4 December 2014

This could be controversial!

If you hire an accountant or a lawyer, consult a doctor, architect or just about any other professional, you know (or should know), by the very fact that they are practising as a professional, that they are not only qualified to do so, but that you can expect a certain standard of behaviour from them. This usually translates to their having been certified to practise by their professional association.This means that not only do they have a formal qualification in whatever they do, but that they also meet and adhere to a code of ethical and professional conduct.

Most codes of professional conduct require that a professional ensures their knowledge stays up to date and that they understand the wider implications of what they do.  It also means, that if the individual does not meet that standard of behaviour you can complain to their certifying body. If the complaint is upheld there is a possibility that certification will be withdrawn and that individual can no longer practise as a professional.

This is really a good thing!

It means ( in Australia at least) that you can't just hang out a shingle and call yourself an accountant. It means that you can't take a nice comfy job as a lawyer and not maintain your legal knowledge and it means that most of the time, things like incompetence, fraud and a lack of accountability are not issues most of us have to worry about when we are choosing someone to represent us in court, operate on us, or design our new house;

Unless you are hiring an IT professional!  To whom you are probably going to provide a level of access to systems and data most folk don't even imagine possible. Yet, primarily because employers don't demand it, there is absolutely no obligation for an IT professional to adhere to a set of professional and ethical standards. Worse still, the right to practise as an IT professional and by implication have an unprecedented level of access to systems and data,  is not at any risk, should those standards be breached.

This is really not a good thing!

I was recently part of a formal discussion at which the topic of conversation was the key concerns of those employing or working with IT professionals. Top of the list of issues was incompetence, fraud was number 2. I also know, from my other life as an academic and researcher that there is a substantial chunk of empirical evidence to support this contention. Like it or not, trust is a problem in our profession.

Professional standards certification not only protects those consuming your services, but they protect us as professionals too, they help to ensure that we don't end up working with someone who doesn't know their craft, or worse, end up having to clean up their mess. They also provide us with clear guidance on what to do if we find ourselves in this position. On the assumption that the vast majority of IT professionals don't fall into this category, we have a set of standards that we can use as a point of comparison against anything we as professionals are asked to do.

In Australia the Australian Computer Society (ACS)  is our professional certifying body, you can obtain CP ( Certified Professional status) by proving that you have the formal qualifications and experience that you claim and by having that proof validated.  You maintain your certification by proving that you have kept up your professional knowledge each year and by adhering to a code of professional conduct  . You can also lose your status by not doing these things, or by breaching this code of conduct.

Unfortunately, very few IT professionals hold this certification, despite the fact that the ACS has many thousands of members, including many corporate ones. Many IT professionals I have spoken with don't see what the ACS does as being relevant to them, yet we continue to complain about and to wear others complaints about the trust and competency issues that exist in our profession.

Employers are happy to require a certification that results from a 2 day training course and then give someone unprecedented access to systems as a result of it, but they don't seem quite so keen to demand CP status. One consequence of which, is that IT professionals don't see value in our professional body and another is that inevitably at some time in your career, you will end up working with someone who doesn't take their practise seriously.

If you haven't seen what our code of conduct contains, I would encourage you to take a look. I would be interested in knowing other's views on it and very interested in thoughts about why employers seem so reluctant to value the standards it contains.

Just for the record: I am a paid up member of the ACS and I have CP status, other than that, I have no affiliation with them nor anything to gain from this post.

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