ICT’s professional status needs to be emphasised — not downgraded as a result of computing becoming pervasive.
This was the main message of NZ Computer Society president Don Robertson at a recent members’ breakfast. It was also the first time many had heard him speak as president.
“When I started out in this profession, around 1971, the computer was a black box in the corner. Now we all live inside the box. But this means there are more reasons to have a computer society than there were before,” said Robertson.
He gave a potent example of the need for professionalism in respect of aircraft. Planes depend on computers, and we would surely rather they were looked after by an ICT professional — just as we expect professional engineers to be involved in the aircraft’s construction and maintenance, said Robertson.
Professional status gives customers reassurance they are getting a service that adheres to certain standards. Equally it gives ICT practitioners the confidence to know that if an ICT plan is misconceived, impractical or dangerous they can object — and can also call on their professional society to back them up.
Before becoming president, Robertson was the society’s chief negotiator in the effort to find a role for NZCS in the umbrella industry group, ICT-NZ. The negotiating team saw NZCS as maintaining professional standards and working towards formal qualifications.
“We gave it a lot of focus, but in the end the value proposition wasn’t there,” said Robertson.
He is cautious about the plan for an industry group steered by government. “My personal view is that the society has a clear role. We can’t be part of a larger organisation which, in the end, may conflict with some of our principles.”
It’s said that there are more than 90 ICT associations, but “there really is only one representative body for professionals”.
A recent members’ survey showed members see the relevance of professionalism in their industry and also think there should be ethical principles. However, a straw poll at the breakfast revealed none of the members there even knew how many principles constituted the society’s code of ethics — there are eight.
However, in the UK, their society — the British Computer Society — is thriving.
After “reassessing its relevance three or four years ago”, it is now growing fast — with 65,000 members. “And the government minister who deals with IT is a member,” says Robertson.
The BCS has a Chartered IT Professional qualification, which can be awarded on the basis of relevant academic qualifications, industrial certification and/or a proven work record.