Government licenses for computer professionals?
IT Tips by Donald Burleson
I have spent a great deal of my consulting career
cleaning-up messes from naive, inept and unqualified computer professionals.
These reckless pseudo-professionals cost American business billions of dollars each
year in lost productivity, and vetting computer professionals has become a
costly nightmare for IT managers across the USA. Today we cannot trust general
certifications, nor the vendor-based certified professionals and especially not
the honorary computer experts.
The "honorary" vendor titles (Microsoft MVP, Oracle ACE)
that are given without verified credentials and experience have become he
subject of mockery in the IT industry. I know of several Microsoft MVP's
and Oracle ACE holders who are very, very dangerous, loose cannons who are
virtually unemployable. Some have no paid job experience whatsoever, and
their ineptitude combined with an unjustified sense of accomplishment has led to
serious production outages for anyone naive enough to believe that they are up
to the task of managing a real system. For more on these dangers, see my related notes on how
Dangerous Dilettantes Destroy Databases.
Some Oracle ACE holders acknowledge that their ACE
designation is "almost
"Most of them, in my experience, are your stereotypical
glory hunters. The type who has to be the center of attention.
?O look at me, I wrote a book???
O look at me I gave a talk at an Oracle conference???
O look at me, I?m so underutilized at my job that I?ve had time to respond
5,000 times on OTN?.
Smug, arrogant, full of their own sense of self importance and quite
So, how can an IT manager find a "real deal" computer expert? Most state and federal
occupational licensing boards have not caught-up with the times and recognized Information
Technology as a legitimate, licensable profession just like engineers and CPA's.
It would not be hard to create a valid computer
certification, and many have tried. Back in the 1980's a private company called
the ICCP (the Institute for
Certification of Computer Professionals) tried to create industry certification
standards. I became a Certified Systems Professional (CSP) and earned a
Certificate in Data Processing (CDP), but ICCP certifications were not widely
accepted in the data processing marketplace. Today we see other
independent certifications such as A+ attempting to qualify computing
A forty dollar saddle on a ten dollar horse?
The vendor certifications suffer a bad reputation for a
number of reasons, foremost the fact that they don't verify work experience or
an upstanding reputation. They used to call this "putting a $40 saddle
on a $10 horse", and I've noted more than a few "shady characters" who have
these vanity titles by trusting software vendors who don't want to be burdened
with background checks of job experience and personal character.
One of the first Oracle
certifications was the Certified Oracle Masters (COM), a designation that only
required that you pay for and attend five classes from Oracle University.
No tests, no vetting of knowledge, just pay-up. Ten years later, Oracle
re-vamped this with the Oracle Certified Masters (OCM), which includes a real
practicum test that measures real-world ability.
Some older vendor-based certifications used to verify
the work history of the applicant and the Chauncey Oracle7 certification required
signed documentation proving that the candidate possessed more than three years
of full-time, paid work experience as an Oracle DBA. But that was back in
the 1990's, and today people can become "certified experts" without a single day
of paid work experience! It's a recipe for disaster.
When a vendor honors someone as an ACE or MVP without
verifying their work history and reputation, they are putting their reputation
on the line, not to mention opening themselves up to litigation. Read here about
riled-up the database community.
The certifications entitling high school dropouts to
call themselves an "engineer" are also very disturbing, especially in areas
where the title "systems engineer" actually means something. I've met
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers who could not find their butt with both
A sample of questionable occupational
In some jurisdictions it's against the law to call
yourself an "engineer" unless you are licensed to drive a train, and most people
Before vendor certification, the only was to be legally
declared an expert was by a judge, and people working in Oracle Forensics were
entitled to call themselves expert because a judge had decreed it. But
there is a much bigger problem with self-proclaimed Oracle experts, many of whom
hide the fact that they have very little paid work experience!
Read here about a
expert who duped people out of $30,000 before he was discovered.
Even more onerous are the "vendor certified expert"
programs whereby candidates pay fees to take classes and test to become vendor
certified experts. Some vendors expert certifications require no paid job
experience! Most real experts agree; it's impossible to get expertise
without years of full-time paid job experience.
But how well do these vendors check-out their
illustrious representatives? Not to well, IMHO. A quick Google search
reveals that there are many unsavory people holding vendor-honored
certifications, and some who have been publicly accused of criminal activity.
The high cost of verifying credentials
Resume' fraud is epidemic and IT managers cannot trust
job candidates anymore forcing departments to resort to expensive online
services to allow them to verify the credentials and reputation IT job
applicants. As a IT management consultant, I rely heavily on these
services to find trustable professionals and weed-out the posers.
But background checks are both time-consuming and
expensive, and it would be great to let Uncle Sam license computer
When people want to build a house they seek a government
licensed contractor, and even mundane occupations (Chiropractors, Farriers)
require a license in some states. States have extensive occupational
licensing boards already, so it's not to much to ask for a regulatory body for
computer professionals. I have a pilots license, an auctioneer license and
even a radiotelephone operators license, why can't I get a license for my real
Across America, IT managers are clamoring for the right
to hire government licensed programmers and administrators, but the government
bureaucracy impedes this critical issue. Why can't we hire a licensed
programmer? Let's take a closer look; the answer may surprise you.
Are computer jockeys "real" professionals?
Law changes slowly, but I expect that the high costs to
society will pressure lawmakers to regulate the computer industry.
After all, computer people earn as much as doctors and
lawyers (and in some cases, far more) and it's a crime that they have no
licensing. What the IT industry needs are computer industry-specific
Federal or State licenses, just like people in similar professions. Professions
have licenses, why not computing. Doctors, lawyers, Software Engineers,
CPA's, Actuaries and even Chiropractors and kindergarten teachers require
A model for licensing IT and computer professionals
We need to look no further than existing regulatory
bodies to see that computer professionals can be easily and fairly licensed.
For example, consider the license requirements for a software engineer.
National Council of Examiners has a great summary of the requirements to be
a professional engineer, but it's missing one factor, a criminal and credit
STEP 0 - College Graduation - The
first step is graduating from an ABET-accredited engineering college.
STEP 1 - FE Exam - The first exam in the licensure process is the
Fundamentals of Engineering (FE). . . Once you pass the exam, you are
classified as an intern, also known as Engineering Intern (EI) or
STEP 2 - Verifiable Work Experience - After passing the FE exam, you
will continue your journey toward professional licensure by gaining
engineering experience. Many jurisdictions have specific requirements about
the type of experience you need to gain. Most require that you gain
experience under the supervision of someone who is already licensed, and
that your experience involve increasing levels of responsibility.
STEP 3 - PE Exam - Once you have gained the appropriate experience
required, you can take the second exam in the licensure process, the
Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE). This exam is given in a variety
of engineering disciplines.
Now, all we have to do is add a requirement for a criminal and credit
check, and a professional IT license could easily be created.
How important is a good reputation?
In North Carolina, even mundane occupations are governed by auctioneers
must be licensed by a state auctioneering licensing board who are
charged with doing an extensive background check (including a nationwide
criminal records search and a credit history report) steps to ensure
that all auctioneers have "no acts of moral turpitude". See my
notes on how I help corporations
evaluate the honesty of computer employees.
It's only a matter of time before state licensing boards expand their
control over computer and IT occupations and we can only hope that
having licensed computer professionals will increase the prestige of the
profession and weed-out dangerous dilettantes and those with unsavory