What it will take to turn IT into a ‘real’ profession’

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Maybe one day we’ll see mothers calling their friends and bragging, “My daughter is marrying an IT manager!”

In a strange way, that could be one of the most desired things to come out of IT Professionalism Week, which is manifesting itself through a series of live and virtual events produced by the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS). One of these events took the form of a Google Hangout with a couple of CIPS National’s key executives, and I decided to join them.

Over the course an hour, Gina van Dalen, CIPS’s professional standards manager, made a strong case as to why those who work in technology roles should care about the maturity and development of a real profession, in the best sense of the term. In many cases, van Dalen pointed out, there are poor perceptions of what IT people actually do, expertise is often siloed and failed IT projects always make headlines.

“The point of creating an IT profession are not just to reduce ICT projects that are late,” however, she said. “The motive for change are much more profound. Technology underpins every aspect of society. There are very few sectors that remain resistant to its influence.”

That means risks to society that come arise from IT deployments need to be managed and mitigated, she said. Of course, CIPS has been working on this for years through the development of its code of ethics, its Body of Knowledge reference materials and its I.S.P. certification.

Brenda Byers, director of technical systems at PotashCorp and chair of CIPS’s National Board, said we’re lucky to be as far along as we are. Byers recently attended the World Computer Congress in Amsterdam, where she met with a number of international delegates that looked at Canada with envy.

“Countries looking to improve processes are looking for guidance of developing an IT profession,” she said. “It’s not a quick process. It’s a long-term commitment.”

It’s true, in part because it’s a little hard to define when a profession feels real. At what point will society begin treating IT the way it does medicine or law? The core elements are there, but one difficulty is that our sense of what constitutes technology expertise is being spread thinner thanks to widespread rise of consumer IT. During the Google Hangout, van Dalen said CIPS is in talks with organizations like ICTC to possibly create exams that would certify non-formal IT training and experience. That would be one step. Another would be having employers mandate I.S.P. certification in hiring processes the way they expect, say, certification in Cisco or Microsoft technologies. There also has to be a lot more promotion of the CIPS code of ethics and cross-industry support from organizations like the CIO Association of Canada and others to validate the principles it espouses.

Perhaps we’ll know IT has matured sufficiently as a profession when we no longer need IT Professionalism Week to mark it. The best way to reach that point? Demonstrate a professional approach so consistently that it becomes a defining characteristic of anyone who works in a similar role.

ShaneSchick ShaneSchick (22 Posts)

Shane Schick is a writer, editor and speaker who helps people create value with information technology. As Editor-at-Large with IT World Canada, Shane recently oversaw the launch of CanadianCIO.com, a new brand that empowers senior IT decision-makers through articles, videos, events, social media and a cloud-based sourcing platform. Shane was previously IT World Canada’s Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), leading a digital-first strategy that included a transition from print publications to online portals and magazines. Shane regularly speaks to CIOs and IT managers at events across Canada about how they can contribute to organizational success, and comments on technology trends as a guest on CBC, BNN, CTV and other programs. A former columnist with the Globe and Mail, Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.


  • Bruce Stewart

    Professions emerge in part because they’re seen as services worthy of self-regulation. So educators, law, medicine, engineering, accountancy went down this road because they were meant to be services for all, which had a role in societal protection.

    That suggests real IT professionalism begins when we start thinking first and foremost about our equivalents to the “do no harm” of medicine, the “client confidentiality” of law, and the like. What would these be? (How would those who sign our paycheques or pay our invoices feel about playing second fiddle to a professionalism like that?)

    Where it won’t come from (and I am sorry to say it) is from concocted “degrees”, “certificates” and the like. Accountancy, last of the professions, still hasn’t rationalised its structure — we have CAs, CMAs, CGAs, CPAs, and the like, whereas there is only one P.Eng., one M.D., and one call to the bar — and although some countries require Habilitations beyond a Ph.D. to be a professor rather than a lecturer in general the Ph.D. and the process of gaining tenure is sufficient in higher ed, with the B.Ed. coupled with a degree (or two) sufficient for lower ed.

    That suggests David Ticoll’s efforts, or CIPS’ ones, etc. are nice to haves but not must haves in the professional journey.

  • DonSheppard

    There’s been a debate as to whether IT is a form of engineering ever since I became a P.Eng. and made a career in IT (before it was actually called IT).  I think the idea that unprofessional IT people can cause as much harm as a faulty bridge or building (glass falling off balconies comes to mind) is an indication that the time for Professionalism in IT to be recognized may be just aroud the corner.