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Professional Licensing for Software Professionals?

Over the past few days I have been thinking that the Software Industry is in drastic need of a Professional Licensing mechanism. I cannot even begin to imagine how much it costs businesses when they hire people that are unqualified, and there is presently no mechanism that I know of, outside of Vendor-based Certifications and College Degrees, to tell managers and business owners whether candidates are qualified or not. I am surprised that this issue has not been more widely discussed; I presently know of no such initiative to impose a licensing mechanism similar to that of Doctors or Engineers.

I think we need this for various reasons:

1. To give hiring managers and business owners confidence in who they are hiring (and tell them when they are taking a risk if they decide to hire someone that is unlicensed).

2. To give qualified professionals the respect they deserve and keep the integrity of the profession intact.

Without this licensing mechanism it's easy for non-Software people to fantasize about how easy it is to "code". If this doesn't sound like a big problem, consider that the entire concept of Outsourcing Software Development jobs is primarily based on this idea. Jobs that are "easy" to do are the ones that are Outsourced first. I don't think people would Outsource their Doctors or Lawyers. So the fact is that a rigorous licensing process would create a conscience which states: "yes, this job is hard. Not everyone can do it. When this person speaks, listen to him or suffer the consequences." How many of us would like a little more of that in our professional lives?

Another problem that is caused by this lack of respect is the promotion of a non-Software person to a Software Management role....how many times has this happened and how much grief has it caused? Would you promote a non-Doctor to be the head of Surgery at a hospital? What would happen if you did?

Yet another issue is how work environments degrade because of this lack of trust. I have been in many places where Executives are frustrated because they have been lied to for years and still don't have a decent Software Infrastructure in spite of large investment and commitment on their part. Then, when a good person joins the organization, he has to bear the brunt of this distrust along with all the other incompetent people who enjoy the obscurity as it offers them a place to hide.

In short, a Professional Licensing initiative will help to bring the Software world out of the Dark Ages.

One of the questions that comes to mind is "why hasn't this already happened"? I can't say for sure, but I think that Software is much more abstract than most of the other professions out there. It's hard to explain what you do to many people (especially if you're a Database person) and this makes it equally easy to "fudge" results of projects and "redefine" concepts such as "success" and "quality". Surgeons can't fudge their results that easily, because they are more obvious to the layman. If a person dies on the operating table, that's that. Same with Engineers. If a bridge collapses or a Ford Pinto blows up when it's rear-ended that's not very easy to explain away. But software is so abstract that you can easily fudge or obscure many facts about it that are not possible with the other professions. 

Of course there are aspects of Medicine and Engineering that are not as clear-cut as what I mentioned above, and there are aspects of software development that are rather clear cut (a broken website), so we're not talking absolutes here, but I think that on the whole the Software industry is more abstract than most of the other professions, and this fact alone SCREAMS for a Professional Licensing initiative.

Naturally there are numerous issues to be resolved, and many heated arguments are going to come out of this, but that is how life works and how progress is made. However it turns out, I think this licensing mechanism should bear the following characteristics:

1. Should be vendor-independent.

2. Should be rigorous enough so that any licensed person is well-versed in the structure of how Software works. Making a piece of Software function is relatively easy; it's the deeper understanding of Software that is more important.

Comments? Thoughts?



Posted by Dave Wentzel on 14 July 2010

This is a terrible idea.  The definition of "license" is a legal document giving you permission to perform some act.  Do you really believe any government is qualified to determine who should be allowed to practice software?  Has licensing solved the issue of quackery in medicine or unethical lawyers in law?  Or has it eliminated poor drivers from our roads even?  

In fact, many people are indeed "outsourcing" their doctors and lawyers.  Ever heard of "medical vacations" where someone goes to a foreign country to get cheaper plastic surgery?  People love it not just because of the savings, but often the doctors have more experience and aren't bound by the lowest common denominator of licensing.  Insurance companies are currently outsourcing xray interpretation/diagnoses to doctors in India, especially for rural hospitals that can't afford doctors for overnight shifts.  If I'm a patient in that situation I'm glad that option is available.  

You also mention lack of respect and promotions as reasons. Wow, so now the government is going to help you with this with a license? Sounds like you are advocating unionism.  Well, that may work out for you for awhile, but in the long run you only guarantee more jobs are outsourced and you will be unemployed.  Think Detroit autoworkers.  Their high-paying/high-respect jobs are gone...and not just overseas, but to places like Tennessee where the unions don't have a foothold.  

Let's also look at the other side of the equation.  I'm a business owner and I need a good DBA, but in the US this requires a licensed, expensive, high-respect prima donna.  I can't afford that, and my project may not even require it.  So I could outsource it.  (Or do you advocate international licensing for software pros via the UN?  Good luck enforcing that).  But let's say I don't want to outsource because the geographical issues make collaboration an issue.  I really wish I could just take my chances and hire a smart kid that has some desire to learn that my people can mentor, but I can't because he isn't licensed.  So I move my entire business to another country without licensing.  

I think what you may really be saying is that we simply need vendor-neutral certifications like the accounting industry.  Or think Consumer Reports or even Underwriters Laboratory.  These are independent organizations that grade other entities.  They have gained prestige over the years and people trust their opinions.  If these organizations fail to ensure high standards they will be replaced.  But no one coerces you to use or value their opinions.  We have this concept in IT already...there are vendor-neutral SAN certifications, security certs, etc.  

Let the private sector solve this, it will do it cheaper and better then any government licensure program.  

Posted by Sam Bendayan on 19 July 2010

In my original posting I did not mention the Government at all.  What I had in mind was what you mentioned at the end of the posting; something like a professional organization, in the private sector, to handle something like this.  No need to get the Government involved in any more areas than it already is :-).  If Government involvement is implied in the use of the word 'license' then let's use another word....I am more interested in the concept itself at this point rather than the terminology.  But I agree...let's keep the Government out of it.  There is no better way to politicize an issue and blow things out of proportion (and get nothing done in the process) than to get the Government involved.

With respect to the vendor-neutral certifications, I think it's similar to what I have in mind, but these have 2 issues as far as I'm concerned:

1. I don't know of any such certifications for many areas of software development, so there are many areas left uncovered by this.

2. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but it seems to me that these certifications have received lukewarm acceptance at best.  I think we need to get to a point where they are backed by some major players in the industry, and I'm not talking about vendors.  More like educational institutions in conjunction with Professional Organizations...something along those lines.

Thanks for your comments,


Posted by lasallegrad2001 on 10 December 2010

The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (www.iccp.org) has been around since the 60s and is the premiere organization for certifying computing professionals. ICCP is recognized in the industry as such, partners with colleges and universities and professional organizations in the US, South America, Canada, South Africa and further. Their certifications are agnostic and require professional experience for certification not just the ability to answer questions. They offer CEU's and their certifications. No vendor certifications are accepted and ICCP backed certification is highly desirable in the industry. Visit the website and encourage your company to investigate the certifications and services. You will find exactly what you are looking for.

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