Re: Re[3]: Certification (long)

Subject: Re: Re[3]: Certification (long)
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 1996 12:17:00 EST

>Certification adds one more item to the to-do list for anyone wanting to
>enter the field. As Robert mentioned, it's a good way to ensure that all
>tech writers are the same. It makes sure that 99% of tech writers have made
>their decision in their teenage years, and come to the field with pristine
>minds, unpolluted by the knowledge and experiences of other career fields.

Arlen, can can you or someone please explain to me where the concept entered
this discussion that certification would become a prerequisite to entering
the profession? I've seen it crop up in many anti-certification arguments,
but I've yet to see it in any advocate's posting. For my own position, I'd
say certification will NOT, repeat NOT ever be a prequisite! Is it necessary
to be any plainer? Should I repeat it? Certification will not, cannot, shall
not, ever become a prerequisite to entering the profession and hanging out a
shingle! No one has proposed this, and no one can enforce it. Can we please
eliminate this argument from the discussion?

For that matter, can someone also enlighten me as to any pro-certification
poster seriously proposing to make education a prerequisite, either? Again,
I've seen it in the anti-certification posts, but I've yet to see it
actively proposed. I haven't proposed it. And again I can't imagine anyone
seriously following through with it.

>A side note about Robert's programmer analogy. Many companies are now
>finding it easier to take business people and teach them programming skills
>than to take programming people and teach them about the business.

That's marvelous. The hiring company then has a programmer who has no
transferrable skills and can write adequate code only for one company: a
"programmer" only in the most restricted sense. Most programmers I know
shudder at following up code written by such people. That's not to say they
can't become sterling professionals, but I think any future employer or
co-worker would have to feel a little unsettled having such an unproven
entity in the next cube. Most clients and employers I know are much happier
with a candidate who has taken the time and trouble to seek out and pass an
objective, third-party assessment. Such a candidate, no matter how he came
to be in his current profession, is at the very least a person with a
commitment to that new profession, rather than simply an unknown quantity
from off of the street.

>Certification is an exclusionary process. I continue to find it little
>short of hilarious that a list which is so sensitive to exclusionary
>language can be so hot for excluding anyone who is "not-us."

Again, I'm afraid that this is a straw-man argument. No pro-certification
poster has ever suggested making entry into the profession or entry into a
company or entry into a job contingent on having certification. We would
exclude no one from the profession. We would still welcome all newcomers,
from whatever source. But yes, it's exclusionary in the sense that you'd
have to PROVE capability to a an impartial third party to get that party's
seal of approval, much like manufacturers seek the UL seal. And why do they
do it? Because UL has a high reputation for testing claims, that's why.
Because manufacturers know that the UL seal will be taken as prima facie
evidence that the manufacturer's claims are valid, if not guaranteed. So
this argument of "woe betide us if we set up a 'elitist' tollgate" is a
nonentity simply because no one is putting forward such a plan.

One commonality I have detected in virtually all anti-certification posts is
the "rugged individual" argument. Basically, it states that "we" do not need
to do anything about proving "our" adherence to high standards. Rather let's
"individually" prove this to the hiring department, over and over and over,
and if we do if often enough, things will change. It's a perversion of the
chaos theory's butterfly effect. I'm sorry, but I have to question whether
such opinions reflect a concern for our profession as a whole, or whether
they're simply "every man for himself." My question, at the heart of all
this discussion is this: are we, or are we not, a profession? I've been
asking this fundamental question and no one who has taken issue with me has
answered it yet. It breaks down into three further questions:

1. Are we or are we not a profession, responsible IN ANY WAY for our
colleagues' awareness of, and adherence to, standards of quality?

2. Are we, or are we not, a profession in the sense that we MUST establish
common standards for baseline measurements of that quality?

3. Are we, or are we not, able to establish a program within which we can
certify those who have proven that they have met or exceeded the knowledge
levels needed to produce the quality standards that we have defined as
minimally adequate.

If we must honestly answer "no" to any one of these, then my friends we do
not have a profession at all, merely a fraternity. A profession acts as a
body, albeit slowly and with much pain. A profession has recognized minimal
abilities, as all physicians learn anatomy before embarking on specialized
training. A profession recognizes and publishes to the world the proven
abilities of those members who bother to seek out that recognition. Not, I
might add, an honorary fellowship of some kind, but a trial by fire that
confers distinction by right, not by acclaim. A profession is not made so by
its scattered, contentious members proclaiming themselves such. It's made so
when the members agree on minimal standards of competence and conduct that
their members should aspire to, and who then create a mechanism to recognize
achieving those standards.

So my questions stand ready for answers, friends. Are we, or are we not, a
profession? A true professional, with a recognized profession, has some
measure of responsibility to more than his current employer. He also has
some amount of loyalty and commitment to the standards of his profession,
and is willing to prove to the world that he has attained at least minimal
awareness of them and competence in them. Just saying the generic brand name
"technical writer" isn't enough, in my view. Manufacturers learned long ago
that brand loyalty wasn't enough. That's why UL, CA and many other systems
including ISO 9000 were implemented, so that customers who had never met you
could still have a minimal confidence in your assurances of quality. Why are
we so afraid to submit ourselves to a similarly fair and honest appraisal?
Or are not REALLY a profession after all?

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

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