Professional practice or professional exclusion?

Professional practice or professional exclusion?

An article in Punch (www.punchng.com) under the banner, “Has the definition of Computer Professional changed?” sparked some thoughts along the lines of, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Ever since some men and women acquired skills that others did not possess, they have been caught in the dilemma of protecting their income through exclusivity and spreading their knowledge to increase fellow community members’ access to the benefits thereof. Trace the origins of this phenomenon back to medieval masons and other artisan groups and to trade unions in more recent centuries and their common purpose was preventing non-experts from intruding into their markets.

When it became apparent that the correct practice of certain skills could make the difference between life and death, the “professional” was born. It’s easy to appreciate the value of a properly qualified medical doctor (as differentiated from a “quack”) but time has also proven the worth of architects, engineers, electricians and pilots who know that the lives of their “customers” depend on the sound application of proven principles in the execution of their labours.

The debate in Nigeria to which the Punch article referred centred on the so-called “quacks” in the IT industry and the attempts by the regulatory body to require compulsory registration of IT practitioners. This debate is often repeated around the world, with professional bodies supporting the notion and many (younger) practitioners questioning the rationale. Indeed, in territories and industries where membership of a professional body is not compulsory, the norm is that only a minority will join and sustain their membership.

Both sides can quote examples in support of their position – Gates and Zuckerberg built IT empires without being members of a professional body (although you might argue that Facebook has blotted its copybook somewhat). On the other hand, how many of the practitioners writing software for VW emissions controllers or Boeing flight controls were adhering to the ideals of professionalism?

The fact is that there are millions of IT practitioners around the globe and only tens of thousands of them belong to a professional body. So, what is the value of the professional bodies? In short, the collaboration of the few enables the practice of the many. Committed members work together within societies and institutes and across boundaries to develop best practice. This cooperation advances collective knowledge and sets technical and behavioural standards that are readily accessed by all practitioners.

Those who are actively engaged in these arenas know that their careers are enhanced, their status recognised and their contribution appreciated. The more passive practitioners know that following the “professional” methods will keep their customers happy. Happy customers may not even be aware of the role that the professional bodies played in their satisfaction. Unhappy customers may well seek out a professional body to assist in relieving their pain.

So, professionals – reach out to the youngsters, dare them to disrupt the way that knowledge is acquired, lessons are learned and communities developed. Show them that there is sustainable value in the underlying principles of good practice while meeting the needs of new generations. In the words of Teddy Daka (IITPSA’s IT Personality of the Year 2018), “It is in our hands as IT Professionals to make a difference.”

Adrian Schofield, FIITPSA PMIITPSA : 31 July 2019