill set for writing grant proposals is as highly developed as the skill set for online documentation. The idea of a "generalist" is technical communication is as obsolete as the same concept in programming; I would far rather hire someone who is highly skilled in Java2 or C# or C++ than I would hire someone who claims to be competent in a laundry list of languages. The money goes to specialists, not generalists.

Why does it go to specialists? Why would I want to train someone from a related area when I can hire someone who can be immediately productive, get the job done, and make money for me? I am in a business, not a philanthropic organization or government entity spending someone else's money. My interest is solely in the competence and productivity of prospective new hires, not "potential." If I wanted potential, I would hire a freshly scrubbed English or Journalism major, pay his or her way through a semester of tech comm classes, and have a competent technical writer for one third the salary many TWs seem to expect.

What makes an "experienced" TW more valuable? His or her knowledge, gained on the job, in the skills I need applied to my project. If that skill set cannot be "proven," via testing or objective evaluation, it is questionable whether or not it really exists. Back to square one--those most opposed to certification are the very same ones who fear their own ability to demonstrate their "expertise" in a controlled setting. CAT testing is no more difficult for TWs than for network techies. Anyone competent in a skill set should be able to design a CAT program that will determine if someone else has that same (or equivalent) skill set.

I disagree completely that "professional society membership" is an indication of anything, especially in technical communication. Even a superficial inspection of numbers will indicate a problem when "new members" are often 20% of total members, yet membership is flat or declining. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out that roughly the same number must be dropping out after the first year as the number that joined. Or to realize the reason is plain, old "lack of value and relevance."

Look at the numbers of new members in STC. Then look at the numbers of those new members who actually renew membership at the end of the first year. Then look at the number of "members" lumped into the total of "all members" who were awarded "scholarships equivalent to the cost of membership." In other words, free membership to bulk the membership rolls to create the opinion that "everyone is in here except you." IMO, membership in technical writing societies is irrelevant; right up there with most BS and MS "degrees" in technical communication. Especially if the instructors in those programs are academics with little or no experience in the fields in which they provide instruction.

Certification is coming. Soon. It would be wise to prepare for it, especially if you intend to be in the job market in the future.


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