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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
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
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
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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