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This is a knotty problem in fact. I worked for over 20 years in the medical
field and watched all sorts of groups go from demonstrably competent to
technically certified to formally educated. It's a slippery slope that will
always follow the same pattern. We will be caught in that pattern at some
point. Now is the time to start asking and answering how it will happen, not
whether it will happen.
Norbert Wiener, Alan F. Turing, or Grace Hopkins would be ineligible for a
typical beginning programmer's job today because none of them held a degree
in computer science. So far as I know, one of the great technical writers in
history, Isaac Asimov, never took a course in the subject. I daresay most of
us do not hold technical writing degrees, journalism degrees, or engineering
degrees. Most English majors among us have taken exactly one composition
course, the same number any other undergraduate has completed.
What would be the criteria for certification? Who would determine those
criteria? Can any criteria be fair to narrowly but highly skilled technical
writers? Conversely, can any criteria weed out barely capable but broadly
experienced technical writers?
What about education? One of the better technical writers I know has a Ph.D
in nuclear chemistry. Another has a BA in English. My technical content and
style fall between the two (in opposite directions for each characteristic),
but my degree is in health care administration. Should any certification
program require particular education? Should certification favor education
over experience or vice versa? Or should certification be neutral on
education vs. experience? Should required education include such topics as
general management of projects and people? What should it include? Who
should determine what it should include? Should the older hands be
grandfathered? Why or why not? Who would determine whether somebody is an
older hand, using what criteria?
Finally, we should be aware that any move toward certification or education
will almost certainly have an economic effect. Certification and education
barriers generally raise the income of individuals by limiting the supply.
However, anybody can hang out a technical writer's shingle and undercut
those who have incurred the time and money expenses for the right piece of
paper. Finally, in some cases educational barriers don't help the individual
a bit--just ask any degreed librarian how the job market looks and what the
John -dot- Renish -at- conner -dot- com
My statements are my own and do not represent Conner Peripherals, Inc.