Re: Certification (long)

Subject: Re: Certification (long)
From: Bonni Graham <bonnig -at- IX -dot- NETCOM -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 25 Dec 1995 10:42:33 -0800

David Ibbetson (who's not as much of an idiot as he would have us
believe...<g>) wrote:

>I used to belong to the British Computer Society. There was no particular
>test for Student or Associate members, but to be a Fellow, one required both
>academic qualifications and practical experience.

Now this suits my notion of how to define a profession better. I see some of
the tests that other groups use for certification, and I find them lacking
(that's one of my objections to certification). I see peer evaluation of those
who simply have the certification and think that makes them a professional, and
I find the peers laughing at the lack of experience or ability to turn
experience into skill (that's another of my objections to certification).

If we could find a way to certify via a real-world kind of test, I would be
much more open to it. I'd still probably think of it as something akin to
checking a five-year-old's closet for monsters, but I'd be more open to
accepting it.

IF we certify, I think the absolute lowest level of certification would be a
general test. Then we'd have specialty tests (e.g., writing or designing for
online is quite different than writing or designing for paper). Then we'd have
portfolio reviews. THEN I'd like to see the certifying body hire (or form som
cooperative agreement with) a usability-testing firm to test the portfolio

>When I try to be brief I become obscure. When I try to explain myself I'm
>probably too wordy.

I'd actually like to hear more about how the BCS evaluated members, as well as
how other societies and professions are handling this issue. Anyone have any
leads or extra information?

Tim Alton noted in response to my post that programmers don't have this problem
because there's usually more than one programmer at a site and the *skills are
known and understood* (emphasis mine). Isn't this just what I'm saying we
should accomplish? Is it truly impossible or inefficient to do this without

(I'm not quoting from Tim because this post is going to be long enough as it

I had asked if one had to have a certification process to establish standards,
to which Tim replied that a certificate was the only way to prove competence in
and adherance to the standards. That wasn't my question. I agree that
certification is probably the simplest and quickest way to guarantee (at least
for the duration of the test) adherance to a standard by any given

But my question is "are we putting the cart before the horse?" Maybe we should
establish standards first, then step back and see how the marketplace regards
simply having the standards. Certification alone isn't going to help if the
only reason a person takes the test is to get the certificate (which is exactly
what happens with the ASE certs). Once the person has the cert, they'll often
continue to do things the way they've always done, whether that's the way
recommended by the cert or not.

My husband used to be a mechanic (automotive electrician, for those who care),
and according to all the mechanics I've talked to, the only thing the cert if
good for is getting you in the door. It doesn't get you peer approval, it
doesn't guarantee you know anything more about cars than what was required to
pass the test, it doesn't guarantee that you will be successful. There's a lot
of ASE certified mechanics out there who have to do a lot of rework because
they simply didn't fix the car properly the firs time.

Is this what we want? If it is, we're probably in deep doo-doo. If it isn't,
but we (or rather our marketplace) still want certification, we're going to
have to use a radically different procedure.

My point is still that there are a lot of companies out there who don't see the
value of having a dedicated professional do the job of creating the
"information product" (to be as inclusive as I can) at all. The programmer can
write it just fine, is how they think (note to transferred programmers --
sometimes the programmer can, and I do know that). We can certify until we're
blue in the face and we won't reach this company, because they don't think they
need a separate writer at all, let alone a certified one.

THESE companies are the ones causing us the most trouble. Every place I've
worked where they felt they needed a writer or pubs dept afforded me at least a
little respect (and in most cases quite a bit) *without* a certification. Do I
think I would have received more respect, money, professional courtesy, etc.,
*with* a cert? No, I don't, because in my experience the lack of respect was
due to the lack of obvious income generated by my work, not because there were
no real or perceived standards applied to me. I was viewed as a cost center
but not a profit center -- I brought in no direct dollars to justify my
existence. I think that's the heart of the problem.

I think certification is an overreaction (for the software industry at least --
there may be other facets of TW that truly do need a cert to be viewed as
professional, like medical writing. Anyone out there have an answer?). It may
end up being necessary, and in retrospect we may end up wishing we'd gone for
the jugular right away, but I'd still rather try other methods first.

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

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