Licensed as IT practitioners

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Introduction

The question of whether those employed within the IT industry should be professionally qualified and licensed as IT practitioners has been examined by academics and various IT governing bodies for the past 20 years, with no single coherent level of agreement . IT is very diverse in nature and exists as global commodity. Most homes have a microchip of some sort in an appliance that they own or a PC or other device (phone, PDA etc)that they can use to communicate and access the WEB. IT is not like any other industry in this respect and it would be almost impossible to manage by one central authority.

Presently there are 5 governing bodies that provide IT professionals with professional recognition of their skills sets based in the world but none of them have global dominance. They are based in the USA (3), Canada & Britain. These professional organisations are

Data Processing Management Association (DPMA)

Institute for Certification of Computer Professionals (ICCP)

Association for Computer Machinery (ACM)

Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS)

British Computer Society (BCS)

However, there are no governing bodies currently based in Korea, India & China, countries which are now major world players within the global computing industry. India over the past 10 years has now grown to "more than a million people" according to the latest survey by the National Association of Software Services Companies (NASCOM)" & "the Indian IT software services employee base has grown at a cumulative annual growth rate of 23.6% from 242,000 to 696,000" (George Iype).

This is a tremendous growth rate from a country until recently looked upon as a 3rd world country meaning that the statistics are even more impressive. When you add this to countries like Korea & China - where growth figures are presently unavailable - but use the Indian figure as a close example it is exemplarily growth over the past 3 years. For the purposes of this report the figure would equate to 3 million IT professionals with no governing body and no guiding ethics for blue chip global companies like - IBM, Hewlett Packard & Accenture - to consider in prospective employees.

It is firstly worth discussing what exactly is meant by Professionalism & Ethics within IT as depending on what part of the IT industry you work in, or governing organisation you belong to, professionalism & ethics may mean different things (or have different emphasis put on them) but predominately mean the same.

In most peoples eyes, professional means doing a specific job to a high standard or, if the job is not completed to exacting requirements or expectations, it is deemed unprofessional. Most people look upon professionals as ministers, doctors or lawyers because of the level of eminence their job has within society. A professional is defined (Johnston) as someone who has "a level of expertise above that of the average individual" and "subject to a governing body which regulates their role". Whereas the BCS defines a professional as "a practitioner who has specific skills rooted in a broad base and operates to a code of conduct". Both these definitions are very close in nature but, within IT, only a relatively small number - 217,000 - of IT professionals have actually joined any of the 5 governing bodies mentioned earlier and are therefore governed by a code of conduct.

Ethics is a less clear area. It would be true to say that perhaps fewer of us are sensitive to what we might call the normal ethical environment " the surrounding climate of ideas about how we live"(Simon Blackburn). This is because most people are unaware of the ethical values in social and work environments in everyday life.

Most people associate ethics with the medical profession due to reports published of malpractice being investigated by the British Medical Association (BMA) and not realise that ethics covers other trades like gas fitters (Corgi) or the legal profession (Law Society). Members of these professions are not allowed to practice at all unless they have obtained a licence by their individually approved governing bodies. In order to obtain their work licence each employee has to undertake a defined number of hours training which enables them to keeping abreast of the new techniques and practices necessary for them to reach a required standard of competency - as defined by the employer & governing body. If this mandatory requirement is not maintained and ratified as acceptable the licence to work will be withdrawn.

Yet no one is specifically covered by any ethics when it comes to IT and specifically within the driving force of computer systems, software. "Software is increasingly the most important component of computer based systems since it is the software which adapts general purpose computers for specific applications"(Dr Robert Ayres) . This sentence highlights how important software is yet there are no development or testing criteria defined beyond local practice in many cases.. If there had been, for example, then the THERAC 25 incident for the treatment of cancer could have been avoided. There are many questions still to be answered in this case ; was it the user or the manufacturer to blame - this is still up to individuals to decide. What is known is that the software gave patients vast overdoses of radiation, which rather than help their recovery, sent the individuals concerned to an early grave.

Arguments for the Proposition

Professional Development

It is important for individuals and organisations to keep their knowledge and skills up to date and ensure that both parties keep current with changes in wider society and their respective field of expertise. The BCS offers Continuing Professional Development (CPD) as a way of mapping out career progression in order for individuals to show prospect and current employers what levels and types of training they have undertaken.

The BCS also have the BCS Developer Scheme where you can maintain your levels of expertise online and see at a glance what training and level you should be at. This is supported by SFIAPlus (4) which is a dynamic and extensive matrix of current IT jobs and levels maintained for the BCS by professional members working in the industry.

Governing Body

The purpose of a governing body is predominantly to build an IT profession that is respected and valued by its stakeholders - government, business leaders, IT employers, It users and customers - for the contribution that it makes to a more professional approach to the exploitation and application of IT by:

  • Bridge the gap between education, practice and research
  • Give practitioners the professional development and career support they deserve
  • Inform public policy on how IT can contribute to society
  • Ensure everyone benefits from IT
  • Champion the global IT profession
  • Run groups and workshops on developing topics

Professional Recognition Status

The IT profession wants to grow to the point where a critical mass of recognised professionals and BCS work together to get Chartered IT Professional status recognised as the benchmark for the profession and represent excellence in IT, not just in the UK, but around the world.

Qualifications

All governing bodies provide various levels of qualifications to work in conjunction with qualification already obtained from a recognised university or college. This helps to manage people skills effectively as well as best IT practice being maintained.

Professional Licensing

Most professions will not allow you to practice unless you are licensed, doctors (BMA), lawyers (LAW Society) and gas fitters (CORGI). By licensing individuals it demonstrates to prospective customers that you have obtained a high level of competency to undertake a specific job. This will also show the customer that you can actually undertake this job to the exacting specification required by the regulatory governing body. In order to obtain their work licence each employee has to undertake a defined number of hours training which enables them to keeping abreast of new techniques and practices necessary for them to reach the required standard of competency as defined by the employer & governing body. If this mandatory requirement is not maintained and ratified as acceptable the licence to work will be withdrawn.

Arguments against the Proposition

Cost of Individual Membership

The present cost for membership to the BCS is Student £25, Member £95, Fellow £130 & Member (CITP) £135. These fees are not high in developed economies but might be deemed as expensive in less prosperous areas. The ongoing cost for certain people in the UK may also cause hardship or in reality force the individual concerned to ask themselves what value has it for me? Would prospective employers prefer someone who was a BCS member (or had a qualification from the BCS or other governing IT body) or would they prefer a degree from a university? The answer is probably a university degree. The BCS qualifications are not worth themselves of wide value but look and feel good to be a part of.

In addition, many individuals who have memberships with the BCS will only be members because it is being paid for them by employers. If this offer was withdrawn the membership figure would fall

Cost to Employee

In difficult economic times such as we have at present there may be a number of businesses withdrawing from funding members of the BCS or other governing bodies in an attempt to save money. Many businesses may use the professional recognition of being a member of a governing body to generate new business and retain quality staff which comes at a cost to the bottom line - often the first to suffer in recession..

Governing Body

The governing bodies only have influence on individuals or businesses if they are affiliated members of there respective organisations. As you do not need to join a governing body to work on or within the IT industry or provide services to others then why bother? Only the paid up membership is supported and policed by the affiliated body. As for code of conduct, if you disagree with their ethics then you can withdraw your membership at anytime but still continue working.

Priorities and developments within IT in the UK may not be of the same order as those overseas and may focus on diverse areas - there is a real difficulty in maintaining balance and consistency as a result.

Conclusion

All IT governing bodies and societies will have ambitions that the IT profession is valued and respected against other professions such as law & medicine. This is not the case at the moment and is very unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. There is a realisation within most IT professionals in the industry that some governing body is required but this is not unanimous. Until it is mandatory that a person requires to be licensed through a professional body before they can work in IT, it will not happen. If businesses can get someone from overseas to work for them in the UK or abroad and who can achieve the same output for a fraction of the cost then they are likely to take it. Business exists to make money so whether a person is governed by a regulatory body or not, they may not care.

The IT industry requires one overall governing body to look after all aspects if the industry. To be able to achieve this all people who work in the industry and countries need to sign up to it. With conflict between countries and cultures ongoing world wide just now there is little prospect of there being one dominant world wide governing body for the IT profession. Individual countries like the UK with the BCS will fight for members within the British Isles and some may join from other Western countries.

With businesses and individuals not required to spend any money in order to work within the IT industry the 5 major governing bodies are fighting a losing battle.

Bibliography

  • Dr Robert Ayres
  • Simon Blackburn
  • D Gotterbarn
  • DG Johnson
  • JH Moor

References

  • BCS
  • Effy Oz
  • George Iype

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