How Times Have Not Changed

Subject: How Times Have Not Changed
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- SIMPLYWRITTEN -dot- COM>
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 11:03:58 -0500

My recent post on establishing recognition for techdoc minimal capabilities
ignited another set of interesting messages.

As usual, I saw two different general responses: one, a favorable agreement,
the other, a vehement denunciation. And I noticed something else, too, a

The correlation is this: those adamently against recognition programs are
what I'd term "locals", people convinced that the way to recognition is a
purely personal, isolated, individual path. These respondents uniformly
claim that the way to gain respect is to earn it totally as an individual.
It's the view of technical communication as a concrete and unique situation
for each practitioner.

The other group, the "globals", among whom I count myself, tend to think
instead of a technical communication profession in the abstract, as a group
of people, not only as individuals. One reason why I think of the profession
in this way is that I see the *rest of the world* thinking of us this way.
HR, IT, and the other acronymic parts of the community don't think "I have
to hire John Waygood, who is a grand and internationally famous practitioner
of a difficult art, to write this thing" but think "I have to find somebody
who does this job to write this thing". The distinction is crucial, I think.

In my view, individual accomplishment is fine and to be expected, but it's
not something that's portable from company to company, because while your
old company may value your accomplishments, your new company may not know,
for example, that courses in hypertext are helpful throughout technical
communication. Instead, an unknowing HR or engineering department may rashly
conclude that hypertext isn't really for them, because they don't have any
of that fancy stuff. Therefore, they don't need anyone so overeducated. We
know that hypertext principles work in other places, but without that
awareness by hiring personnel, our knowledge isn't valued. Many "locals"
I've met have been stunned to discover that the respect they engendered in
their old company didn't port over to their new company, and that they were
again up against typists and clerks in the hiring process.

The benefit to standing together and enunciating a basic, core set of
capabilities, is that it's portable. Many other professions enforce this
minimal standard with required schooling, but that's obviously unsuitable
for us. Still, our brethren in areas such as training, business
communications, technology, and other fields have met this challenge and
forged good recognition programs, all without wrecking their God-given
rights to be rugged individuals.

Seen from this angle, the argument over a recognition program boils down to
our individual acceptance of being part of a profession in the abstract, or
merely in the individual case. If we believe that we are "a profession", not
merely a flock of birds roosting momentarily together, then we need a
recognition program. If, rather, we really *are* just a flock of birds, then
we don't need such a program.

For myself, I believe that we're more than just roosting together before we
all fly our separate ways. And even more importantly, I think that the
people who count, the "users" of our skills, want and need for us to give
them a united set of values and capabilities. I think that it's selfish and
shortsighted of us not to work with the overstressed hiring managers of
corporate America to provide them with a set of minimal standards.

Further, I think that it's important to give the streams of newcomers a set
of standards that are minimal, standards they strive to meet before
proclaiming themselves as fully qualified. Much of the vigor in our industry
is derived from this melting pot, but there should be a recognition that
experience and knowledge count, too, and the recognition should be
formalized. I've submitted to many other formalized recognition programs in
my life; this one doesn't intimidate me. In fact, I look forward to it.

Tim Altom
Adobe Certified Expert, Acrobat
Simply Written, Inc.
The FrameMaker support people
Ask about Clustar Method training and consulting

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