RE: [TCP] certification (was: ranting STC)

Subject: RE: [TCP] certification (was: ranting STC)
From: Kevin McLauchlan <kmclauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Thu, 1 Mar 2007 13:28:02 -0500

Donald H. White offered:

> I still have no idea why the concept of a professionalization
> program causes so much ire.

I thought the proper term for the exercise was "credentialism".

In the most recent 200 times the list has had this discussion,
somebody always rightly points out that "profession" implies
a whole array of standards of accountability, recognized training
courses from accredited institutions, ongoing requirements, and
usually lots and lots of monetary outlay by the lower echelons.
"We've raised 'standards', so it's only right that you pay six to
fifteen times what it would have cost ten years ago!"
Others counter (tiredly) that the basic job is still a craft or
a trade, and not a "profession". If one percent of us create
documentation that literally saves lives and literally has lives
in the balance at every third paragraph (as opposed to just
getting the boilerplate warnings right...) then THEY could organize
and hold themselves to a higher standard and so on. My experience
suggests that, while it's nice to hire somebody ready-trained for
your exact needs, most companies and organizations like to train
generally-capable people into their specific requirements.

Then somebody else points out that ours is a supporting activity,
and doesn't exhibit most of the hallmarks of (say) engineering,
medicine, and law, especially as regards the formal educational and
"apprenticeship" requirements. (And then we get into a death-spiral
argument where somebody picks nits about undergrad and post-grad
studies, articling-vs-internship-or-was-that-residency, and
other issues that cloud the accreditation/licensing picture.)

And then there's the good stuff that Gene mentioned about PE
designation, which used to be the definition of a "real" engineer,
but now see how hard it is to find somebody with the ticket, so
they can sign your passport application... :-)

And then there's the matter of simple numbers. Sure, there are
boatloads of us. But look around. How many medical doctors,
specialized or not, are there compared with the number of
medical/pharmaceutical tech writers 10,000:1?
How about the number of hardware engineers and technicians to
the number of tech-writers who write about planes, trains,
autombiles, elevators, and weapons systems? Or the number of
software engineers and developers compared to the number of
us who write for their products (hint, in this office alone
it's more than 30:1.... I'm the 1).
When I'm being honest with myself - which is more often as
I age ( :-D ) I admit that a good half of the engineers/
developers here could organize and write as well as I do,
and that every couple of years we have somebody who could
write circles around me. If you care to be honest, most of
you, the same applies where you work. We are hired because
we are good at what we do, but we generally cost less than
having the developers do the work (even if we make more money
than _some_ developers).

My take: the whole /a/r/g/u/e/m/e/n/t/ discussion is about some
folks wanting to create a Guild and, of course, be on top or part
of the inner sanctum... effectively pulling up the rope ladder,
closing the trap-door of the treehouse, and shouting "we got ours,
and we are the gate-keepers, so pay up or find another line of work -
you've been swooped!"

If a successful push (as opposed to the abortive ones of the past)
were to start now, I would be largely unaffected, given my
time-in, and my time-remaining. That is, before the new machinery
could build up a crushing bureaucratic momentum, I'd be out of the
game. In other words, I don't have a big personal stake in this.

I'd bet though, that if some crew eventually wears us down and
achieves "success", then as they too are smugly retiring, they'll be
encouraging their children to start herding the cats known as
"graphic designers" (and related names/descriptions) into special
pens that will eliminate _that_ nasty, difficult-to-control creativity
stuff and the associated (gasp of disgust!) individuality.
Eventually, there'll be no new frontiers to fence in. What then? ;->

My final observation on the theme of "why bother establishing a Guild"
is this:
In my decades at this game, I have seen our numbers actually shrink
relative to the numbers of people who are actually _making_ stuff.
When I started, the local techpubs group was an actual group,
being about 1/4 the size of the development team.
Now I'm a lone writer at a branch office with (as mentioned above)
a ratio of 1/30. Head office has about five hundred people, of which
about half are engineers, techs and developers, and still they rate
only two writers. Quite a change.
That's because technology has made us more productive (in some ways).
Technology has automated big chunks of what we do, reducing our
scope in many cases to oversite (are those Javadocs emerging as
readable, usable help? or do we need to tweak the settings?)
Technology is making it less and less onerous for reasonably proficient
writerly engineers, doctors, software designers, chemists, and rocket
scientists to write most of their own docs as a relatively minor
offshoot of their "real" task and then engage a tech-writer or editor
for occasional or end-of-process work. Anybody noticed a trend to
fewer "captive" writers and more freelance and contract?
Any North Americans noticed that, while the off-shoring trend
reversed itself for call centers (people got irate when they had a
product problem in Kalamazoo and Satinder in Bangalore had to
look up Kalamazoo on Google-maps), but there's been no equivalent
reversal w.r.t. documentation? Anybody noticed that the job you get
hired for now, at a big North American company is likely to be as
"supervisor" for a stable of writers in another country, and that
there are necessarily fewer of that kind of job to be had?

I realize this makes some people ache to impose a form of trade
protectionism... er, I mean "profession" protectionism. I'm just not
sure y'all realize on how very many fronts this is a race that you'll
likely lose.


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