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Vol. 19, #15 - April 14, 2014 - Issue #975
This week's newsletter focuses on all the feedback we've received from our readers concerning our recent newsletter Does the IT Profession need to be Regulated? (Issue #973). In that issue we touched on the subject of whether or not the IT profession needs to be regulated along the lines of how engineering as a profession is regulated.
From the volume of feedback we received, we obviously touched on a touchy subject :-)
But then we're not afraid of broaching touchy subjects in this newsletter, and neither it seems is Dilbert as the following comic strip illustrates:
Great way to approach a touchy subject, eh?
Because of the volume of terrific comments we received concerning Does the IT Profession need to be Regulated? (Issue #973) we decided to give over this issue of WServerNews to listening to what some of our readers have to say on this subject. While the majority of the responses we received are solidly against such a proposal, we did receive a few that can see the other side of the coin to some degree so let's consider some of these to begin with.
A reader named Paul who is a professional engineer (i.e. is a P.Eng.) responded at length by quoting the two sides of my imaginary For/Against conversation and then adding his own commentary:
Against: Buildings can collapse and bridges fall down even if they've been designed and built by professional engineers.
For: But the training, discipline and mindset of the engineering profession means this kind of thing rarely happens. Passing a few IT certs doesn't give you this kind of mindset or discipline, so it's no wonder many large IT projects fail.
Against: But IT projects often fail for reasons beyond the control of the IT pros who design and implement them. Factors such as underbidding and changing business requirements can sink even a well-designed project.
For: But professional training and licensing would enable IT pros to anticipate such difficulties so they can factor them into the project.
Against: Aww, licensing the IT profession is just another cash grab from the entitled class to add more layers of bureaucracy making it harder for ordinary working people to make a living…
For: Tell that to the public the next time you so-called IT pros waste another hard-earned ten million dollars of taxpayers' money…
And so the arguments on both sides continue...
Next, a reader named John who has been teaching applied IT at the university level for a decade and a half says:
The salient fact I have observed is that IT, at all levels, has become much more complex over this time. When I compare NT SERVER 4.0 to SERVER 2012 R2, a simple wired bus network using hubs to a switched fabric network operating in virtualized mode, SQL SERVER 2005 to the 2014 variant, HTML programming then and now, or security then and now, the pattern is the same -- there is so much more to know, and it all changes so rapidly -- and I have not even gotten into the ramifications of wireless access to portable computer/communication devices -- it just goes on and on.
At the same time, and over the same span, IT has moved from something that is generally 'nice to have' [though it was essential even back then for some arenas] to something which most people [including those in the 'developing' world] consider as essential as electricity or water.
Combine those two things together, and the parallel between IT and medicine does not become all that far-fetched -- in each case the body of knowledge to be mastered is vast and always changing, the consequences of error can be significant, and the 'consumer' of these services has no direct way to evaluate practitioner expertise [although of course, after-the-fact rating systems have become quite useful in the medical profession].
Looked at this way, not only is it high time for the IT procession to gain a 'license' type of certification, exactly analogous to medicine or law, but it is also time to accept this fact, and for professionals in this field to work out how it can be implemented and supported by education [a task considerably harder than it looks].
One of the causes of IT project disasters is incompetent management, made so because in most cases, IT professionals do not have the standing or clout to push back -- imagine what would happen if uncomprehending incompetence was brought to bear on doctors or lawyers -- the fur would be flying frantically in no time flat. Why? Because, given their professional status, it is hard to bully doctors or lawyers [it can be done] -- yet managers find it trivially easy to bully IT professionals, with all the problems which result. So ultimately, gaining the sort of professional licensed status that doctors and lawyers have is something all IT professionals should aspirationally value. And just as we have paramedics and legal secretaries, there will be a hierarchy of tasks people can do based on their demonstrated levels of skill and knowledge. I do think this is going to be demanded of us, and sooner rather than later.
Interesting point that requiring the IT profession to be licensed might benefit us IT pros by giving us more clout to push back when management tries to bully us. On the other hand, another reader named Daniel says "Be careful what you wish for" and elaborates with the following points which I've excerpted from his email:
My comment arises from...the law of liability applicable if one becomes a "Professional" in the legal sense... Simply put, "regulation" is another label for an aspect of the IT Professional Liability (Malpractice) case... One of the consequences of becoming one is clearer applicability of conduct codes [which] include liability relevant duties, including an at least implied "duty of inquiry" that may not be all that applicable in the "ordinary negligence" case otherwise applicable (in the absence of express contractual undertakings which tend to convert the theory of liability to contract not general negligence (tort) liability). There are many consequences...to be analyzed. For example, I am no longer informed on insurance practices in the IT industry, but its considerable cost to doctors, lawyers and other recognized professionals is clearly material to any analysis for IT Professionals.
Hmm great point. If IT pros need a license to practice then they would not only have to pay professional dues but probably also pay more for insurance to protect them against lawsuits when things go wrong.
Another reader named Bryan who has worked at a major Computer Science and Engineering university for over 20 years said:
I've often wondered why true engineering discipline in the IT industry remains so elusive. Here are a few of my insights:
1) Software is intangible and we humans have a difficult time applying value to intangibles. Code is rarely valued for its elegance and maintainability, only its output. If the output is looks good, then the software must be good. "We" tend not to care that it has lurking bugs like 16 bit pointers, too few bits allocated to storing the date, or dependence upon a 3rd party product from a company that no longer supports it.
2) Anyone can code. We teach our kids to program in grade school. We teach employees to write formulas for Excel. Anyone can pick up a book and learn to code, it's easy right? Good programming is undervalued, it takes time and discipline and experience. It also requires that those paying for it value good code -- see #1.
3) Lastly but most importantly, IT changes too rapidly. A bridge designed and engineered a decade ago could be built today with the exact same materials and construction methods and it would still strong and viable. Steel and concrete don't change that often. New materials must undergo rigorous analysis before receiving the necessary approval for use in public projects. It takes years. There are critical industrial control systems being built today using Programmable Logic Arrays (PLA) designed in the 1980's because they are still one of the few technologies to have Federal approval for use in some critical applications. Even the medical industry which is driven to save lives, must advance at a glacial pace due to the rigors of clinical trials and government approval processes. How then can we expect IT systems to be robustly engineered when the very building blocks of the system evolve daily?
Several readers like the one above have brought up the issue of how quickly IT technologies change as a blocker to establishing a professional licensing process. This next reader named Doug is one who echoes this sentiment and brings up another issue:
I've heard discussions regarding government regulation of the IT profession going all the way back to FoxPro user meetings I attended in the 1980's. Back then fresh out of school I believed the government was a force for good but we still concluded such regulation would cause more negative unintended consequences than beneficial ones. It was a good exercise in thinking through the pros and cons of regulation in a field we're intimately involved with. Now I believe that 90% of government regulation are unnecessary and mostly about protecting vested interests and pandering by politicians to voters. In the investment field there is a huge cost for compliance that in the end simply lowers the rate of return to investors while Madoff breaks the record for fraud right under the nose of the SEC.
The usual winning argument against IT professional regulation is that IT evolves too rapidly for slow government bureaucracies to stay up with.
I'm not sure whether its government that's become less functional or myself who's become more rigid as time wears on in my life. I once read something that people tend to drift from being liberal to conservative to libertarian as they age. Whether there's truth in that or not I really don't know, but I do know a lot of our readers seem to have a negative view of the impact of government bureaucracy on large IT projects as this feedback from a reader named Darryl indicates:
It's not a license that makes a particular job type a profession. The licensing and certification and all those things do not stop the failures we see in IT organizations either. Look at other professions that have licenses. They all make mistakes.
The reason most government programs fail is because they have some of the most inefficient processes in place of anyone. From the way they do bids to how they do it mean that most will fail. Because they treat the projects like social experiments they have all of the weird social rules that have nothing to do with a successful project. The other issue is that they typically hire some of the lowest experienced staff on the planet or are people that have tenure that just don't care anymore because they can't be fired. Licenses won't fix this either as all you have to do is look at all the paperwork mcse's out there. I worked with a major city on the west coast and this is exactly how they are. They have had millions of dollars spent on failed systems because the contractors know it's a quick buck. Until all this is fixed the tax payers will keep pouring out money to the most inefficient organizations in the world and licenses will do nothing to fix it.
Some of our readers think that industry certification programs may be enough--at least if these programs are implemented properly. Readers Jeffrey and Mary Jane responded with:
We think that there is sufficient self-regulation in the IT certification industry. Microsoft was on the right track with its Masters certifications, which were targeted as design certifications analogous to, but not directly comparable to, a PE. Ironically, the way they were designed made them unsustainable.
The security certifications (CISSP, for example) are sufficiently rigorous that they represent a high level of trust, and they have continuing education requirements to maintain the certifications. In the United States, the Department of Defense requires security professions to hold CISSP or advanced CISSP certifications or equivalents for the most senior security jobs.
There are equivalent security certifications for project managers, and technical managers have the Project Management Professional certification (with its own continuing education requirements) that more and more IT companies and government agencies require it for their IT program managers.
We'll end with a couple more short samples of feedback from our readers with apologies to the many others we were unable to include:
Perhaps it should be. I'm a tech who is in very high demand because I achieve results. What I hear very often is "The last guy never did that." Come on, clearing cookies in Internet Explorer is a very basic thing to know. What I am seeing is very poor work on small and even some large networks that I am able to improve almost immediately. I hate to say it but I think 80% of all so-called IT techs out there install a game once and had cards printed. --Russell
I'm not a big fan of more regulation, but I've always been willing to have some sort of regulation in the IT industry. I've got a BS degree in Computer Science and the fact that some guy working out of his garage can come along and tell businesses he knows IT diminishes my education and also cheats out clients of good IT work. --Frank
Regulated? Hmmm…? I don't think we need that. Just let the HR dept's, and todays IT managers make to bad hires. It's just fun watching people fall flat on their faces. Then the Good Techs or Engineers clean up the mess. Thanks for reading and just think good Techs and Engineers fix problems the bad ones go to the geek squad to fix it. --Alan
Is there a benefit from Information Technology and Information Security associations that help their respective professional members obtain guidance, learn best practices, and perfect their trade? Certainly. But to try and establish even a national council to regulate a ridiculously fast moving industry will accomplish two primary things: further reduce the meritocracy that Information Technology has long fostered but which has been in decline for some time now [and] slow down the pace of innovation and change to the that of the lowest common denominator... Let's fix what's broken before we go on to fix what is not. --Andrew
I'm not sure you're asking the right questions. In my experience IT projects that fail do so because they lack a good project manager. I am guessing what we are really talking about here is failed applications. I have seen many fail because an IT Pro, meaning a programmer, was asked to be a project manager. While he or she may have been a qualified programmer, they were not a certified project manager and lacked the skills necessary for that job. I have noticed that people solve problems with the tools they know how to use and many times I've seen a programmer solve a problem with pages of code that a DBA could solve in one or two lines and vice versa. A good project manager has enough knowledge of many disciplines to know what tools to use and also the people skills to get people to work together. I would compare this to why you shouldn't hire a carpenter to build an entire house, you really need a general contractor for that job. This is a great topic, glad you brought it up. --George
I think you need to do more research on this. You should stick to server issues. Sounds like you are writing a new chapter for your next book. --Jeff
Thanks for all the comments including that final snarky one ;-)
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I use Microsoft Outlook for email and have several accounts including corporate and personal ones. Because of the volume of mail I receive concerning my various business activities, I organize my messages into hierarchies of folders and subfolders, for example according to project and project stage. I know Search Folders, which were first introduced in Outlook 2007, is supposed to eliminate the need for such folder hierarchies, but my active mailboxes together with my archive PST files total about 20 gigabytes and I've never felt comfortable with keeping all my messages in one folder and using Outlook Search to find a particular message when I need it because I typical get a ton of results in response to queries.
Anyways, let's say I've searched for and found a particular message relating to a certain project. What if I now want to find all messages relating to that project? Well, they would likely be in the folder where that particular message resides, but how do I determine the folder that contains the message returned by my query? By configuring the current view as follows:
1. Select the View tab and click View Settings in the Current View group (I'm using Outlook 2010 here):
2. In the Advanced View Settings dialog which opens, click Columns:
3. In the Show Columns dialog which opens, click the Select Available Columns From list control and select All Mail Fields:
4. In the Available Columns list, select In Folder and then click Add to add it to the list of columns displayed:
5. Click OK twice, return to the View tab, click Change View and select Apply Current View To Other Mail Folders:
That's it. Now whenever I've got a bunch of results from performing a query using Outlook Search, and I want to know which folder each of the messages in my results resides in, I can turn the Reading Pane off for a moment like this:
and I'll be able to quickly see which folder each message is in.
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