Re: Certification

Subject: Re: Certification
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Sun, 24 Dec 1995 17:52:00 EST

>The points Tim's making are exactly why I would seek a certification if
>one existed -- but they don't make me like it any better. If I'm
>understanding Tim right, he's saying that it's still a magic feather,
>its just a magic feather for employers, rather than us. If THEY see us
>holding the feather, they'll take us more seriously, pay us more, etc.

Bonni, don't misunderstand my position; I'm not in favor of certification
per se. I'm in favor of what it can bring in the marketplace. Like you, I'd
like to believe that skill, experience and competence will win us a place in
the hearts and minds of those who hire us. But we both know they won't.

>a) And mechanics (who, at least in the US pretty much need a ASE
>General Master cert to get any job above lot rat or oil changer) are so
>respected by their employers and the populace at large. (sarcasm
>intended, but gently)

But they ARE better able to get a job, merely because Joe Whosis Ford knows
that the holder is at least minimally capable, even if he's a drunk and a
wastrel. It doesn't make the mechanic Thomas Edison, but it does fill an
important check box.

>Ditto teachers (if I had heard "those who can't do, teach" ONE more
>time at a parent-teacher conference, I would have become dangerously

Again, public perception of teachers was WORSE a hundred years ago, when
anybody who could read a little could pass herself off as a teacher. We're
still living with that perception, despite its being nearly a century out of

>b) I don't know any programmers who have certification, and they don't
>have this problem. I know a whole bunch of programmers who have
>nothing more than a self-proclaimed and time-proven understanding of
>their chosen programming language, and they don't have this problem.

But a programmer's basic skills are usually well-known by the employer, who
is probably a programmer too. Most companies don't hire just one
programmer, and if they do, it's relatively easy to tell if the code runs or
not. The test isn't that hard to perform. A week on the job, and it's
becoming fairly obvious if a programmer has a little of what it takes.
TechDoc'ers don't have that kind of advantage. Many companies hire only one
or two of us, and our first work products can take months to produce.

>I don't think the issue is proving our ability to perform our skills
>(which is all certification can measure). I think the issue is
>convincing clients and employers that these skills are necessary and
>desirable, and that I think can be done without a certificate.

My point is that the employer/client doesn't know what skills are necessary,
and doesn't care to find out. He'd just as soon leave that determinatino up
to a group that DOES presumably And once we come up with a
definition of our core skills, how shall we make it possible for a candidate
to demonstrate those skills? There are only two ways: grandfathering, and
skills assessment testing.

>"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."

>I've usually been able to say that I can decrease support calls related
>basic understanding of the software and increase their customers
>perception of a commitment to quality. Both of which are true (no, I
>can't give you stats -- unfortunately the two clients that I have
>spoken directly to about this do not keep such statistics. However,
>their support people have reported a noticeable difference in the kinds
>of calls taken. I keep trying to get them to keep stats.).

That's what I mean by "full examination." No stats, no argument. One or two
clients out of dozens wouldn't be encouraging to me.

>"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."

>I can support this ONE HUNDRED percent. I can not like certification
>all I want, but if my *marketplace* wants me to have it, I'll be first
>in line (well, OK, second -- probably Tim will beat me there <g>).

>"We're not a profession, Bonni. Professions have standards and

>So let's implement standards and recognition -- do these things have to
>be tied to certification? I'm genuinely asking this.

How else shall we measure whether we should extend recognition to those who
have demonstrated their mastery of the standards? We can pat each other on
the back, certainly, but that holds no water to the outside world. I think
we're reaching the nub of this argument: one camp wants a purely internal
awards dinner form of recognition, while I'm advocating a hard-nosed,
commercially-viable certification program that would force us to see
ourselves, not the way we WANT to be seen, but as we ARE seen. That's
painful. Too many of us would like to hide behind the vaporous shields of
"reputation" and "respect." We then all become, not a disciplined formation
flight, but rather a motley collection of workers inching our ways forward,
each of us setting his own goals and standards and scrounging in his own
tiny patch of dirt, each with his own little fiefdom. Clients and employers
wander from fiefdom to fiefdom, each with its own rules and its own conduct,
each fiefdom seeking its own form of respect and reputation. That may be a
form of freedom, and a last refuge of the iconoclasts, but it's not a
profession. A profession sets A SINGLE SET of standards and then recognizes
FORMALLY that candidates have met those standards. That's the difference
between a job and a profession. A professional always has two sets of
standards: his profession's, and his employer's. That's why it's tough to be
a professional. Some professionals have more allegiance to their common
standards than others, but all professions have some form of job schizophrenia.

>I definitely don't want to give the impression that I don't think
>standards are important. I don't want to give the impresion that I
>don't take my job and its related skills seriously. I just don't know
>that I agree that certification is way to create/enforce

Certification doesn't enforce or create anything. It's the attitudes of the
practitioners that will both create and enforce standards. Again, I
reiterate that until we deal with the fact that the world sees us holding
ourselves to no OBJECTIVE standards, we will not be a profession. We can't
just declare ourselves a profession. We may be an industry, but we're not a
profession. I hold myself to a professional standard, too, but that doesn't
mean anything to my clients. They want to see a uniform standard, one that
all of us can look up to, and that is objectively provable.

>Wo-hoo! We've got a discussion going!

>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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