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Article by Mohan Babu


Barriers to entry in IT?

IT veterans often debate whether the industry needs “barriers to entry” for people wanting to practice software engineering or programming. MOHAN BABU writes that creating regulations to restrict entry into IT professions may be easier said than done

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need for Indian IT organisations and bodies to lobby globally, to be recognised as leaders in the field. In the article, I had talked about the need for these institutions to get together and unobtrusively lobby nationally and internationally. There is another aspect of the software industry, especially with regards to the regulation of professionals entering the field, that requires some thought by the powers-that-be. Because of the slowdown in the IT industry in the West, a few magazines and trade publications have been pondering over the question: Is it time for IT professionals to establish “barriers to entry”? This set me thinking about “barriers to entry” for Indian IT professionals.

Of course, the main barrier to entry is getting the right career break, even for those with excellent educational qualifications. Herein lies the problem, a kind of chicken-and-egg situation. Young professionals, even those with excellent academic backgrounds, find it hard to get their foot in the door. However, employers are always looking for the “right” kind of IT talent all the time.

Indians in IT suddenly find themselves at the crossroads in an industry that is not sufficiently mature to be self-regulatory, at the same time vibrant enough to attract talented folks. What does one mean by barriers-to-entry that I talked about earlier? Take the example of professions like medicine, law, finance or even teaching. In order to be considered a “professional” in such fields (and to be allowed to practice such vocations), an individual needs to complete courses leading to awarding of a degree or diploma; and even after that, clear requirements from local, state or quasi-governments bodies. A CPA (or CA) is generally expected to have a degree in accounting or finance and also clear exams conducted by accounting and regulatory bodies. Similarly, a lawyer has to acquire a degree in law along with meeting other professional requirements before being allowed to practice. Even engineers, architects and pilots have such requirements from professional bodies that govern their entry and code-of-conduct. Some IT veterans are starting to wonder if we need such “barriers to entry” for people wanting to practice software engineering or programming.

Creating regulations to restrict entry into IT profession may be easier said than done. Take for instance, this recent advertisement for an EAI Integration Analyst: “Works at the highest technical level as member of system development team with primary responsibilities for all phases of development. Experience in developing and implementing enterprise-wide integration strategy and architecture plans using Siebel and/or JD Edwards. Experience with one or more industry leading EAI solutions (MQ Series, Cross Worlds, Tibco, Vitria and Webmethods). Knowledge and experience using Siebel workflow and/or business services. Four-five years experience in DDL and Oracle Forms and Report module generation experience. Four-five years experience in developing applications using a system development methodology.” The advertisement talks about the technologies and experience and nothing else. No requirements for a degree, certification, professional credentials, etc, are mentioned.

Of course, the reader will immediately argue that standards do exist in the IT industry. Database administration is a case in point. Successful DBAs generally have certifications from vendors like IBM or Oracle, along with years of experience. Similarly, vendors like Sun and Microsoft provide their own certification programmes that professionals can clear to distance themselves from the pack. However, the question still remains. What is to prevent someone who has rote knowledge of Java from taking and clearing a Java certification exam and marketing himself as a “guru” even though he doesn’t have a degree or any experience whatsoever? None. And this is where some professional bodies may be able to step in and regulate the “entry” into our profession.

The closest “unregulated” profession that software resembles is that of management. A person can go to a business school, rise up the ranks or start his own venture in order to become a “manager”. Professional qualifications like a management degree (MBAs) do help, but they are not a pre-requisite for people gunning for a management career. Barriers to entry in the field of management are low and Dilbert’s principle ensures that a person is only promoted to his/her level of “incompetence”.

Some in the IT industry are skeptical of any move to regulate professionals. If the industry seems to be functioning as it is, where is the need to add an extra layer of bureaucracy, they ask. This argument does hold strength in a good market when there are huge requirements but very few people to take up the jobs. However in a slowing market (like now), we need a different line of thinking. IT professionals either working for companies or out of jobs need a way to prove their credentials to prospective employers and differentiate themselves from the pack. Employers too need a fool-proof way to authenticate the qualifications and credentials of candidates.

Maybe it’s time for Indian IT industry bodies such as NASSCOM and/or CSI to step up and take on the role of providing a bridge between candidates and employers, making for a win-win proposition for jobseekers and IT companies. Talented IT professionals will not only benefit from such a system but also be able to prove their credentials effortlessly. Time to think outside the box!




About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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