Re: Certification/Degrees

Subject: Re: Certification/Degrees
From: "Wing, Michael J" <mjwing -at- INGR -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 1996 09:55:48 -0600

>Michael, I think you've confused two things: basic competence and specific
>job skills.

I haven't confused a thing. My point is that employers are looking for
supplementary skills, not replacement skills. Yes, all the candidates
are writers, but can they also do X, Y, and Z? Do they have any
subject-matter knowledge?

>Let's expand the interview a bit farther, shall we?

>Employer: What do you know about laying out documentation?
>Writer: Well, I was on a team with a layout person once.
>Employer: What do you know about writing stepwise instructions?
>Writer: I did that once, I think.
>Employer: Have you documented C++ code?
>Writer: Yes, Yes! I've done that!
>Employer: Ever done anything anybody can actually read?
>Writer: Uh, I think so. But boy, do I know C++!

This example assumes that the candidate is not an experienced writer.
However, you do a good Chubby Checker (Let's twist again).

I'm stating that ALL candidates in the scenario are writers. However,
the 'job fit' is this interview is for writers who ALSO know some
programming. Learning to program does not overwrite the sections in the
brain that know who to formulate sentences.

>Tragically, however, employers don't know to ask about the most basic and
>important factors, such as flexibility, willingness to learn, basic
>competence on computers, layout experience, understanding of human
>cognition. That's our job, not stuffing C++ jargon into manuals. This year
>C++, next year Java, the year after... At least, it's my job, and hopefully
>the job of everyone I hire. I can learn C++, enough to write most
>documentation, in a fairly short time. And besides, most tech doc'ers don't
>read or write code; they write about the interface. The requirement that a
>writer know a specific code set is spurious 90% of the time. It's
>human-to-human interaction that's the fundamental of our tasks. Basics,
>basics, basics.

Well then, let's look at some typical job listing s for software writers
(being that the example we are debating is for a software writing
position). Tell me if they ask for both writing skills AND
software/technical skills. My point, as it has been all along, is not
that subject matter skills replace writing skills. It's that they
supplement writing skills. Many companies don't want a generic TW.
They want a writer who also . . . ! If you don't believe me, read the
ads. Very few look for a straight writer without also stating that the
want subject-matter experience, technical skills/background, and so

DUTIES: Develop and maintain operating system manuals. Work closely with
kernel and file system software developers to ensure completeness and
accuracy of the information presented and to influence software product
design. Work with other writers to explore new ways to present
programming information for online consumption.

Requires a BS in Computer Science or similar technical field, Technical
Writing or similar writing field, or equivalent experience. 5-8 years of
writing, software development, or support experience in a technical
environment. Strong technical skills, including knowledge of at least
one programming language. Strong researching skills.
EDU/EXP: Requires BS/BA/equivalent experience in computer science,
technical communication, English, journalism, or related technical
field. Minimum of 5 to 8 years of technical writing, software
development, or support experience in a technical environment.
Familiarity with a programming language is helpful. Requires experience
with desktop publishing tools, Macintosh and PC operating systems, NT
experience is a plus.
Qualifications Preferred: * Experience developing, writing and
delivering electronic documentation development including online help
and electronic books * Knowledge of NetWare 4 administrator and user
tasks. Knowledge of Novell Directory Services, NetWare Communication
Protocols, and the NetWare SDK. * Strong computer background which
includes familiarity with C programming language * Strong English
writing and editing skills Education: A Bachelor's degree and 3+ years
experience or equivalent Years of Industry Experience with the
Following: 2+ years experience documenting software, SDK and APIs

How are you going to certify a broad spectrum of writing scenarios??
Does a writer strong in the insurance field stand the same chance of
being certified as a writer in the software field (or vice versa)? As
the ads show, companies want writers who write PLUS . . . The
certificate does nothing to certify the plus! And its the plus that
makes one candidate a 'fit' for the job and another candidate a 'miss'.

>>Do they really care what we establish for standards? They have specific
>>needs, budgets for salaries, job duties, and so forth. We seem to
>>forget who is hiring who!

>Nope, I haven't. Remember, Michael, I'M an employer too. If another employer
>wants an unproven techie who's just graduated from a vocational typing
>class, then fine. But often the writing is slipshod, bunched-up, wild and
>unreadable. In short, it isn't usable for the intended audience, because the
>newbie doesn't have the foggiest idea how to communicate.

I'm not talking about an unproven techie. I'm talking about a Tech
Writer Plus. That is Tech writer plus programming, Tech Writer plus
insurance procedure experience, Tech Writer plus electronic testing
background, . . .

>Years ago nobody
>would have cared, but in today's world the HR department wants and needs to
>know what minimum standards have been developed for a profession. Run
>upstairs and ask your own HR people about this.

We don't have an upstairs ;^)

>See what their position is.
>Do they want to hire blindly? Or would they prefer both base certification
>AND specific experience? Even samples can't substitute for this, because
>much documentation is a team effort and the candidate may not have ever
>touched a layout package, making the clean look of the final document seem
>to be his own work when in reality it isn't.

If this list is a microcosm of the Tech Writing community, there will be
no base certification standards. There is no common baseline from which
to draw. Any attempt at drawing standards, IMO, will be fraught with
personal agendas and interests. The field is too broad and dynamic to
tie down.

Mike Wing

| Michael Wing
| Principal Technical Writer
| Infrastructure Technical Information Development
| Intergraph Corporation
| Huntsville, Alabama
| (205) 730-7250
| mjwing -at- ingr -dot- com

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