Re[5]: Certification (Alas, even longer)

Subject: Re[5]: Certification (Alas, even longer)
From: "Arlen P. Walker" <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 2 Jan 1996 14:56:00 -0600

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?

No. And the reasons why are rather simple:

1) It is often put forward that certification serves as an indicator of
quality, and that companies interested in quality will pursue certified
people. Therefore, certification will become a prerequisite for many jobs.

2) As has already been discussed, what was being used by some people as a
quick and easy yardstick for judging a person's qualifications will quite
often spread to more and more firms, to the point where it becomes a
practical requirement. It won't be imposed upon employers; the herd
mentality will take care of that without any need for outside imposition.

3) I haven't seen it during this go-round (I've deleted most of this cycle's
postings unread) but in every other go-round, Certification has been touted
as The Way to Keep The Riff-Raff Out Of Our Profession. The way it
accomplishes this is either by mandatory certification (as NJ proposed to do
to computer prrammers) or by making sure that the high-quality shops, the
shops that care (and therefore, the only shops worth working in) will want
certified writers.

All of these scenarios put stumbling blocks in the way of writers entering
the field from other fields. If you had a relatively satisfying career with
a good company, you'd hardly be likely to throw it over for the possibility
that someday you might get to work for a good company as a writer. You'd be
more likely to try to migrate into a writing job at your company, wouldn't
you? But your company (having bought into the certified is better line)
doesn't hire non-certified writers, so you're cooked.

You can't have it both ways. Either Certification has value, and therefore
ends up excluding people from jobs, or it will not be a barrier to getting a
job, in which case it has no practical meaning.

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

Bonnie or other STC folk: Doesn't the STC proposal have education (as in a 4
year degree) as one of it's requirements? I seem to recall that from the
last go round.

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.

Just a note, but it's off topic: I don't think you *can* have an objective
assessment. All assessments are biased by the assessor. The trick will be
coming up with a bias we can all live with. Aye, there's the rub.

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

Amusing that you seem to think writers and the generic tech-writing task is
like an extension cord. I've not seen anyone put forward anything resembling
a set of objective specs for certification (though Geoff has come the
closest, I'll cheerfully admit).

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.

Let's at least be consistent about this, OK? It can't be both that "we don't
need to do anything about proving..." and "individually prove ... to the
hiring department." We either have to prove it or not. And we *do* have to
prove it, one way or another. And, as you yourself admitted, certification
will still leave us with a profession containing unskilled writers. So we
will *still* have to individually prove ourselves, regardless of

And whoever said things will change for the better, dependent upon our
repetition? Seems to me the ones guaranteeing change are the certification
camp. I'll guarantee change will occur, no matter what we do, because that's
the nature of life. I won't, however, be so arrogant as to guarantee either
that certification will improve our lot nor that avoiding certification will
improve our lot.

My worth as a tech writer is inherent in my skills. It is not inherent in
any certification program, no matter how many years ago I was certified. My
skills and my ability will change both before and after certification. It's
like measuring the depth of a river, then expecting that depth to still be
valid a mile downstream. (Can I get a chorus of "Waist Deep in the Big

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."

Both, actually. Every profession begins to ossify when pieces of paper
become more valuable than the people themselves. And I'm a prime candidate
for exclusion under the certification regime.

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

OK, I'll bite. How can we *possibly* be responsible for our colleagues'
adherence to standards of quality without having the ability to negatively
impact them in some fashion? If I have no control over you, how can I
possibly be said to be responsible for your actions?

If you take refuge in the "set a good example" defense, please explain how a
certification process is necessary, rather than my just doing a good job and
being willing to help you learn how to do one as well?

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

"Baseline measurements?" Hmm, don't look now, but we're awfully close to
erecting barriers against entry, something you swore certification had
nothing to do with. Of what value is a "baseline measurement" if it has no
effect on entrants?

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.

Are we willing to exclude those people who can do the job, but don't see the
need for a piece of paper?

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.

Thanks, Tim. Now I don't have to rely on previous go-rounds of the topic to
answer your questions from earlier:

You asked: For that matter, can someone also enlighten me as to any
pro-certification poster seriously proposing to make education a
prerequisite, either?

You're at least implying it in your physician analogy above.

Again, You asked: 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?

Once again, it's implied in your analogy. Just try hanging up a shingle as a
doctor without that certificate.

I'll leave it up to others to judge how "rugged" my individualism is. Labels
aren't my business. I function as part of a team, and get the job done. I
consider the true test of a writer is how well the words communicate the
ideas behind them. Is certification a Good Idea? Call me a skeptic on that
point. I don't think it'll do anything more than enshrine one paradigm at
the expense of all future progress. It will create a new power structure,
and this structure, like all others before it, will take on survival
instincts and resist stubbornly all attempts to bend it into a usuable form.
Do I think you and Bonnie and Grant and the other Certification people have
a hidden agenda, wanting desperately to get clods like me out of the
profession? No. (At least not "desperately." ;{>} ) I just think that
despite the best intentions in the world, the Certification Beast will take
control of its own destiny, and by extension that of our successors.

Do I think certification will happen? Alas, yes. I don't think there's any
way to stop it. Humanity has proven time and again, that if it can possibly
erect a power structure to control other humans, it will not hesitate to do
so. Most of these structures get erected in all innocence by well-meaning,
high-minded people. But the good intentions rarely outlast the founders.
This despair will not, however, induce me to "relax and enjoy the

"Do not go gentle into that good night
But rage, rage against the dying of the light."

BTW, Tim. Lovely piece of oratory there at the end of your post. You, sir,
are definitely a writer. (Unfortunately, I was forced to borrow my ending
from Dylan Thomas.)

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 124

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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