European groups call for recognition as profession

IT must get established as a true profession - but this needs commitment from governments, companies, educational institutions...

IT must get established as a true profession - but this needs commitment from governments, companies, educational institutions and individuals, say Europe's IT professional bodies in a new rallying call, writes John Kavanagh

The growth of Internet use and the prospect of adapting systems to handle euros - seen as at least as big a job as the year 2000 problem - demands a greater emphasis on professionalism and standards, says the Council of European Professional Informatics Societies (Cepis).

"In every European country there were views that the IT professional caused the year 2000 problem, that too much was spent on fixing it, and, ultimately, that the profession is simply not credible," says Peter Morrogh, president of Cepis, which represents computer societies in more than 20 countries.

"The profession needs to try to ensure that there is no recurrence with the euro. In addition, as international barriers are broken down as a result of the Internet, a healthy and professional IT industry is essential.

"Across Europe there is a need to create an IT profession. This must be based on knowledge, skills and experience. It is not enough for people to have just qualifications, nor is it adequate if they don't continue to develop themselves."

Morrogh points to the formal Continuous Professional Development scheme run by the BCS and some other bodies. These typically demand that members clock up 20 hours a year of approved activity, ranging from attending seminars to preparing technical papers. But he adds that these schemes are in effect voluntary so far, and followed only by a minority of people.

"Continuous professional development needs to become the norm rather than the exception, with much wider acceptance by businesses and governments that it is important," Morrogh says.

Returning to his point that qualifications are not enough on their own, he calls for action on product suppliers' own certificate schemes.

"While Microsoft, Oracle and others understandably promote their own certification programmes, national computer societies and Cepis can add to these by ensuring that so-called IT professionals have the breadth of knowledge they need in addition to core skills."

But national bodies such as the BCS, a leading member of Cepis, cannot do this on their own, Morrogh says.

"Individuals, businesses, educators and governments must also play their part," he says. "It is essential that the importance of software quality is put at the centre of national and international e-commerce initiatives. In parallel with this, emphasis must be placed on the need for genuine IT professionalism.

"Big projects and those involving safety and health must be correctly designed, built and tested: software engineers are needed for this, and it is the responsibility of business to minimise the risk of failure by recognising the need for software engineering skills. Computer societies need to help employers here."

One problem for IT professional bodies in all this is that they have "an image of being stuck in a mainframe time warp," Morrogh says.

"Much can be done to improve the image and make sure professional societies are abreast with industry developments and have something relevant to say."

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