November 2013

Professionalism: Growing or in a downward spiral?

Professionalism: Growing or in a downward spiral?

By Stephen Ibaraki


Professionalism is controversial but primarily only in ICT. Why?

Medicine, Law, Accounting we accept it and it is codified. For Information Communication Technology (ICT), it results in heated debate since there is a sentiment that it limits access when there are continual shortages in hot skill areas.

Why professionalize when there is constant change so too fast to qualify against and maintain a set of current standards, best practices and body of knowledge? Some say it goes against Open Standards, Open Source movements and creates a cadre of elite professionals when the trend is towards crowd sourcing. The same arguments can be made with all professions including ones we accept as Professions.

Thus the questions: Is Professionalism growing? Is there a need for Professionalism? Is Professionalism in a downward spiral and never to take hold in ICT?

What is ICT professionalism – the short version?

This is best answered by this question–“Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics and a discipline process who breach it; following standards of practice and an accepted body of knowledge; personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials?”

Professionalism doesn’t require licensing and the prevailing thought is that it shouldn’t be licensed at this time.

Is Professionalism Growing?

I do interviews (since the 80s’) with global leaders from business, industry, governments, academia, media — interestingly prior to 2005, under 5 per cent of the interviewees would provide any comment on professionalism. In 2013, the majority provide their experiences and with the vast majority supportive of facets of Professionalism–a substantial shift.

There are professionalism project strands introduced this year by the European Union. For example E-SKILLS: Promotion of ICT Professionalism in Europe, an EU Call for Tender, July 2013 which closed in September: “The most important reason [to examine and build ICT professionalism] stems from the extent to which the increasing pervasiveness of ICT has the potential to harm our economy and society. The extent to which ICT is embedded in our lives is inevitably growing. If we fail to take steps to mature the ICT profession, it is likely that the risks to society from ICT will grow to unacceptable levels.”

Additional projects involving elements of professionalism are introduced in 2013 by UNESCO (on Ethics) and the ITU (ICT body of knowledge and e-skills framework).

From high-level discussions at the ITU World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), emerged this recommendation. The ITU is the specialized United Nations agency governing and setting standards in ICT with over 190 country members and 700 global corporations/organizations. ITU WSIS 2012, UNESCO WSIS 2013+10 Review, ITU WSIS 2013: “The common denominator for sustained growth in economic development, GDP, innovation, sustainability and security is a professional workforce supported by internationally accredited industry relevant education, demonstrated skills development, recognized ethical conduct and adherence to proven best practices and standards. This involves the collaboration of business, industry, governments, academia, and professional societies.”

Some of this is summarized in this presentation: “We will explore the Current State of ICT Trends, Trends in Innovation (Education, Entrepreneurship), Define Professionalism, and provide Professionalism Success Measures. In addition, the context of my presentation is the global environment into which all ICT practitioners work, whether they are in a single country or part of the global economy.  Open source education and practice must not exist in isolation from this context. The unifying thread is ICT Professionalism which underlies open source and open standards.”

The whole issue of professionalism was first introduced as a social issue and there are a series of articles for the University of Toronto in 2013. Here is more:

In education, The Pledge of the Computing Professional is gaining momentum as a “new organization to promote the notion of computing as a recognized profession at the time of graduation for students in Computer Science and related programs. The Pledge is modeled after the Order of the Engineer – a long-standing rite-of-passage for graduates from engineering programs. The Pledge of the Computing Professional is solely intended to promote and recognize the ethical and moral behavior of graduates of computing-related degree programs as they transition to careers of service to society.”

The Global Ethics group is demonstrating growth. Their work was illustrated in in their workshop, “Ethics in the Information Society”, at the WSIS Forum 2013 on 15 May. Of interest is their paper “Ethics in the Information Society: the Nine ‘P’s. A Discussion Paper for the WSIS+10 Process 2013-2015″

Vint Cerf, President of the ACM, recipient of many global honours, co-creator of the Internet, provided an interesting editorial in the July 2013 issue of Communications of the ACM. In the piece, ‘But Officer, I Was Only Programming at 100 Lines Per Hour!’, Vint poses this to the audience:

“In the past, I have had no problem convincing myself that the idea of professional licensing along these lines is a dumb idea. But we do have certification for users or maintainers of certain kinds of software or equipment (for example, for Microsoft software, Cisco equipment). I take pride in believing that I, and many colleagues, see themselves as professional in spirit if not in name and that we strive to deliver reliable code. I also believe that no one really knows how to write absolutely bug-free code, especially if the input and operating state space is innumerably large. So accepting liability that the code won’t break or be broken is a pretty scary thought. We are so dependent on an increasing number of programs, large and small, it is difficult to believe the software profession will escape some kind of deep accountability in the future. We [may] avoid this in the near term, but I am not so sure in the long term. OK, I have my cast-iron three-piece suit in place…What do you think?”

Despite the controversy, there is growth in professionalism.