RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler

Subject: RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler
From: "McLauchlan, Kevin" <Kevin -dot- McLauchlan -at- safenet-inc -dot- com>
To: Bill Swallow <techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2010 12:16:30 -0400

> From: Bill Swallow [mailto:techcommdood -at- gmail -dot- com] said:

> > A problem that was pointed out by others is that not
> > everybody is eligible for a given evaluation or testing
> > protocol - ex. the people who can't legally let you see
> > their portfolio.
> That is assumption, not fact. We don't know the specifics around how
> cases like this will be handled.

Exactly, but they do have to be handled. Either have an
alternative evaluation method (and a reason better than
"because we said so" that everybody isn't allowed to just
choose the method by which they will be evaluated), or see
my comment below about _publicly_ detailing categories that
you are not yet equipped to process.

> I feel like we're asking a toddler to parallel park a Chevy
> Avalanche...
> What part of 'initial stages' are we not understanding with regard to
> the certification effort?

Even at the initial stages, it pays to be aware and give
some consideration to stuff you won't be able to address
for a while, to:

a) let people know that 'it's on the list' we haven't forgotten

b) ensure that you don't paint yourself into a corner
by early choices that could have gone another way if
you'd anticipated the effect on things you'd eventually
need/want to address.

> > I've also raised the point that once your program gets
> > big enough, you are almost forced to leave behind any
> > labor-intensive evaluation practices in favor of more
> > testing-oriented certifications.
> Maybe. Again, we don't know the construct. If it's 3 people chained to
> a desk evaluating this stuff, then perhaps your prediction will be
> true. But, they're still planning this stuff out.

Those three people do a lot of chatting and browsing
and drinking coffee in the early days, between sporadic
bouts of evals. But if the enterprise takes off, they
start getting busy. Then fully employed. Then overworked.
Then burnt out.

"We decided early that we were against a testing paradigm,
so we're obliged to stick with portfolio evals. Youse-guys
will just hafta keep working double shifts until we can
find some more qualified bodies to handle the load. Ain't
success grand? By the way, we've been getting complaints -
lack of sleep is not an excuse for sloppy work. And your
pee-breaks will need to be shorter."

> > So I would want to see a classification system or a
> > categorization for the certs that would let people in
> > TW niches be represented properly.
> Likely the case as well.
> > The testable body of knowledge needs to be organized
> > such that:
> >
> > a) it is easily and repeatably accessible to all
> >   (when anybody comes looking, there's one obvious
> >    path in, and the content is mostly constant, and
> >    there's a defined "end" - i.e., not totally open-ended
> >    until you discover you self-paced/self-selected
> >    studied for the wrong test...)
> >
> >  b) it offers equivalent blocks or checkpoints for
> >    people in widely divergent industries and workflows
> >    that nevertheless fall under the rubric 'techwriter'.
> This is precisely why they chose the evaluation route. Because you
> have people (who even commented as such on my blog post about this)
> who firmly believe that their role of "technical writer" or "technical
> communicator" simply cannot be defined (in which case I cry
> "bullshoy") and that they wear too many hats to possibly be evaluated
> on a objective scale of any kind. Them's not my words. Again, I think
> this position is, well, laughable. If you can't define your job, how
> the heck are you performing it, and being evaluated by your
> boss/client/self for any type of advancement or continuation?

It's not that people can't be evaluated - though now we're
talking job performance being evaluated by your boss, and
not performance/attainment against some trade standard.

It's that the job IS all over the place, and varies with
the situation - even within one person's employment at
one company. That's probably _less_ true for members of
a documentation team, and more true for lone writers.

I suspect that most contract writers have more focused
responsibilities. They are hired to document something,
and they are seen as being there, short-term, for that
purpose. It's either unlikely or less likely that other
managers will see them as a general resource, or that
they'll be offered tasks responsibilities for which
they were not specifically hired.

Captive employees of lengthy tenure become part
of the corporate memory, and can often find themselves
doing stuff that's unrelated to the nominal task of
writing manuals/help. But their title doesn't necessarily
change - nor should it - if technical writing continues
to be a major part of their reason-for-being... there.

> > If there's a group of people that you simply don't have
> > a way to evaluate (at this time), then please say that
> > very obviously on your website(s). Legitimate techwriters
> > will need to point to an acknowledged reason why they don't
> > have your certification once you become the certification
> > heavyweight.
> A very good point. And it will create new goals for including those
> types (barring any kind of wizardry- or mysticism-heavy roles; those
> require evaluation by Hogwarts).

Because the secret-sauce people are already a problem for
the portfolio and "work artifacts" (??) evaluation model,
I've allowed my imagination to stop there for now. If that
gang gets specifically addressed, then other scenarios might
come to mind.

> > The basic modules should be freely accessible (and free-gratis)
> > because:
> >
> > a) pay is low or non-existent at-and-below the ground floor,
> > and most people are already paying for a formal education
> > at this-or-that institution
> >
> > b) they should be, well, basic.
> I disagree. Free certification is about as valuable as a ring out of a
> gumball machine.

We'll agree to disagree partially.
I'm thinking in terms of a baseline, entry-level cert.
If not free, then inexpensive, not onerous.
I'm also thinking of multiple levels vertically, and
multiple compartments/silos horizontally, so those
advanced certs would be sought by people who have been
employed for a while and looking to move up or at least
be recognized for what they've learned and done. Those
could have a non-trivial price-tag attached.

True, even the entry-level should have a nominal fee,
to give the applicants a feeling that they are pursuing
a thing of value... never mind the outsiders who might
use the cert as a screening tool.

> > I would also allow the taking of the tests/evaluations without
> > requiring that a person has formally completed each of your
> > study modules.
> Sure. If they want to pay to be tested or evaluated blind,
> let 'em have at it.
> > You can build a fee structure onto continuing education if
> > you want that to be a profit center, and on higher-level
> > testing/evaluation that certifies the levels above basic.
> Certification is not about continuing education. This is not a
> accredited diploma or certificate of course completion.

Again, if you can get the same necessary assortment of
portfolio and work artifacts (??) from any-and-every
applicant, and treat them all equally, it's not a big
deal. But if there are legitimate reasons why a number
of people might legitimately be unable to produce
enough material on which to be fairly evaluated (fair to
the other people who go through the process, as well as
fair to themselves), then you need a model that can be
applied to anybody who fits the [lumpy] mold of 'techwriter'.

If that doesn't eventually devolve to a testing paradigm,
then I'll be interested to see what does bubble to the
surface. But if it does come down to testing of knowledge,
skills, ability, then you need to let people know what
they are in for, in detail.

You also need to let them know - by keeping as much
info public as possible - that everybody is tested to
the same degree against the same standard. Which means
publishing the standard, which pretty much comes down
to a very detailed set of skills, tasks, samples (with
equivalents that apply across dissimilar industries).

One approach would be to have a set of exams on your
website. People could prep themselves for any/all,
but would never know which ones they would sit for,
until the day. That would be a good way to let people
see where their deficiencies might lie before they
tendered their credit cards. "Wow! That cost me
a thousand bucks to learn that my idea of 'doc plan'
didn't agree with theirs."

> > If there's a second general level of competence to
> > certify, then avoid having it require experience in
> > different industries. Wouldn't want to hold back a
> > really excellent documenter of silo equipment and
> > safety gear because s/he never wrote for Merck-Frosst
> > and doesn't know Mil-spec from a hole in the ground.
> Well of course.

Not 'of course'. Some people legitimately argue that
wide and varied experience should be an important
factor in master-level certification. You can go up
to senior journeyman level in a single industry, but
to go any further, you need some breadth to go with
your depth. I can see both sides of that argument,
and I don't know where I'd come down if pressed.

It'd be like arguing that you can't be a master
welder unless you've done structural steel,
pressure vessels, underwater, exotic metals, etc.

Others might argue that past a certain level you
must show evidence of "giving back" to the trade.
Verifiable volunteer positions and titles, perhaps.

Still others might plump for a requirement to have
taught TW at (say) a college level, before you could
be eligible for some rare, jewel-encrusted cert.

Or have your name on original research papers relating
to the field.

Others could argue that, since they are top-notch
technical communicators, and since they have done
a stint or two of proposal writing, in addition to
training and/or manual writing, then proposal writing
experience should be an attribute of any TW above
entry-level cert.

So I'll come back and argue that if you haven't
documented a large-corporation's biz-continuity
and disaster-recovery plan, then your TW experience
must be sorely lacking. No level-two cert for you :-)

> > So, the point of that was to suggest that certification
> > be kept as inclusive as possible, without sacrificing
> > real, valuable criteria.
> I think that's the goal.
> > Except as, possibly, a joke, don't make a category
> > that can only be attained by somebody who wrote for
> > _all_ of NASA, a nuclear submarine builder, Glaxxo-Wellcom,
> > IBM, John Deere, Lehman Bros., the Australian Department
> > of Lands and Resources, MI-5, and ... the training
> > manul for Hamburger U.   Unless you want it to be
> > something of an Honorary PhDucky like the CSPA "E"
> > license and the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement.
> STC would not be certifying on criteria best left for another industry
> or practice's area of expertise. That'd be extreme overkill and
> nothing would ever come of it as it'd be far to vast to get arms
> around.

See my comment about depth and breadth of individual
experience, above.

People who have wide/varied experience in a career are
likely (in my humble opinion as a hit-and-miss student
of human nature) to want that included as a favorable
or even qualifying attribute of some important recognition
... like a certification of some sort... senior/master
level perhaps. If they are on the committee deciding
what is to be evaluated, then chances are high that
they'll get their way. Other parties giving in to
their demand because " who are we gonna get to replace
this experienced volunteer at this critical juncture?"
would be making one of those political choices I
mentioned earlier - the kind that come back to bite
your butt a few years down the line.

None of the above is "stop the presses" stuff. It's
just things to be mindful of, when deciding what to
do next and where to aim. Swamp avoidance.

- K

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RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Sharon Burton
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Suzette Leeming
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Gene Kim-Eng
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Mike Starr
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Suzette Leeming
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Deborah Hemstreet
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Wade Courtney
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Bill Swallow
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Wade Courtney
RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Fred Ridder
RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Connie Giordano
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Tony Chung
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Bill Swallow
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: John Posada
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Bill Swallow
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Mike Starr
RE: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: McLauchlan, Kevin
Re: Certification: Ernest and Scribbler: From: Bill Swallow

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