Are you a professional - or just a code monkey?

Technical IT specialists have dismissed the view that programmers are unlikely to reach professional status and probably do not need to aspire to it in any...

Technical IT specialists have dismissed the view that programmers are unlikely to reach professional status and probably do not need to aspire to it in any case, writes John Kavanagh.

The original view was put by two senior BCS members in May, but other members argue that technical staff can, in fact, meet many of the criteria required for the title of professional.

"That attitude towards techies is becoming increasingly common as the ranks of information systems professionals become more and more filled with business people who, while they do a valuable, competent and professional job, could do a similar job in any industry with the minimum of retraining," says Mark Allen, who describes himself as "fortunate enough to work for a company which has parallel career paths for technical and non-technical professionals".

Alan Burlison, who does everything from consultancy to hardware and software specifications, goes further. "I accept that there is a wide range of skills and aspirations in the techie arena, just as there is in any other but to assume that everyone in IS who is not in management is just a code monkey is crass," he says.

"Most IS managers I have worked for have had limited understanding of technical issues on which they make decisions. The good ones realise this and respect the technical opinion and professionalism of the people who work for them. The bad ones ignore advice, often with dire consequences."

Burlison adds, "The assumption is that everyone who enters IT aspires to become some sort of middle manager or business analyst but that only a chosen few are capable of reaching this higher plane.

"People who are good technical professionals often have no aspirations to become managers - something that others seem unable to comprehend."

Steve Jones, who is a BCS professional grade member, agrees technical people can be professionals in their own right.

"Real-time operational decisions that experienced technicians make are often of great importance: for example in areas such as spacecraft operations," he says. "Is it right to imply that such people should be unprofessional? Of course not."

The argument has also been joined by Geoff McMullen, BCS vice-president for members professional development: "I have worked on projects worth millions and on ones costing a few thousand," he says. "All have involved the application of the same principles, but required very different levels of skills. So the concept of professionalism covers much more IS engineering activity than has been suggested."

The original views came from Christine Ashton, an IT director, and Ruth Wallsgrove, managing director of a consultancy. They argued that professionalism was really needed in business analysts, designers and project managers, and that good programmers should be given the opportunity to make worthwhile careers in programming and not forced into other roles.

A compromise comes from programmer Peter Dixon. "Programmers work with a mind-set that is totally different from that of managers, and the professionalism that this mind-set develops is as valuable as their technical skill," he says.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment