Jelle Wijkstra, deputy editor of automatiseringsgids, has a very good point in his latest column. It talks about the VRI, Vereniging van en voor Register informatici, a professional association in The Netherlands for IT. This organization sort of maintains the code of conduct and defines the knowledge requirements for an IT professional to be able to earn and keep the same professional designation.
Professional associations are common sense in the practice of professions such as doctor, notary and accountant. Basically such organizations exist for nearly every type of profession. As a practitioner, you need to undertake a minimum level of continuing professional development to stay professionally competitive. It should also be in the interest of the professional association to penalize those who do not attain the necessary skills, by withdrawing their professional degree for instance.
Just like Wijkstra, I can absolutely see why we would need such a professional association for IT too. The work we carry out is in the public interest as Wijkstra says: companies go bankrupt because of IT failures and security flaws in the IT infrastructure allow for identity theft for example. Here’s what should be the scope of such a professional IT association in my opinion:
The IT industry constantly changes and the only way to keep up with contemporary issues is to constantly undergo trainings. This might lead to a certification afterwards. Of course, engineering principles do not change, this is the foundation. But processes might be refined, new technologies keep popping up and industries get regulated all the time. To a certain degree, I agree that it is left down tot the practitioner itself to enhance his/her professional skills and to stay competitive. However, my contention is that it should be up to the professional association to create sort of an industry wide baseline in terms of professional education in order to maintain quality.
Based on the education, professional experience, certifications and so on, the association should issue licenses and degrees. Essentially it should allow you to be “associated” and allow you to perform a licensed service that is regulated by state, federal or local government. This has always been essential for occupations like a doctor, lawyer, engineer and teacher, so it is and should definitely be in IT too.
The association should provide support to members by offering advisory services. This can be in terms of technical helplines, knowledge artifacts and process libraries.
They also should offer opportunities for professional networking, to find a new job and business development advisory services.
Tout court, the work in the IT field requires the association to keep an eye on integrity and all other quality challenging issues. This also means for instance ensuring there’s a fair compensation, educate users on how to use the Internet (e.g. the need for Internet/computer license) and think how shift work should be regulated.
That being said, it seems however that both the IT industry and its clients still don’t seem to understand the necessity of such an organization. The very saddening numbers in The Netherlands don’t lie either: only 505 practitioners registered themselves up tot today. At least that is better than Belgium, as I am not aware of any such associations at all.