Certification--a new concept. Discuss.

Subject: Certification--a new concept. Discuss.
From: Dick Margulis <margulisd -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 20:22:34 -0400

Dinner conversation. My wife is NOT bothering to study for her ten-year recertification exam that she has to take on Monday, in her field, which has only had certification for twenty-odd years and which most hiring managers have still not heard of but she has to take the exam to keep using the letters after her name. I brought up the quandary we perennially encounter in discussing tech writing certification. Here's her insight:

The way we want a hiring manager to see a tech writing certificate is as an indicator that this applicant not only has the specialized knowledge evidenced by his or her résumé but also possesses some broader exposure to other disciplines that tech writers sometimes encounter.

We should not, in other words, aim for a certificate that says the person who possesses it is a _master_ of every related discipline. The certificate should be evidence that the individual takes the craft/discipline/profession/whatever-you-want-to-call-it seriously. But it should not be taken as proof that the person knows everything there is to know about this particular job opening. That information should come from the education and experience the person lists or from the responses to interview questions.

I think this is a key insight. It greatly simplifies the endless debate about what level of knowledge of which technical areas we should consider sufficient. Instead, we can list a fairly broad swath in terms of areas of knowledge but require only a basic understanding of each of those areas, rather than expert-level detailed knowledge.

Here's an example: Suppose I want to hire someone for SDLC documentation on a hugely complex project in a regulated industry. My main need is for someone who has lots of experience writing SDLC documentation and who has worked in at least one regulated industry before, preferably mine. Those are the qualifications I'm going to look for on the résumé. If I find two candidates who are similarly qualified in those regards and one of them also has one of these newfangled tech writing certificates, that's the one I'm more likely to hire, all else being equal, because that person might be better able to roll with the punches and take on other kinds of assignments when this project is done.

That's very different from saying that I need a certified tech writer and it would be nice if the person also had a little experience.

In the first place, I think this approach conforms better to the reality that it will be decades before a tech writing certificate actually means anything to the average hiring manager. In the second, I think it's an attainable goal. We're a long way from even the PMI level of credibility. So why not start with something doable?

Whaddaya think?



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