NZCS certification submission

Posted on April 19, 2009


In the interests of transparency, here’s my submission to the New Zealand Computer Society professionalisation initiative:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft Professional Certification Framework.

I believe this is the most important action the Society has ever taken, it is well overdue. This belatedness, however, is not a cause for undue haste, indeed it is just cause for careful consideration.  For the reasons outlined below I strongly urge a delay in the implementation of this framework.

The Certification must form an integrated framework.  In critical areas there are significant gaps.

The Society is creating a structure that I hope will be lasting.  Unfortunately, mistakes made now will be difficult to remedy – once someone has been certified, it is going to be difficult to take it from them on a “technicality”.  Precedents will be set that will be difficult to overturn, and if we spend the first year “giving the batsman the benefit of the doubt”, those precedents will serve to weaken the process.

The biggest problem is the mismatch in timing between the certification process and the degree accreditation process.   I  strongly believe that these two processes should be considered two halves of a whole – with the whole being greater than the sum of the two halves.  In the short term, most people seeking accreditation will likely be making some reference to their qualifications.  Without guidance from degree accreditation, all qualifications will have to be accepted – setting a precedent that will difficult to undo.  The degree accreditation process is likely to be extremely complex and have ramifications for the certification process (and vice-versa).  A further period of collaborative development must be allowed.

I am not comfortable that the Society fully understands the inner workings of academia (and nor should it).  Somewhat naïve references to academia in the document (eg the academic route: ethics, level, breadth) would be overcome by a detailed period of collaborative development.  Developments in education also should be incorporated.   Implications of the Diploma Supplement initiative should be considered. 

Essential areas of the process are yet to be developed. A third of the assessment criteria (Professional Knowledge p2) are yet to be seen. This is possibly most important part of the whole process but unfortunately is also the hardest area to define. This should not be forced through in a hurry. It simply must be properly developed and consulted upon.  I would like to see a thorough analysis of the sentence described under “Knowledge of ICT Legal Issues” (p27).

There is a great deal unsaid in the document. What, for example, is the extent to which the BoK will be contextualised? To maintain an NZ BoK will be a significant undertaking, but I would be very unhappy with an adoption of an overseas list.  New Zealand has many contextual factors, and these go beyond “…and issues related to the Treaty of Waitangi”.  Computing for sustainability (with a wide conception including environmental, cultural and economic) should also be included in this discussion. This notion of a sustainable practitioner in computing should go beyond our own footprint, but considering computing’s potential to facilitate a wider change (see the NACCQ policy).

Further, the document is silent on the process for updating core knowledge.  For example, it is perhaps surprising that Systems Development (p32) does not mention Agile methods, indeed it is clearly a structured approach (I recognise that this is an example set of skills, but the point remains, within software development a range of alternative approaches should be considered).  This example Page of Knowledge looks suspiciously outdated.

I request a significant reconsideration of the Code of Ethics be carried out in conjunction with the certification.  Perhaps the difficulty is that we are using Ethics with a capital “E”.  Jickling‘s workbook has some helpful words (the capital E is only because of the start of a sentence).

“Exercising our ethical abilities is part of being human. It is an ability that should be built into our lives such that it becomes simply normal behaviour. Ethics should not be an exotic activity performed by heroes, saints, and experts that reside elsewhere – it is a matter for everyone. It is the stuff of everyday activity”.

So, ethics is important but in the proposal it is assessed only by signing a document (rather like a chastity pledge), rather than making it part of an integrated process.  While page 12 says “This includes an understanding of, and adherence to, Ethics and Professional Practice”, this drops to “demonstrable understanding of the concept and requirements of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Behaviour…” on page 14.  One could demonstrate that they understand Mein Kampf but this doesn’t mean they agree with Hitler, hold these values dear, or act upon them.  I would urge a more detailed conversation around this area.  I  suggest the society to seek advice on assessment within the Affective Domain and Action Competence.

There is a great deal of work to be done on the process, particularly around renewal.  It is not appropriate to put this off for a few years until needed. This reconfirmation (or otherwise) of a member’s professional status is the most important validation of the Certification.  It needs to defined before the system is implemented as a whole.  I would like to see a notified public hearing akin to the Private Investigators licence renewal.  Further,  it needs to be a formal public role to investigate complaints – not just the major crimes but the minor areas of misconduct or ethical slippage – these are the areas that cumulatively bring the profession into disrepute.

I believe the “Fast track” option should be removed.  It is crucial that this Certification be credible from the outset. The Society cannot allow even the slightest perception that it has “looked after the old boys”.   I recognise that this is not the intention, that everyone will go through the same processes – in which case remove the possibility of this misconception.  It may be desirable to have a period of enhanced processing infrastructure, but this should not constitute a separate class, rather, it is a matter for internal workflow planning (eg p23, p62).

I am concerned that the Certification is solely for Senior ICT Professionals. Certification should represent an integrated framework. Instead the “gold standard” is not a framework, rather a roof without walls. I believe technicians should be addressed simultaneously.  Otherwise the people within the ICT workforce will be put in the insidious position of apparently not being certified. This can mean either they don’t fit current criteria or they were rejected. This uncertainty will undermine Professionalism as a whole.

I remain committed to the goal of professionalisation of the ICT workforce.  I believe our staff are operating within such a professional environment, and that our graduates are well prepared to fulfil this pathway in a relatively short time. We remain eager to work with the Society to accredit our qualifications.

I believe, however, that it would be foolhardy to push ahead with the implementation of the Certification scheme until these significant limitations are overcome. Criteria and process must be articulated before the system is implemented. The system will be made stronger by rigorous informed debate about these details. I  look forward to further discussion.