Information technology – an integral part of life

November 7th, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

Whenever the subject of employment statistics arises, the statement is inevitably made that there are not enough women in industry or in senior positions and lately, in the armed forces. In my conversation with Ulandi Exner, president of the Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), we spoke about why information technology (IT) people should join IITPSA, as well as the shortage of women in IT.

In case you are not familiar with the IITPSA, it is the transformed Computer Society. That in itself could become an interesting discussion. Why change the name?  Just about everybody was familiar with the Computer Society. The short answer is that IT is comprehensive and inclusive while computers – well they are just machines!

Ulandi Exner President Institute of IT Professionals South Africa (IITPSA)

Ulandi Exner, president of the Institute of IT Professionals South Africa.

Exner believes that IT is an integral part of our everyday life and that is why the people who work in IT need to be professionals.  In many professions their practitioners need to be registered and be members of a statutary body. As medical practitioners have to be registered by the medical council, so why not IT professional who write the software without which many medical procedures could not be performed?  Aircraft being another good example. The passenger’s safety is as much dependent on the software that flies the plane as the pilot. “My contention is that a body like the IITPSA should be a statutory body that sets the professional requirements and registers people who are qualified to meet these predetermined standards.

“While the IITPSA may take a long time to achieve the status of a statutory body, I believe that we have an important function to fulfil in the IT industry. Once your application to become a member is successful you have to agree to and sign a code of conduct which covers integrity, level of competence, responsibility, loyalty and confidentiality.”

The institute has various categories of membership to encourage continuing development with the ultimate aim of a Full or Professional Membership status. For Professional membership a candidate must have a minimum of three years’ experience in industry in a professional capacity, and this may not include any period of full time training or education unless it is in research for a doctoral thesis. An applicant must submit comprehensive, authenticated evidence of his or her training and experience and will be subjected to a peer review. Furthermore, an applicant for professional membership must have been a member of the institute, in good standing, for at least two years immediately prior to being assessed for eligibility as professional members.

Professional members may use the letters PMIITPSA behind their name, which is recognised by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA).

Integrity is an important attribute of an IT professional. As an example, Exner referred to what is now known as “Dieselgate”. “How could the software developers intentionally program the VW turbocharged direct injection diesel engines to activate certain emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing. The programming caused the vehicles’ output of nitrogen oxides (NOx) to meet US standards during regulatory testing but emit up to 40 times more NOx in real-world driving. Where was their integrity?”

Another passion of Exner is women in IT, or rather,  the relative lack of women in IT. She puts some of the blame on our schools. “IT, or as some people like to call it, coding, should be introduced into the high school curriculum or even in the last year of primary school as a compulsory subject. It may date me a bit but I believe that we have not moved much from the days I was in high school when boys took woodwork as a subject and the girls domestic science! I recently addressed the subject of IT as a career choice in a talk at a girl’s school. Yes, they knew what IT was but no one had ever mooted it as a career choice. There were also no IT subjects being taught at the school. This really concerns me.”

The IT industry is thriving but women are missing out on the interesting, highly rewarding jobs, says Exner. “We need women to fuel the workforce – without them we may not be able to build the future workforce.It is imperative to have diversity in the workforce.” “From a personal perspective I grew up in a household where roles were very clearly defined but I rebelled against that notion. Despite not playing computer games or having computer studies at school, an aptitude test encouraged a career in machines. After school I fell into a career in IT training, which flowed on to the help desk, then technician and finally, IT manager. I haven’t experienced overt sexism but there has been a lot of condescension. It has been tough, and it is still tough, being a woman in IT. My male peers have always earned more than me; and I’ve always had to work harder to achieve the same. In addition, it has always been lonely. Studies show that women leave the IT industry because of the hostile work environment. One of the biggest barriers is unconscious bias. Organisations should also offer more flexible working arrangements. Many women leave the industry because they want to raise a family, with the result that the industry is losing a lot of talent. Having a career or raising a family shouldn’t be a choice.”

IITPSA took over the organisation Women in IT (www.womeninit.org.za) which has a mentorship programme. “We are looking for women within the ICT industry to join us in becoming mentors. Our objective is to put women who are planning a career in IT or who are already in an IT job but who want to advance, in touch with mentors. The mentee selects a person from our list of mentors who meets her interest.

“IT is an integral part of life: IITPSA is promoting professionalism and an IT workforce that can deliver. So next when you are appointing an IT professional, ensure that she or he is an accredited member of the institute.”