Certification of Computer Professionals

Alexander Shaw
CSC405 Computers and Society
Spring 1997
Paper #3


	There is a debate brewing around the world as I write this paper. 

The debate concerns the certification of computer professions and

professionals.  The debate is a real conceptual muddle if there ever was

one.  Mainstream academia cannot decide what an appropriate curriculum for

computer science majors should consist of.  Many questions continuously are

being asked and answered, revised and re-revised daily.  The questions of how

much math, what types of math, how much theory or practical application are

snowflakes on the tip of the iceberg.  Just say that, and this probably will

not happen in my lifetime, all the school in any state agree on a set of

classes for a B.S. in computer science.  Hundreds of schools coming together

and agreeing on the amount of learning to get a unilaterally accepted degree

would be a miracle in itself.  Now the student is in the work place.  Why

should this professional be trusted to write programs that could affect

millions of lives?  What proof does society have that this professional is

competent?  First of all, we must determine if all computer professional

should take the same test.  Should MIS students take the same test or tests

as CIS students or computer science students?  Should programmer analysts

take the same battery of tests as a systems analyst?  There are already

tests for almost every software package for networking, databases, etc.  

Novell, Digital, Microsoft, Lotus are some of the big companies that have 

there own certification programs for professionals to prove their skills.  

Should state and local governments model tests after the corporate

certifications?

	We must first decide who are the major stakeholder and if government 

has a right to step in and govern the lives of computer pros.  If a 

programmer designed software for a safety system, for instance, and the 

system failed, who would be responsible?  First and foremost the programmer 

and his employer.  You should be responsible for anything you sign your name 

to as a paid professional.  The employer stands to make a profit from the 

work of it's employee, so naturally if the employee makes a major mistake, 

the employer should pay to fix the mistake.  The general population of 

consumers and citizens rely on big business to put out products that will 

not harm us merely because of negligence.  There is no way that a company 

can check every single possibility or situation to ensure safety, but there 

should be a standard of quality that can be measured.  With two of the major 

stakeholders in this situation being big business (money), and consumers 

(more money) how can government not get involved?  We pay heavy taxes to 

the government in return for safety and protection.  If the work of a 

professional kills people, and the government knew of the pre-existing 

conditions of the profession, should government as well as the professionals 

be held responsible?

	One solution would be to give one blanket test and hope for the

best.  If the worker did a decent job at school, the general population

should have nothing to worry about.  Every situation can not be taken into

consideration.  Some things must be left to chance.  A good test would prove

that the professional has at least a minimal level of competency.  The

affect on stakeholders would be very polar.  Computer professionals would be

forced to go to or go back to school to learn what is needed to pass a

proficiency test.  The overall affect on the industry would be positive do

to the increased learning and stablization of the trade.  Businesses might

get reductions in lawsuits due to malpractice and negligence.  Insurance

rates for businesses might also be reduced.  Better products from better

trained staff would also boost sales and repeat customers.  Customers would

receive products from a state-stamped programmer.  It is possible that beta

test releases might be a thing of the past.  No one would want to put out

products riddled with bugs.  Windows '95 comes to mind.

	Another avenue would be to just leave the whole sorted mess alone. 

If you invite the devil in, you will have a devil of a time getting him or

her out.  More regulations means more fees, paperwork and red tape.  It

would also mean that there would be a new governing agency.  Who would pay

for it?  Joe taxpayer would be given another bill to foot.  Can this country

afford to be safe?  The major stockholders are, in my opinion, less affected

by this.  Business will not have to pay for the training of present and new

employees to be trained to take a test.  They will also not have to pay a

certified professional salary.  Computer science is the fastest growing

field bar none.  There is a shortage of qualified people to fill the present

positions now.  Imagine the shortage if there was another qualifying

obstacle.  Consumers would be better off because business will pass any loss

of income to the consumer.  Prices for computer software related products

would rise tremendously.  Computer professionals would be thrown into a

whirlwind.  Imagine being on a job for several years, then being told that

you have to basically have to compete directly with people fresh out of

college.  A good analogy of this would be making M.D.s, P.E.s, or lawyers go

back to start after years in the field.  They may be the best in their

fields, but after years of working, it would be difficult to take a test on

the basics.  The decision to leave this industry would at the very least be

less tramatizing.

	Being a computer professional, I feel that it is the responsiblilty

of business and government to ensure quality and safety for consumers.  An

analogy of this situation could be professional engineers.  Computer

scientist design the tools that the engineers do a great deal of their work

with.  It would only make sense to certify the workers that build the tools

of certified workers.  A certification process would provide a weeding out

of the incompetent and inept.  There should be no grandfathering in of

professionals in place.  Everyone should study for and pass the process.  

I understand that it could be me that fails the test or tests, and that I

could loose my job.  I also understand the utilitarian argument, the

greatest good for the greatest number.  The greatest number being the people

of the world verses the programmers of the world.  I can always go back to

school and take advanced basketweaving.