CXO

The three pillars of professionalism

For doctors, accountants, and lawyers there are memberships in mandatory professional associations with strict rules of conduct and ethics prescribing who is and who isn't a professional. But what does it mean to be an IT professional?

For doctors, accountants, and lawyers, there are memberships in mandatory professional associations with strict rules of conduct and ethics prescribing who is and who isn't a professional. But what does it mean to be an IT professional? 

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Professionalism. It sounds like something that we all aspire to, like motherhood and apple pie. For each of us it conjures up images. For some, the kindly pediatrician in the white coat calmly dispensing sage advice, curative prescriptions. and pastel-colored lollypops comes to mind. For others, it's the confident Joe DiMaggio striding to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. For far fewer, it is the family lawyer protecting against unseen legal exposure who fits the bill.

But what does it mean to be an IT professional? For doctors, accountants, and lawyers, there are memberships in mandatory professional associations with strict rules of conduct and ethics prescribing who is and who isn't a professional.

For IT professionals, there are no such governing bodies. We must define it for ourselves.  Past attempts to form self-regulating associations have failed to produce a commonly accepted organization or standard to govern us. The only time the consulting community seems to band together is to fight off such attempts at regulation.

Some argue that this means that we are not professionals, that neither our work nor we fit the definition of a profession. They argue that we should not describe ourselves that way, and in the strictest sense, they are right.

However, I don't believe that we should give up so easily. We should not allow ourselves to be deprived of a standard of service that defines the excellence that many in our field provide and even more should aspire to. Nor should we allow the term to be reduced to a mere platitude, like that of an "Associate" at Kmart.

It is the mission of this publication to provide practical skills, and to explore issues and ideas that contribute to the building of a consensus around IT professionalism.

These explorations will fall loosely into three categories that I call the Pillars of Professionalism. They are:

  • Alignment
  • Delivery
  • Ethics

Alignment is about fit; that is, the mutually supportive relationships between the goals, technologies, and processes of a project or an organization. Aligned projects are constantly being fine-tuned to ensure that all their facets are internally consistent and mutually reinforcing. Aligned organizations develop cultures that support technical and business goals.

Delivery is what we focus most of our energy on in the IT field. It is the production that most of us love. We spend our days designing architectures, writing code, testing systems, deploying hardware, and supporting users. We attend training classes to learn to do it better. We often make the mistake in believing that any other activity is not real work.

Ethics are the most difficult to define. For some, they represent a solemn code that guides every aspect of life whether professional or personal. For others, they are an inconvenience that forestalls progress. For everyone, they are intimately tied to family of origin, personal history and spiritual beliefs.

In exploring the professional ethics of IT, I will not pretend to have a monopoly on justice and truth. However, that will not prevent me from raising questions that will, hopefully, spur debate and deep thought about appropriate behavior for an aspiring professional.

I believe that embracing all three of the Pillars provides the foundation for professionalism. There are no easy answers. But, I offer these as a point of departure. By constantly striving to understand and apply these concepts, you will choose the path of professionalism and bring distinction to yourself and your work.

Paul Glen is the author of the award-winning book "Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology" (Jossey Bass Pfeiffer, 2003) and Principal of C2 Consulting. C2 Consulting helps IT management solve people problems. Paul Glen regularly speaks for corporations and national associations across North America. For more information go to www.c2-consulting.com. He can be reached at info@c2-consulting.com.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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