Defining IT as a profession

I have a dream. A dream in which IT leaders would reach such heady heights of respect that we would be listed among those considered respectable enough to counter-sign passport applications, where it would be normal to have someone with a skill mix including IS/IT at a senior management level... The anecdotes that follow not only illustrate the topic in their own right but, as both occurred since I started writing this article, demonstrate the breadth of the challenge facing us.

I was attending a meeting of the Open Forum Europe Public Sector Working Group, and there was a discussion regarding the marketing budget difficulties facing open-source software solutions. Someone mentioned the success of the virtual learning environment (VLE) Moodle, in common use in UK schools despite a non-existent marketing budget. Having worked in education around the time Moodle was first adopted, and as one of the early adopters, I pointed out that it happened at a time when VLEs were almost unheard of in schools. Someone immediately asked: 'so how did you know about Moodle?'

The second anecdote is more of an observation of a small advert I have come across in several online publications relating to the profession. Here's an edited version: "Time is money, so why spend hours surfing the web for enterprise IT content, tech news, analysis, product reviews, vendor updates, and how-to's? Get what you need - all from one place to turbo-charge your IT and business efficiency."

And for those who haven't seen it, the advert links to a website run by a major software vendor.

So what have these two things got in common with the subject matter?

Well, the former is due to my immediate thought in response to the question: it was my job to know. I was an IS management specialist working in the schools sector (a rarity then and now) so it was my duty to learn about developments and solutions pertaining to that sector, while applying my general IS skills and experience to the challenges of the schools with which I worked. The latter is simpler: I cannot imagine anything less professional than to use a vendor-funded website as your sole source of information regarding anything.

They have something else in common: that the question was asked and the advert created were representative of the outsider's view of our activities. Doesn't come across as a positive view, does it? If in a meeting I, as a lawyer, had spoken of my involvement in a new legal development, no-one would have asked how I had known of the development. And I'm not sure what the parallel is for the other: a major pharmaceutical company creating a site about medical developments and placing an advert in The Lancet suggesting doctors should just look there for their information?

Taken together, these suggest that what we do is not being seen as a profession and that there seems to be an expectation that those working in the area are not to be expected to act professionally.

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