Continue in 2 seconds

Still Growing

  • June 01 2002, 1:00am EDT

The entire computer profession is immature. Normally, the word immature has pejorative implications, but not in this case. The computer profession is approximately 50 years old. Compare this profession to accounting, engineering, law and medicine. We are told that the hieroglyphics found in the tombs of Egypt include notes from accountants as to how much grain was owed to the pharaoh. Walk the streets of Rome today and chances are good that the foundation was laid 2,000 years ago under the direction of a Roman engineer. Visit an archaeological exhibition or a dig and you may find markings on bones that were made by a doctor (of sorts) more than 10,000 years ago.

Historically speaking, the profession of information processing is grossly less mature than other professions. What are some of the other indications that this profession is immature?

Consider certification. Doctors attend school for years. By the time they are ready to establish a practice, they have been through a truly arduous (and expensive) process. Accountants must attend college and then sit for an exhaustive series of exams in order to become CPAs. This process is not quite as comprehensive as that experienced by doctors, but is still no picnic by anyone's standards. Lawyers must pass the bar, and engineers gain certification by standardized tests.

What is the status of certification in the IT profession? There simply is no rigorous preparation and testing discipline for certification in IT commensurate with that found in other professions.

However, there are numerous other indications that the IT profession is immature. Other professions have governing bodies (e.g., the Financial Accounting Standards Board, state bar organizations and boards for various medical specialties). There is nothing even remotely approaching a similar governing body for the IT profession.

In many professions, there are standardized procedures for conduct. There is courtroom protocol to manage the roles of judge, defendant, plaintiff, lawyer, jurist, witness and expert. There are standard procedures for appendectomies and hysterectomies. There are auditing procedures to proclaim the quarterly revenues and expenses of corporations. There are principles of dynamics for determining the load that a bridge can handle. For the most part, these procedures and practices have been thoroughly documented and are the result of years (perhaps thousands) of proven practices.

The computer profession has a few hints of these "best practices" procedures. In the early days of the profession, we had structured programming and design from Ed Yourdon. Today we have the corporate information factory. However, we don't have anything at present that carries the formality, wide acceptance and rigor of the equivalent practices or procedures of the more mature professions.

The immaturity of the IT profession is also apparent in terms of advancement in the profession. Large accounting and law firms have a standardized path by which people become partners. While the medical profession is not quite as organized and advancement in the engineering profession is not quite as formal, advancement in the IT arena is as unorganized as the Wild West – it takes many forms and is very unstructured. Some technologists strive to create a company that goes public. Others strive to become consultants or bosses, and still others strive merely to grind out code and make systems work. There is no set pattern for success in the IT profession.

Immaturity of the IT profession is also evident in press coverage of the profession. The press is famous for showing skepticism regarding established professions. Members of long-established professions must run clinical trials that, in some cases, are verified by a panel of outside experts in order to gain recognition from the press. In the accounting profession, you may need to set new guidelines for FASB and GAAP before you make the headlines.

This sharply contrasts the press' treatment of the IT profession, where much of the press coverage consists of reading and recycling press releases. Do you remember the days of artificial intelligence (AI) when magazines ran cover stories on companies in AI, declaring these companies full of millionaires although the companies did not have products, customers or revenues? No one even remembers those companies now, but the press promoted these companies as if they were genuine successes. This phenomenon has been repeated. Does anyone remember the treatment of the dot- coms? The dot-coms were hailed as the transforming conquerors of "old technology." Most of these companies never made a dime in profit, and many are not in business today.

Part of growing is learning – and the IT profession would do well to learn from other professions in its maturing process.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access