Whenever professional standards in the IT industry are brought up, the usual reaction is a counter question: How (and what for) can such a fast-changing industry be standardized? Should it be regulated at all? How can it work, especially if there’s still a shortage of IT professionals? This is strange, however, as there are a lot of people now trying to “program a web site” or “write a game.”
Maybe, it’s because the IT industry needs professionals with a somewhat more extensive knowledge that is required for creating dynamic web forms or animation on mobile platforms. There is an evident mismatch between the industry's requirements and the perceptions of people who think about starting careers in IT.
First, let’s see what professional standards are and where they are applied.
The most notable example is government approved national standards and the continuous re-certification which can be found in the medical field, the transport industry (drivers, pilots, train drivers), the construction industry (architects, engineers) or in education.
They have a professional standard which is a set of competencies and skills that a professional must have, which are primarily regulated for professions that are directly or indirectly associated with a potential danger which can have serious consequences due to the absence of appropriate qualifications.
OK, it’s an area regulated by the state for “serious” professions.
And why do we need standards in IT where everything is constantly changing and it’s impossible to make everyone follow the same beat?
As we all know, misunderstandings leading to numerous conflicts may arise because of terminology - when different people use the same term to mean different things. The reason for such a confusion is very simple: people who do not deal with IT directly have a vague idea of its inner workings and what the areas you can specialize in are. It might be funny as a joke yet it may cause serious problems when expectations and plans are not met in business.
But seriously speaking, should an analyst understand the interaction between system modules, or is this the job of a software architect? Is the user interface created by an analyst or a designer? And if it is a designer, is that the one who draws a nice picture, or someone who takes a nice picture and adds buttons which are “easy to use”? And what should a programmer be able to do? Should they know their subject domain or just read the requirements (written by an analyst or software architect?) and write code, without even thinking about what is behind all the features?
Why does such confusion never occur for medical professions? We don’t presume that a pharmacist can correctly diagnose and treat some disease, or a primary care doctor can aid in the case of a fracture. First, it’s because we unfortunately come across medical specialists more often than IT specialists. And second, because there are clearer standards in medicine.
IT as a business area is now transforming from “providing competitive advantages” to the state of “must be used to keep pace,” as it was, for example, with machines appearing in factories, motor transport, or communication technologies. It is implied when we speak about the eventual transformation of art into craft.
Business knows that they need an accountant for financial bookkeeping, or a corporate reporting specialist. A legal counsel is needed for dealing with contracting parties. To handle personnel issues, you need an HR specialist and a personnel development specialist (these are two different specializations which are often mixed). But if you need an IT professional, what kind of specialist should you look for? System Administrator? Project Manager? Analyst? Programmer? And if a programmer, then what kind exactly?
IT professionals are now recruited in the following way: A unit manager or expert makes a detailed description of the position, with required skills, both general and technical (programming languages, libraries, knowledge of certain processes, team work, business domains, etc.). After that, an HR specialist tries to match a candidate's CV with the vacancy description, not always clearly understanding the details of requirements. Due to that, the recruitment process often takes a longer time.
A detailed description of any IT vacancy is actually a professional standard, which is developed every time for a single position.
The recruitment process would be much easier if a larger part of the responsabilities and requirements could be hidden behind the job title, and the vacancy description reflected the actual specifics of a given position.
For efficient performance it is required that you continuously train personnel (especially IT personnel in this constantly changing industry). Professional standards are often related to initial education at colleges or universities. Yet it is not quite correct to view them in terms of education only.
How can anyone within a company answer the question whether a promising programmer can become a development team lead? What further training will they need? Which of the experts within the company will be able to fill the vacancy of an architect in the nearest future? Of course, you can compare the competencies of a developing employee with their current competencies and skill, but what should you do if the team too is in the process of developing and there is no development manager yet?
Developing a matrix of competencies for a team is time-consuming and expensive (and it’s often unclear how to do it if there is no appropriate specialist). It would be much easier if you could take a ready-made sample matrix and adapt it a little to your needs, and get the extra benefit of a common language for communication with partners and outsourcing companies.
So far I have been speaking about a company solving its own organizational problems.
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Luxoft Training Project Manager