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The keys to a coherent profession are bridges between computing technologists and the multitude.
In the previous installment of this column I demonstrated that information technology is rapidly becoming a profession in the same way that health care, law, and library science and management have all become professions. Already at least three dozen organized professional groups represent specialties in the IT field. While the discipline of computing may be the mother of all these specialties, it is not the matriarch. Many IT professionals do not want to be identified as computing technologists; computing does not speak for them.
Before exploring this further, I want to explain my use of the term "computing technologists." I need a short name for the large group of people who deal with the scientific core of IT. This group includes computer scientists, network engineers, database engineers, security engineers, software engineers, graphics engineers, and computer engineers. I chose the moniker "computing technologists" for this group because they are all members of the computing field and because they all work with technology. I also use the term "computing discipline" for their field. When I use the pronoun "we", I am speaking as a member of this group. I argued previously that computing technologists are a subset of all IT professionals.
It is an irony that the computing discipline, which gave birth to the IT profession, is not the driving force in the profession. We computing technologists are the inventors and visionaries, but the field is being driven by the large numbers of pragmatists who are the users of the field and include many powerful business, civic, government, and industry leaders. We need to come to grips with the fact that we are no longer in "control" of the field. We do not call the shots. Our research is no longer the driving force behind most IT innovations. We are one of many professional groups in the field. What role can we play? I believe our natural role, consistent with our history as the progenitors, is the custodian of the intellectual and scientific core of the field. This is an important role that must be filled by someone if the IT profession is to achieve coherence. But this role will not come to us automatically. It will come only if we learn to embrace commercial applications, interactions with other fields, and the concerns of our customers. This may be a chasm too wide for many of us to cross.
Thus we face a dilemma. Should we hold a conservative view, insisting our disciplinary offspring not separate and the newcomers merge? If so, we run the risk of being sidelined in the new profession. Should we seek a leadership position in the new profession? If so, we must cross a chasm separating our current concerns from those of the multitudes who seek our expertise. To cross the chasm, we must embrace the …