How important is a credential in tech comm?

MP900341500I was recently involved in an online discussion on Facebook with some friends about the benefit of having a Masters degree in this day and age. A friend of mind had posted this article which argued that having a Masters wasn’t worth the expense or time:

My Master’s wasn’t worth it

A big problem I had with the article is that it seemed like people weren’t focused enough, in some respects, when it came to what they were doing with their degree. For example, I agree that MBAs are a dime a dozen, and people often get them thinking it’s going to provide some sort of “magic bullet” in their career. I’ve never taken a business course, and I’ve done just fine in business without one. I’m sure there are certain jobs and specialities that it’s warranted, but some get it just to say that they earned it. MBAs seem to be losing their value.  Another chap had the problem that he’d have to do his internship all over again due to an illness during his first one. Without that internship completed, he couldn’t graduate and get his license to become a practicing psychologist. He tried to get a job without the degree, but he couldn’t, but he also didn’t bother to try to get another internship either.  The main theme I seemed to see was that people went into Masters programs with only half a plan–that they only had a Plan A on how to use their degree, but no Plan B, C, or D.

Part of the reason I waited so long in my own life to get a Masters degree was that I didn’t know what major I wanted to do for my Masters degree. Ironically enough, many years ago I had looked at a communications program somewhat similar to the one I did, but at the time more than twenty years ago,  I really didn’t understand what the degree was about, and I didn’t get into the program, or else I just didn’t apply. If I couldn’t explain the degree to my parents, then how could I justify it for myself? A lot changed in twenty-plus years, and it was just timing, circumstance, and a better understanding of knowing what my skills were and the need to enhance them professionally.  I started out with a somewhat plan, but by the time I graduated, I had a much clearer idea of what my options were, and there was a Plan A, B, C, and D. In fact, life took a slightly different turn for me than expected, and I ended up following a combination of Plan C and the unknown Plan E. ;-) And I do that with no regrets, but I still had a plan, and I knew my options in getting my degree.

The ironic thing that happened to me this week, also related to a Masters degree, is that a fellow graduate of my program contacted me through LinkedIn, and in the e-mail conversation we had, she started to question whether it was worth getting the degree that we both had earned. She was working a retail job, and turning down full-time jobs because they were paying less than her last full-time job from several years ago. From the conversation, I could tell that the problem was that she didn’t know how to promote the fact that having her MSPTC gave her an advantage over many people, thus making her a stronger candidate for a job. (I also reminded her that some of those other tech comm jobs that paid less than her old job probably also paid a lot more than a retail job, not that there’s anything wrong with a retail job.) She didn’t have a plan or an idea how to utilize all the knowledge she accumulated over the same amount of time that I had earned my degree. In fact, she had taken most of the same classes as I had, so I knew the value of what she had learned and earned with her degree.

Between these two incidents, it got me to thinking about the value of having a credential in technical communications. How important is a credential in tech comm, anyway?  I can only speak from my own experience, but I think it can help a lot, depending on your circumstances. The job market in technical communication-related positions is very competitive these days, so any advantage is a plus. One of the arguments of the article above is that getting a Masters degree is expensive. I won’t lie–it IS expensive. But spending over US$ 100,000 to get a degree? Anyone spending that much for their MA or MS is getting ripped off. After doing some research after the fact, I found I went to one of the more expensive programs out there, and yet I know that I’ll be earning that much more with my new job because of the degree in my hand. In other words, I’ll be recouping my investment within the first year or so. So, I’m not too upset in that respect.

But financial considerations aside, is it worth the time and effort? Again, I think it’s only if you have some semblance of a plan of what you want to get out of the program, and what you plan to do with the knowledge you gain. Additionally, you need to know how to promote why the credential gives you an edge over others, or perhaps even puts you on par with others in the field.  You also have to understand what flexibility that education can provide you, even with a plan in place. But do you have to be limited to only getting a Masters degree? I don’t think so. Looking back (and I knew this when I started this tech comm trek), that even if I had only earned my Tech Comm Essentials graduate certificate, it already gave me an edge over others that didn’t have something like that. It did help me get two jobs during the process of earning my full Masters, after all, and even if I hadn’t completed my Masters, I felt that I had a more solid foundation to move forward in the career direction I wanted.

One of the great advantages of being the technical communications field is that it’s very broad. There are SO many specialities within this field that having a broad enough exposure can allow one some flexibility if a credential is earned.  With my degree, I felt that I had the ability to get a good job in technical writing and editing, user experience/strategy, web design, content management/strategy, social media, corporate communications and e-learning design. Others in my program went in other directions with health communications, and web analytics, for example. And yet, there are so many other specialties that are within technical communications that we, as technical communicators, should theoretically have the most flexibility in the job market than many others out there. (This begs to argue my specialist versus generalist debate again.) So, in my view, unless you’ve already been involved in technical communications for a very long time, getting any kind of training, re-training or credential only adds to your professional value.

My perspective hasn’t changed much since I wrote my blog post, The Meaning of Graduating with a Masters Degree in Technical Communications, almost 9 months ago.  Once I actually had my degree in hand, I just did my best to take off with it. Yes, it still took me six months to find a job, BUT I found that having both my grad certificate and Masters gave me a lot of credibility in the eyes of potential employers as well as opened some doors that I don’t think would have opened if I hadn’t pursued the degree.  I initially concentrated on e-learning and m-learning in the last few months, but it was falling back on my knowledge and experience of content management/strategy and web design that ultimately helped me gain employment. And so far, I like my job, which is good.

I realized that the ID/TC Education Resources section of this blog doesn’t have as many tech comm credential programs listed, and recently I was asked for some help in identifying some schools that had tech comm programs. I was able to expand my list for the requester, but I haven’t posted that research here yet, and I hope to do so soon. I’ll post something to alert everyone of the update once it’s done.

But in the meantime, do some Googling on your own, or visit the STC Education website for more information. I know that the STC not only offers many webinars and certificate programs, they also have a special certification program as well. That would be a good place to start. As I said, unless you are already a very well-established technical communicator, getting any kind of credential, whether it be a certificate showing completion of a single course, or a full graduate degree, can only help one’s career in providing professional value to what one can offer. But, you should only get that credential if you can justify and plan a way to use it and promote it for yourself.

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