Professional designations for the needy

In the past I have been cynical about the Information Systems Professional (I.S.P.) designation that the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) is promoting as a way to imbue the IT industry with some professional standards.

I have found an example of where some serious standards are needed to protect the consumers from us, the alleged IT professionals. The subclass of IT worker I am worrying about is the Web master.

Frankly, the horror stories I hear (and experience) about Web practitioners — who are not so much unethical as just plain dumb — has led me to want to carry wooden stakes so I can see if, when the wood penetrates their hearts, Web masters will turn to dust. The good Web masters out there are not afraid of me doing a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on them, because they do sensible things like:

Don’t lie to the clients or let the clients mislead themselves. Frankly the whole problem with snake oil salesmen and nutters who send letters from Nigeria is that there are dopes out there who actually buy insane things. This encourages people with questionable ethics to do unethical things. Remember, it wasn’t ridiculously long ago that doctors thought bloodletting was a good way to cure diseases. Furthermore, just because someone is wearing a sign on his/her back saying ‘kick me,’ doesn’t mean that you should.

Know where one’s knowledge and expertise ends. For example, I know enough about Linux to know I need to call Graham. If one of my team says, “I’m having trouble with permissions on my files,” I just say, “Graham.” To those Web masters out there who are unsure about where their talent ends (or starts) I suggest that you realize that just because you can make a (possibly) pretty Web page with PHP doesn’t mean that you can code a complex transactional Web-enabled database in a weekend. Learn about normalization, primary keys and other stuff from the 70s first before trivializing other people’s work.

Run a trauma-free business. I am convinced some Web masters enjoy being hated. To bring your clients to a maximum level of apoplexy, do the following:

– Don’t return calls

– When the clients do catch you on the line, be as unenthusiastic-sounding as possible

– Ignore e-mail

– Better yet, complain you didn’t get the e-mail because you get a lot of spam

– Misspell things on your clients’ Web sites

– Use really bad grammar like mixing up it’s and its

Here’s the dilemma about standards. Because of the way the Internet market is working, you do not need the amount of education that the I.S.P. designation prefers. Nor is it economical. The marketplace for Web development is low-ball compared to the juicy rates the big IT consulting firms charge.

If it were physically impossible to be a Web master without an I.S.P. designation, there would be only large corporate Web pages. This is because CIPS probably discourages the under-18 set from joining as well as the likes of ‘Big Sally’ who is his/her own Web master/mistress.

I conclude that we need levels of professional certification. Here’s my cut at it:

I.S.P.: Information Systems Professional. All-purpose IT professional who is qualified to work in government and companies with CEOs and a board that includes more than the members of the immediate family. Has education or equivalents in computer science, math or art history.

I.S.P.P.: Information Systems Project Professional. A person able to do more than endlessly key data into Microsoft Project. Can communicate clearly without causing brain torsion to the people nearby.

I.T.P.: Information Technology Professional. Is qualified to work in mid-range companies as a programmer/analyst as long as ethical questions are kept to a minimum and they don’t have to attend too many meetings. Answers the office phone in a way other than, “Yeah?”

D.B.P.: Database Professional. Knows that normalization is not what George Bush is doing with his proposed amendment to the U.S. constitution with respect to marriage. Usually answers the phone.

W.P.: Web Professional. Someone who can quickly differentiate among hits, unique visitors and soap scum. Never picks up the phone when it rings, but actually returns phone calls and e-mail.

Robert Ford is a frustrated IT consultant in Vancouver who invites everyone to visit by checking out his site,, which was only partly constructing by a loony Web professional. Contact: [email protected]

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