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Subject:Cert, licensing and experience From:Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET> Date:Tue, 26 Dec 1995 15:21:00 EST
I'd like to respond to several of the remarks I've seen, if I may.
First, there has been some mention here of equating certification with the
licensing that doctors, lawyers, accountants and professional engineers must
have to practice. Certification, of course, is not licensing and is not
meant to establish a tollgate to the profession, as licensing does.
Second, some posters have made the point that experience and reputation are
better indicators of skill than is certification. This is, unhappily, not
the case. Such an approach ignores the fact that most clients and employers'
representatives simply don't know what questions to ask us, nor how to
determine if a perfidious candidate is lying. Reputation is almost
meaningless in a rapidly-turning-over business population in a city of more
than a million people, as mine is. Reputations only have value if those who
hold and communicate the reputations remain in seats of power long enough
for the rumors to become fact by repetition. This is often not the case.
Managers circulate so rapidly that today's hiring manager in Buffalo is
tomorrow's district manager in the Toronto office.
Experience is even less reliable, as one particular poster noted. Most
managers don't know that a writer's words are often massaged by editing and
surrounded by competent design. A writer is often a member of a team, and
samples from such an enterprise are worthless without an honest explanation
of the writer's role on the team. Worse, experience is highly subjective,
although it masquerades as calendar objectivity. Some of the worst writers I
have known were highly experienced, and kept making the same mistakes over
and over again, to the eventual chagrin of their clients. "Experience" has
no verifiable, objective existence, except for the ticking of the clock.
Sheer time passage while in a profession is not, by itself, an indicator of
Finally, one poster wrote that I used ASE mechanic certification as my
example of a program that works. This is incorrect. I have no knowledge of
that program, nor of its efficacy. But there is a program with which I am
familiar, and it works admirably.
Manufacturing engineers have much in common with tech writers. In both
professions, practitioners have traditionally fallen into it, rather than
being trained specifically for it. And MEs are often underpaid and maligned
in manufacturing because of this fact. It's a standing joke that you can
tell which parking lots are used by design engineers and which by MEs by
seeing which holds Mercedes and which has Chevys.
Unlike our profession, however, MEs long ago recognized the need for a "ring
of fire" (my term) to separate the ordinary from the extraordinary. For many
years, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers has given a skull-popping
certification exam that even experienced engineers find difficult.
The results have been impressive; the resulting "piece of useless paper" is
seen as so indicative of quality work that even degreed engineers feel the
need to acquire it, and virtually all of the top-level officers in the
Society have successfully taken the test. The certification is meaningful in
the marketplace, and is generally recognized in industry. In short, it's a
success story. I was a member of the Society, and I witnessed the "piece of
paper"'s power first-hand. Those who have it are objects of veneration in
local chapters. And lest it be thought that the program worked because of a
limited professional skills definition, you should know that MEs work in a
staggering array of industries, from chemical refineries to plating
facilities, machine shops, electronics makers and education. The program
simply has a core skills test, followed by the candidate's pick from among a
few specialty tests.
Let me make one thing quite clear: I'm wholeheartedly for certification, not
because I revere paper testing, but because I am both employer and vendor. I
would like a candidate for my open position to have the drive to achieve a
certificate, and I'm being asked by my clients for objective proof of
competence in my subcontractors. I'm not speaking here as a tech writer, but
as a businessperson. I can both buy and sell a certification. And I would
frankly like to hear from other owners and managers in this group. I'm so
strongly convinced of the marketability of a certificate that if STC doesn't
institute one within the next year or so, our company will begin training
and certifying our own people. I'd prefer that it be more general, but I
will see that it is done in our area.
Simply Written, Inc.
Technical Documentation and Training