Monday, December 8, 2008

IT as a Profession

Should the concept of IT be considered a profession? I think most of us would like to say, "yes it should." A lot of training and experience is required in order to design, create and run large systems efficiently with high levels of service. People can not just walk in off the street and accomplish this. Even though vendors are making certain tasks easier to do, all that means is that workers are expected to be able to manage complexity at a higher level. As an example, we don't *necessarily* need to know how to build a computer, but we do need to know how to spin up virtual machines on the fly and balance the load correctly, quickly and securely.

Should everyone that works in IT be considered a professional? Probably not, but where does one draw the line exactly? I can think of many ways to try and measure professionalism: customer satisfaction, specification fulfillment, information security, conduct, etc. In the end it probably needs to be a balance of all of these. Customer satisfaction on its own is not good enough because stakeholders may not know that you are not supposed to store credit card CVV/CVC numbers, but I would expect a professional to know that.

I think the reason why we don't have such a definition at this point is that the IT industry changes so fast. In contrast, the fundamental knowledge required to successfully build a physical structure such as a bridge or building, while by no means trivial, hasn't changed in a long time. Those rules also tend to have fewer layers of abstraction between them and the finished product. New building materials may change the way in which you meet the parameters, but a building must remain standing and you can use physics to determine if it will. But due to new types of hardware and software constantly being developed even the basic requirement that an information system must remain secure causes us as professionals to investigate new ways of implementing security rather frequently.

At times I am tempted to think that maybe the computer sciences just haven't been around as long as other professions. Maybe once we have enough systems existing out in the world, we will identify common requirements and basic rules that all IT professionals will need to follow. And then I remember that the only reason to write new software is to solve new problems. The new software is usually written on new platforms that were created for new hardware. It's hard to imagine finding hard physics-like rules that will continue to be valid for so many shifting purposes and layers.

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