IT professional. Nice title but what does it really mean? A professional, according to Merriam-Webster, “relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill”. All three are required by IT professionals to tackle today’s computing world. But is that all there is?
Merriam-Webster provides fuller definitions such as “characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession”. While technical standards march forward for everyone, the speed for IT is arguably more rapid and broad. Moore’s Law certainly comes to everyone’s’ mind for hardware. A similar pace exists for information complexity while volumes of information are becoming unfathomable.
Traditional professions like doctors, nurses, engineers, electricians, teachers and accountants have mature programs and strong societies which govern the education, training and skills for their domains. The public has demanded many professional domains to take responsibility for public safety and regulate the right to practice. Some professionals are regulated directly by government and licensed to practice.
With few exceptions, those practicing in a professional capacity coalesce to form a professional body. Professional associations or societies provide oversight for the discipline and represent the interests of the professional practitioners. Additionally, licensing and enforcement activities fall within those organizations charged with protecting the public good.
A common body of knowledge (BoK) forms one of the fundamental corner stones for any profession. A BoK, especially for professionals operating at the speed of Moore’s law certainly presents challenges. I argue this is all the more reason for active involvement as the BoK defines the profession, for to think of ourselves as a professional requires an articulation of the special training and skills.
A BoK sets the stage for other characteristics of a professional society, in particular oversight. Professional oversight traverses an entire career, from the formative learning years at post-secondary levels through the lifetime of career interests and opportunities. Every association or society collaborates with educators to oversee the adoption and quality of the organization’s BoK and skills.
There are few, if any employed in IT, who remain in a job for long without acquiring new IT skills and training. Who today knows only one coding language, one database tool, one operating system or one methodology? Professional associations or societies through profiles and designations help map professional skills and experience.
IT domain flows through all facets of today’s world. Focusing solely on technology and information ignores the broader scope that IT professionals must practice and participate collaboratively with other professionals. Governance, regulations, culture are only a few of the environmental aspects of information technology work. Professionals need to actively participate in the local and global discussions which impact and concern the practice of information technology.
Associations and societies undertake organizing the profession however their credibility comes from their membership especially when no regulations grant authority. It’s a two way street: individuals benefit from a common professional voice and a profession can only speak for the professionals if they abide by the professions standards and ethics.
IT professional, in the simplest definitions of just special education, skills and training, paints a shallow picture of our profession. Joining an IT professional society, such as CIPS, helps differentiate a technology worker from someone committed being part of the voice of the IT profession. Professional membership in IT is part and parcel of being an IT professional.