Leadership

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.

14 comments
Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Not sure what it has to do with the real world. I've not seen one jot of evidence that corporateville want professionals. All words no deeds..... The key point is business might want professionals, but they don't want to pay for them. You give them a choice between a seasoned professional and someone with a bit of paper who costs 1/3 to a 1/2 as much and they'll go cheap more often than not. Give them a choice between doing it right or doing it over later, they pick later. Have us come up witha solution to their requirement, or implement their 'solution', they go with theirs. As for ethics, don't make me laugh. Good guys only survive getting shot in the back in Hollywood.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Doctors, lawyers, and accountants all have one thing in common: the basic path to the award of each title is the same in every case. For example, doctors must complete medical school and internships before proceeding to their specialty training and residency. Lawyers and accountants also have standard requirements they must meet before being admitted into the profession. A professional IT association would have to mandate several paths, depending on the end goal of the individual. Even then, people could take (and have taken) vastly different paths to the same job. I just don't see it working.

jimamily
jimamily

The white coat is an overcoat usually knee length in height that is worn by medics and other professionals working in the medical field in many countries. White Coat http://coatwhite.com/

richard7
richard7

Excellent article. However, you probably could have made the baseball analogy using a player whose career ENDED 50 YEARS AGO. David Ortiz would have been a good choice.

Gadbois.Joshua
Gadbois.Joshua

I think you should all take a class in Project Management. Get religion, PMI will save your souls! Ok, maybe not, but it will at least give you a vocab that will CYA faster than making up your own and trying to push it on people. Ever hear of the Gnostics and Essenes (before the History Channel specials)? Doubt it. How about the Hermetics? Basildeans? Meh. PMI has spent the money and developed the core curriculum and established the certs, and even took a passing swipe at ensuring a certified PM has some actual experience in PM... Get on the bandwagon, or you'll be hanging out with the Cultists of Mithra. Just burn the incense to Caesar already.

n.lloydshrimpton
n.lloydshrimpton

Such a body does exist, here in Australia any way! Check out the Australian Computer Society at www.acs.org.au. The ACS has a range of membership levels and a 'Code of Ethics' and 'Code of Professional Conduct and Practice'. Many jobs that are advertised have as a criteria ACS membership. Completion of a University course in Australia makes you eligible for membership because the ACS approves the content of all IT courses. The ACS also is a registered training organisation and can run diploma courses. If you don't have a degree you can join on your relevant experience.

garibaldi69@
garibaldi69@

I agree, but only so far. Where do you draw the line for a definition of "IT Professional". I have been in this industry since 1990, yet the only cert I hold is CompTIA A+. I honesty can't afford to go out and pay for MS certs, Cisco certs, and others. That have to be renewed every few years. Especially when I have MCSE's and CCNA's asking me questions on how to do something. I lived through the Dot Com bust, where IT salaries jumped through the roof. I knew a guy who went from 30,000 to 80,000 in one year all because he went and got certified in all kinds of stuff and the co. paid for it. Two years later he was on the unemployment line along with a lot of other IT Professionals who salaries skyrocketed and suddenly the companies couldn't afford them. My salary stayed at its level and went up 3-5% each year. In the end I was better off than he was. The other drawback is that we are a breed onto ourselves. IT people think differently then others and act differently than others. Some IT people can barely talk to non-IT people. Some IT people are so arrogant its not funny (as are some Doctor, Lawyers etc.) I have repeat customers simply because I am polite and don't try to talk over their heads. I am currently a one man shop, have been for three companies, and 8yrs. I do everything but write software. (I can't program to save my life) I have never had the chance to touch UNIX, AIX, AS400. I have messed with Linux but with so many different GUIs I can't see it in my workplace. So, I am pretty much a Windows guy. Does that make me only one quarter IT Pro? One half? That may be why many IT people resist the idea of a IT Pro Standard Also be careful what you wish for, I couldn't pay for the ins. Doctor's must carry. Thank you, My 25cents.

LJM3
LJM3

I must applaude you for tackling such an intricate subject. We do have some respectable bodies (IEEE, ACM) and certifications (CCIE, CISSP, etc.) that can improve the "worth" of an IT Professional to a company, but we are sorely lacking that one accepted governing body that would allow for the true IT Professional moniker. I love the comparison to doctors, lawyers, and accountants, as ours should be every bit as respected as any of those professions. Just one of our problems, though, is that we are, in many cases, our own worst enemies. We prefer to fight battles against such a governing body when one attempts to form but then remain somewhat silent when IT is becoming commoditized to the point where we are grossly undervalued. Even with such undervaluation, we continue to see more of our jobs going overseas and to those from other countries who remain in this country with working visas, as that is the cheaper way to go for most companies. There is something to be said for these programs, so they are not all bad, but should not be a replacement for us, rather a supplement to us. It is not for a lack of talent in this country, moreso a lack of talented IT Professionals willing to remain so undervalued. I believe a governing body would at least slow the commoditization of our industry, allowing more respect and furthermore, insuring that we are paid commensurate with the value we deliver to our customers / employers. Every single company, as well as almost every single position in a company, somehow relies on some form of IT to work efficiently and effectively. Compared to other professionals, the top positions in those fields are paid as much as 30 to 40 times the average wage earned in this country. We, in the IT fields, are not paid at this level and it simply seems to be a lack of respect for our skillsets, intelligence, and industry. We began to see significant degradation in respect of our industry after the dot-com bust earlier this decade, yet after cluelesness, unethical and immoral behavior, and in some cases, complete incompetence, we still see the financial executives paid rather well by way of comparison. To me, this is partially as a result of these other professionals being able to fall back on organizations that govern these folks, insuring instant credibility for those who are members. To add to this, governing organizations work on the political side as well, so we would have much more of an IT voice in government than we do currently and perhaps this would help close the technology gaps in this country. I believe that we should all work together to charter a governing organization, and soon.

SmallFish
SmallFish

A good thought-provoking piece. I think that in addition, IT professionals at all levels should have a clear vision and strategy to achieve targets set. This is because IT work can be intangible in many cases, and is hugely dependent on the perception of quality by a customer. So while middle and senior mgmt personnel can think of growth etc targets, junior IT professionals could think of achieving better quality and pats from the customer.

omnknt232006
omnknt232006

When you stop and think about it, it might be smart to have our own governing body, it would make our industry harder to get into thus helping us out with job security. I think that we should form this organization and force it so that all the companies that have cert. tests have to get them approved by the organization before it can become an industry standard cert. It'll never happen though unless some law is enacted to make it happen.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

shop assistants in the food industry, often accompanied by a very profesional looking hairnet......

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

someone who has absolutely no interest in project management become a better computer technician?

wchaster
wchaster

Is this the question? I remember the first time I decided to get a cert, it was the MCSE for NT 3.51, but wait 4 had just released! Sticking with this vendor, or which I am certified, you just have to look at this as another product they sell. It is a companion to the books available at MS Press, the courses at MS University, the other documents on MSDN and TechNet. Long ago I saw that this and the shine of paying for an education to become certified caused my desire to wane. But consider this before forming another thought; if you spend years at a University to get a degree, how long would that degree be of value, until you needed to go back and get a newer degree?

rdubrey
rdubrey

I remember a few years back going to a group called the So Cal IT Roundtable... It was a group of IT Managers for restaurants. It was a pretty good deal... I think more of those would fit the bill...