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It seems to me we are nibbling at the edges of what is essentially a
social (and possibly essentially American) issue: how does society
value particular types of work?
Jane Bergen's list of professional criteria (membership in a
professional organization, taking development courses, and so on)
apply to virtually all American school teachers, yet they are famously
underpaid and poorly treated. The underlying reason? Their work is
ultimately not highly valued by American society.
Americans, being enamored of technology, regard technologists with
high esteem; doctors, engineers, astronauts, pilots and other
perceived masters of technology are given high status by American
society, and are recompensed accordingly.
But the majority of creative workers, such as artists, dancers, actors
and writers, receive far less regard, and are paid primarily with lip
service, with the exception of a few superstars.
Therefore, to equate professionalism with size of income and/or the
approbation of society is to invite negative conclusions for anyone
who does not work as a recognized technologist.
Following this logic, a less subjective definition of professionalism
seems warranted. Turning to my trusty Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary (10th Edition), I find:
profess - 4a: to practice or claim to be versed in (a calling or
profession - 4a: a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often
long an intensive academic preparation
professional - 1c(1): characterized by or conforming to the technical
or ethical standards of a profession
Is technical writing a profession? I would most heartily say "yes!"
Is every technical writer a professional? I would most heartily say
Pinning your professional self-esteem on the judgement of prospective
clients, HR managers, bosses or anyone else who lacks an appreciation
of the creative, managerial and technical aspects of technical writing
is clearly unwise.
Perhaps part of being a professional is the ability to remain so in
the face of ignorance?
Sterling Software, Inc./Operations Management Division
Reston VA USA