We often refer to ourselves as professionals. The intermediate level assessment for Scrum Masters asks, “Do you view software development as a profession?” Resoundingly, the answer is “yes.” Many reasons are given, mostly focusing around our techniques, the titles of the various skill sets, and the criticality of the applications that we build. Our customers count on us.
But, I was less than convinced. If we were a profession, how could I tell if one person was acting professionally, and another was not? What was an unprofessional act? Something that was not transparent? Cutting quality? Not refactoring design when enhancements were added? I struggled with the question.
I link to some discussion of professions from Wikipedia below. If these criteria were applied to people selling their services as software developers, then I would have a minimum expectation. I could expect that they were educated in a certain curricula, had apprenticed with an accepted professional somehow, and had passed an initial set of tests. I also would know that there was a formal licensing body that established and maintained these criteria. Finally, I would have confidence that the person had to periodically reassert his or her qualifications to continue his or her participation in the profession. I would know this because the professional would have a license from a professional body.
I again raise the question: Are we professionals? If yes, how do we fit the below descriptions, or are they wrong? If not, what are we?
Formation of a profession
A profession arises when any trade or occupation transforms itself through “the development of formal qualifications based upon education, apprenticeship, and examinations, the emergence of regulatory bodies with powers to admit and discipline members, and some degree of monopoly rights.”
Main article: Professional body
Professions are typically regulated by statute, with the responsibilities of enforcement delegated to respective professional bodies, whose function is to define, promote, oversee, support and regulate the affairs of its members. These bodies are responsible for the licensure of professionals, and may additionally set examinations of competence and enforce adherence to an ethical code of practice. However, they all require that the individual hold at least a first professional degree before licensure. There may be several such bodies for one profession in a single country, an example being the accountancy bodies (ACCA, ICAEW, ICAI, ICAS, CIPFA, AAPA, CIMA, IFA, CPA) of the United Kingdom, all of which have been given a Royal Charter although not necessarily considered to hold equivalent-level qualifications.
Typically, individuals are required by law to be qualified by a local professional body before they are permitted to practice in that profession. However, in some countries, individuals may not be required by law to be qualified by such a professional body in order to practice, as is the case for accountancy in the United Kingdom (except for auditing and insolvency work which legally require qualification by a professional body). In such cases, qualification by the professional bodies is effectively still considered a prerequisite to practice as most employers and clients stipulate that the individual hold such qualifications before hiring their services.