The Cassandra Complex

I made a mistake today, I wrote an email while tetchy and sent it before I had a chance for proper reflection. Don’t get me wrong, the views I expressed in the email remain my views, I just should have taken a deep breath or three before sending.

What was the email about? Well, I will not go into details. Suffice to say I had been sent a paper on professionalism which was well written, strongly argued and had a clearly defined aim. Unfortunately I disagreed with every part of it.

Whether I am right or wrong is another issue for another place and another time. And another audience.

But I continue to muse on professionalism and the notion of a “Profession”.

What is a “Profession”? It is more than just a set of people with the same skills else doctors and vets would count as one profession.

It is more than just a set of people with the same knowledge else police and criminals would count as one profession.

Is a “Profession” a licence to operate in that sphere? That is true for many professions – lawyer, doctor, accountant – but not all – hatter, footballer, religious leader.

Can you be professional without belonging to a “profession”? Of course, just compare good service with bad.

So what is the model for the “IT profession”? Do we learn from the existing professions and build a similar model to theirs with gatekeepers and qualifications etc? Or do we start from scratch to build a new style 21st century profession?

And what is it that we want out of an “IT profession”? The respect of others? Some kind of parity of standing? People who behave professionally? To raise the standards in IT by having a cadre of skilled professionals?

And then there is the question of scope. Let’s say I start the “Bear profession” which is open to all ursines in good standing. We have brown bears, black bears, grizzly bears, polar bears… What about pandas?

Pandas are, I was brought up to believe, just raccoons with pretensions. So do we let pandas into the “Bear profession”? And if we let in giant pandas then why not red pandas?

So perhaps we have an entrance exam, one involving little cakes and honey. But what does that tell us? Solely that someone has passed an exam, which may or may not have any relevance to the actual life of bears.

So I find myself coming back to the same questions

What do we want from a profession? Is it about a profession or professionalism? Can we scope who is in and who is out? What fundamental difference will it make? What does a profession look like in the emerging world?

I have no answers yet, just vague shapes evolving at the back of my mind.

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5 thoughts on “The Cassandra Complex

  1. There’s a good Demos pamphlet from a couple of years back edited by an old friend of mine which looked at what notions of ‘professionalism’ mean in the modern age, and what ‘professionals’ are entitled to do as a consequence:

    http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/productionvalues

    I’ve always reacted against notions of profession applied to the fields I’ve worked in. It always felt like people trying to pull up a drawbridge and herd cats into pens, to mix metaphors wildly. If it’s about corporate behaviours, or learning & development or a guild with a common set of ethics and capabilities, then people should say so.

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  4. Pingback: Categorising bears and other beings « Janet E Davis – The Blog

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