Join the professionals

Membership of a professional IT association or union could enhance your career prospects. David Mascord reports

Membership of a professional IT association or union could enhance your career prospects. David Mascord reports

There is no shortage of acronyms and abbreviations in the IT industry. And when it comes to joining IT-related organisations there is plenty of choice.

Be it the BCS, ITPA, IITC, PCG or WCIT, there is probably a body that will represent issues that affect IT workers in your sector or specialism.

They range from groups that exist to raise standards, encourage networking and build awareness of IT issues, right through to a trade union that specifically represents the IT sector.

Bodies including the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Worshipful Company of Information Technologists (WCIT) aim to promote the IT profession. They support education and training and provide a forum for IT professionals to meet.

As the only IT body boasting a royal charter, the BCS aims to set the highest professional standards possible. It accredits qualifications and offers a range of membership grades dependent on experience and qualifications.

"Chartered information systems professional status and active membership in the BCS demonstrates, both to your employers and peers, a passionate commitment to the industry," says IT professional Andrew Brown, a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers. "I know of no other professional organisation where members are as actively involved with organising and running events on a local basis."

The WCIT, meanwhile, is an example of tradition meeting the modern world, according to clerk (chief executive) Gillian Davies. "The WCIT connects our sector with the centuries-old livery tradition."

In addition to its education and networking activities the 620-member WCIT is also heavily involved in charitable projects related to IT. "For people who have been successful in IT the WCIT offers a vehicle to give something back, both to the industry and to the wider community," says Davies.

There are also groups for independent IT workers. The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) campaigns on behalf of contractors from a range of sectors on subjects including the IR35 tax issue, fast-track visas and employment rights.

Possibly the newest group touting for members, meanwhile, is the Society for Professional Qualified Independent IT Consultants. The name is a bit of a mouthful so, wisely, they call it the IITC for short.

Just six months old and with membership yet to top 100, it is a small body with big ideas. It too is aiming to be far more than just a meeting place for its members. President John Heard, an experienced consultant, says, "Initially it was a forum to meet people from similar backgrounds. But we do want IITC membership to represent a certain status and become the hallmark of a particular quality of approach."

And for IT employees who want support at work in relation to terms and conditions, pay structures and training opportunities there is also the option of joining a union. According to IT sector trade union the IT Professionals Association (ITPA), an autonomous section of million-member union Amicus, there is increasing interest in membership among younger IT staff.

This is especially the case where employees in IT departments or IT companies are experiencing redundancies and general economic belt-tightening.

Aware that many of its potential members grew up in non-unionised or anti-union workplaces after the Thatcher years, the ITPA is keen to stress its modern outlook. Membership of a 21st century union is about more than strike threats.

Stewart Andrews, programmer and analyst, is an active ITPA member who is union representative for recruitment at services giant Computer Sciences. A union member since 1988, he champions the view that modernised unions have a place for new and traditional members alike.

"There is a re-education process. We are not in the old era of unions with strikes and closed shops. We do a lot more than that. But a lot of people are feeling vulnerable now. They are suddenly realising that there is no one to look after their interests," he says.

"People often say, 'I will join if I do not have to go on strike'. In all my working life I have never been on strike. Union activity is far more subtle these days. It is not about confrontation. Communication is a two-way process," Andrews says.

With groups to cover every area the sheer choice can be confusing. But ITPA national secretary Peter Skyte does not think so. He appeals for groups to co-operate. "The different organisations have a range of purposes, but there is some mutuality. ITPA would like to see professional bodies work more closely together on common issues," he says.

There is also the question of what view your employer might take of heavy involvement in a professional group or a union - does it affect the day job? Representatives from all organisations believe that, rather than being frowned on by employers, membership of a body can enhance an individual's career.

"Generally employers are supportive. Obviously it is wrong to spend all your work time doing BCS tasks but if you attend BCS events you bring new learning and contacts back to your team," says James Hickson, president of the BCS Young Professionals Group.

Even being an active ITPA member is not necessarily a barrier to career prospects, says Skyte. Sometimes it can even enhance them. "In companies where we have open relationships with employers there is no evidence that ITPA activity hampers your career. The characteristics of a good union rep are in many ways those of a good manager."

Whichever group you choose, joining the professionals could be one of the smartest steps you take in your IT career.

Guide to IT professional organizations
British Computer Society
Subscriptions range from £26 for students, £108 for full members and £136 for fellows
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 01734-417424

Professional Contractors Group
Fees range from £117.50 for contractor members to £293.75 for associate members
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 020-8622 3066

IT Professionals Association
Annual subscription £120
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 020-7939 7000

Society of Professional Qualified Independent IT Consultants (IITC)
Membership fee £300 a year
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 01531-636276

Worshipful Company of Information Technologists
Contact WCIT for details
E-mail: [email protected]
Tel: 020-7600 1992.

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