Re: [SystemSafety] professionalism

From: Steve Tockey < >
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2014 15:14:29 +0000

I should add that one weirdness in the US is that hairdressers/beauticians are subject to far more rigorous requirements to practice than software developers. And I heard from a friend whose brother is a book binder that book binders have a rigorous multi-year apprenticeship program.

It takes me back to my earlier comment about being "an industry of highly paid amateurs". Sigh...

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That's exactly the difference between certification and licensing. Certification is voluntary. Licensing is mandatory. Licensing has legal stature and government backing. CSDA & CSDP are certifications with no legal backing whatsoever.

One difference between licensing in Australia and the US is that in Australia it's at a national level. As I understand it, Queensland can't do something radically different from any other state. Not so in the US. There is minimal US Federal-level structure in place, engineering licensing is mostly left up to the individual states to implement so there are some very interesting differences from one state to another.

That said, there was an effort in the US to make software engineering a license-able engineering discipline. At least 10 of the US states have recognized it, and the national "Principles and Practices" exam is now in place. Keep in mind, however, this only applies to software developers who are working on software projects that "threaten the health, safety, and welfare of the general public". Someone slinging code at, say,<> or Adobe is free to practice without a license. And even on those "threaten the health, safety, and welfare of the general public" software projects not every developer has to be licensed. Only ONE has to be licensed, and that ONE licensed engineer takes on all of the liability when they "seal" the work they approve.

Date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 4:26 PM Subject: Re: [SystemSafety] professionalism

To provide a slightly different context to the discussion of professionalism.

In Queensland (just next door to where I live) the behaviour of professional engineers providing services is regulated by an act of parliament and their professional conduct in the provision of said services overseen by a statutory body independent of the profession, with powers to investigate, charge and punish. You are either registered, supervised by a registered engineer or don't practice. And practicing without registering is illegal. The quickest way to be registered is to become a chartered engineer through our national body, Engineers Australia.

A couple of points about the might be of interest to the discussion here. First the legislation is set up as a complaints process, so for someone to be investigated there has to be a complaint, which in turn implies that some sort of contract/agreement was in place. That's not surprising because the original intent of the act was to regulate the hole in the wall engineering consultancies providing professional services to the consumer e.g. the Ma and Pa Kettle's who for example needed a retaining wall designed.

But, as is the way of these things, the act was worded fairly broadly so it's application, according to the board that regulates it is wherever an engineering service is provided. A lot of engineers don't like it, for various reasons relating to questions of natural justice, procedural fairness and the perception that the board applies a more strict standard of care than the general civil liability for professional negligence. However there was a reason that the Queensland parliament thought it necessary to bring forward the act, which goes back to the powerlessness of the professional body to enforce professional standards on those who practice, unlike the professional bodies of doctors or solicitor's here in Oz.

I'm no great fan of the act, I'd prefer the model used by the medical and legal fraternities rather than a state Quango, but that said, unless you have a scheme that requires one to be certified to practice, and that is a legally enforced obligation, then enforcing uniform professional conduct will always be difficult it seems to me. The folks who would do a professional job regardless will sign up, and those who won't don't. And all of that is compounded by the difficulty of figuring out what constitutes a breach of the rules of ethical conduct, and the preference of management, and especially project management, for people who 'just do as their told', no matter if that ends up as a death march project.

The sting in the tail, of course, is that the software engineering is not one of the disciplines that the board recognises as needing registration...

On 19/02/2014 15:38, Steve Tockey wrote: For what it's worth, I run the CSDP and CSDA certification programs for IEEE-CS. Candidates need to sign a statement saying they have read, and will abide by, the IEEE-CS/ACM code of ethics. If we can prove that any certificate holder is/was not abiding, we (I) will°™without question°™revoke that certificate.

I'm certainly not questioning or doubting your integrity or commitment, but I would like to understand how you would do this (in the hope that I can find a way to emulate it in the UK).

How would you know that a certificate holder had perhaps not abided by the code? Would you only act on a complaint, or would you (say) follow up press reports of a major project failure to investigate whether a certificate holder was professionally implicated?

And what process would you then follow to establish the facts and to determine whether to issue a warning or to revoke the certificate?

Would you expect your action to run into issues of commercial confidentiality or to be challenged in the courts? If so, how would you overcome these difficulties? Do you or the IEEE-CS carry insurance to cover such eventualities?

These questions have always seemed to me to be major barriers to effective enforcement of a code that includes professional competence. I can see how to handle cases where financial fraud or criminal behaviour have already been established through court proceedings, but I would welcome any insight into how standards of professional competence can be enforced in our field, where there is so much professional disagreement about the right way to buld and assure software.



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