Re: Certification

Subject: Re: Certification
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 08:18:00 EST

>I was a panel member on the recent STC video show about certification.
>One of the points we ran out of time before I could make was that I
>feel certification to be somewhat akin to Dumbo's magic feather.
>He became convinced that he could not fly without it, until he discovered
at the end of the >movie that he could fly perfectly well without it.

>If we create a certificate (an arduous process in and of itself), we
>have to educate the market as to the purpose and validity of the
>certification. I feel that energy would be better spent simply
>educating the market as to the purpose and validity of the
>*profession.* Real respect will grow out of that.

Bonni, I've seen the years spent to this point trying to educate the market
about our "profession." There is no such thing right now, except in our own
minds, and the market knows it. The reason why I'm so adamant about
certification is precisely because without it the rest of the world will
never take us seriously. At minimum, a profession can identify the core
skills necessary to master to call oneself a professional. We can't even do
that. And it's NOT because there aren't such core skills. The reaction of
the marketplace to our platitudes of "the purpose and validity of the
'profession'" has been a uniform "Yeah? Well what evidence can I see of
either purpose or validity?" And I've never had an answer that could stand
up to full examination.

It's also a sad and simple fact that clients and employers who are
unfamiliar with techdoc will not, ever, ever, ever take the time or trouble
to correct their ignorance. To say that we're going to "educate the
marketplace" is to force on the marketplace an awareness that it doesn't
want and will promptly jettison when we get done talking. They don't want
deep knowledge. They want a clean, simple certificate that carries some
small degree of credibility, the sort of credibility that a professional
organization can add. I would suggest, in fact, that rather than polling
tech writers about certification, we poll employers and clients to see if a
certificate would mean anything to THEM. They're the reason we're here,
after all.

>With all the focus on scanned resumes and keyword lists (that can force
>us to be valuable as tool users rather than writers), will adding
>another hurdle really help the profession?

I wouldn't advocate adding hurdles. Let anybody who wants to print business
cards that say "technical writer." And we're often viewed as tool users
precisely because that's what we've allowed the marketplace to descend to.
The marketplace has no other means of distinguishing the wheat from the
chaff, except by putting the company's front-line materials in the hands of
the newcomer and praying hard that the "fancy typist" can produce good stuff.

My argument is, at its heart, that we are responsible for the fragmented and
confused picture that the world has of us. We're not a profession, Bonni.
Professions have standards and recognition. We have neither. Even barbers
are more "professional" than we are, because they have entry standards.
Right now any semi-competent engineer, programmer or plumber who tires of
his chosen field figures that he can always become a technical writer, if
all else fails. And he can. All he has to do is change his business card.
I'm advocating that we establish another, stronger level that will mark the
occupants as true professionals. If the fallen programmer wants to aspire to
that level, he'll be as welcome as the others who've already climbed the
ladder. Those on the "upper tier" have passed through the ring of fire and
can proudly say so to clients and employers. Entry to the upper tier would
be through the entry standard. Those who don't want to climb the ladder can
do what they've always done. But at least the upper deck would establish us
to the world as the closest thing we can get to being conventionally-judged
"professionals." And yes, I think it would help our profession enormously.

>Bonni Graham
>Manual Labour
>bonnig -at- ix -dot- netcom -dot- com

Tim Altom
Vice President
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training
Voice 317.899.5882
Fax 317.899.5987

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