As far as I’m concerned, the notion of an “IT Professional” designation is totally bogus. Information technology is far from ever being a true profession, if held up to the old standards for comparison… doctor, lawyer, etc.

There is, of course, no absolute definition of a “true professional” vs. a “bogus professional”, but we can work with what we can observe in the medical and legal professions as examples (“true” professions, for the sake of argument here), and compare with what we see happening in occupational organizations like CIPS.

A true designatable profession is based on credibility and accredibility… the credibility of the institution or organization offering a professional certification and the accredibility (i.e. qualifications) of the applicant.

Let’s start with the applicant. In a true professional accreditation process, the key requirements of the applicant are something like this…

* Attaining the required university degrees that are ordained acceptible by the accrediting organization, plus typically an intership or appenticeship lasting a year or more.

* Passing any additional exams and interviews on professional conduct and ethics, as required by the accrediting body.

* Accepting full responsibility and liability in cases where the true professional has failed to perform in accord with the standards set by the accrediting body.

Let’s just dwell on the last point for a moment. A doctor who botches up a surgery has to accept full legal responsibility if sued, provided it can be shown that he didn’t perform according to the accepted medical standards. If he’s lucky, he may not lose his license.

Similarly, a lawyer abusing the system for personal gain could easily be disbarred… he may never be able to practice his profession again.

How many code jockeys are willing to buy malpractice insurance? How many web masters are willing to take up another occupation, if they’re responsible for server downtime that is costing people money or customer records are lost?

Sounds far-fetched, I’m sure, but that’s what happens in a true profession. Is CIPS willing to take up the disciplinary side as well? I doubt it.

So, let’s look at the credibility argument now. If an organization offering professional accreditation is to be taken seriously, it must prove that it is representative of the occupation(s) it represents, or it’s profesional designation is worthless.

I’ll use CIPS as an example since it claims to represent Canada’s information systems practitioners, and offers an ISP professional designation… if you can meet just one of it’s seven relatively lax criteria. Just one of those seven requires an exam. The others are rubber-stamps based on meeting a short check-list of qualifications based on education and experience.

It’s surprising then that there are only 1700 Information Systems Professionals (ISPs) among its 6000 members. That implies that 3/4 of CIPS’ members don’t even have a Bachelors degree and a few years of experience, or that they simply don’t think that an “ISP” added to their business cards after their name means anything.

More importantly, does CIPS represent the majority of IT practitioners, and thereby have the right to create a “professional” designation in the first place?

CIPS’ membership of 6000 is a pretty big number, but who has looked into how many “information systems professionals” are employed in Canada (“professional” here being synonymous with occupation). Well, I did.

There are 307,685 of them according to the 2006 census. We can safely add in 45,075 information systems managers and 25,600 computer engineers (non-software).. bringing the total up to 380,360. CIPS’ membership represents 1.5% of that population!!!

The bottom line is that CIPS should scrap this ISP nonsense and spend every penny it has trying to build its reputation. 98.5% of information systems professionals apparently believe that CIPS offers no value at all!

Charles P. Whaley, PhD
CEO, Information Technology Enterprises

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