CS 302 Professional Issues

Chapter 6 - Professionalism & the Engineering Institutions

§6.0 Professionalism §6.3 Role of Engineering Institutions
§6.1 Emergence of Professional Bodies §6.4 British Computer Society
§6.2 Engineering Institutions

Previous Reading: Health & Safety

§6.0 Professionalism

What do we mean by "professional" and "professionalism"? Perhaps that the undertaking of work in that area requires -

All these would seem to relevant and true, though somehow the concept seems still a little lacking. We need to add in the thought that, at least at the higher levels, those involved are banding together for the regulation of work in their subject area - "regulation", yes, but above all self-regulation of that area of work.

Why is this banding together so important an element of professionalism?

§6.1 Emergence of Professional Bodies

It is an inevitability of mankind that people in the same place with the same interests will club together - think of the fan groups for the latest pop idol, or of football supporters' clubs! Or, indeed, think of the start of the trades union movement, or - at the same time - the start of the French Revolution.

Mediaeval times in Britain saw the banding together of tradesfolk to form the mediaeval trade guilds. Their purpose was simple:

Gradually the trades guilds moved to be bodies dominated by consideration of things like

which in turn moved those bodies into the area of parliamentary incorporation or the award of a royal charter (or similar outwith U.K).

It was one more step in this direction which in 1505 saw the foundation of Edinburgh's Royal College of Surgeons, the longest established of the world's medical bodies, whose foundation was recognised by a charter from James IV.

It is these bodies working essentially for the public good, in the engineering context, which we now ponder. But first do note that the concept of professional bodies is wholly independent of the concept of the right to practise

The right to practise is fully independent of membership of the relevant professional body ... but the situation may be changing, world-wide

§6.2 Engineering Institutions

And how do the engineers stand in that historic succession? For computer science, despite its name, is surely an engineering discipline - we "manufacture a product", applying our knowledge and skills to assemble a computer-based system which is a solution to some problem, for the use of other people.

Despite the evidence of such as the Egyptian pyramids, most people undervalue the engineering achievements of the ancient civilisations. Of them all, the Romans were perhaps the greatest achievers, though for them - despite some of their sophisticated aquaducts and domestic heating systems - engineering was essentially a branch of army activity, a military matter.

It wasn't until the seventeenth century that there started to evolve an engineering practice independent of that military context ... and that was when the term civil engineering started to emerge.

It was some hundred years later, in August 1757 to be exact, that there was born, near Langholm in the Borders, the man who was to have the biggest single hand in the changes that followed. Thomas Telford was born the son of a shepherd, and moved into local work to become a qualified stonemason ... but then through a combination of ability and opportunism gradually moved on, to become architect and civil engineer ... and then the civil engineer, resident in London, with major achievements behind him, not least in Shropshire, in the Borders and in the Highlands.

But he never moved wholly away from his roots, and his London house was home also to a number of young men who worked with him ("men" indeed: the University of Strathclyde of those days - Anderson's University - was unusual in the extreme in catering equally for the technical education of men and of women).

Those young men met of an evening, in a local coffee house (the pubs of the day), to discuss matters of mutual technical interest; and, at the second attempt,

The Institution of Civil Engineers was the first such body in the world, though there have been many followers since. As the study and application of engineering became more diversified, more specialised, corresponding specialist bodies were founded, including in particular

The century and a half from 1800 represented an age of increased specialisation and related professional fragmentation; it was inevitable that it should be followed by an age of coming together, as engineers realised that they had more which they should pursue in common than they had to keep them apart.

The process of re-union started with the formation in

But the CEI was a distinctly weak body, a basis for co-operation (for example, in recruitment into the engineering schools of the universities) but not one for the regulation of the profession.

Recognising that the health of the engineering profession was the key to the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in 1977 the government of the day set up a Committee of Enquiry under the chairmanship of the distinguished Scottish engineer Sir Monty Finniston.

The Finniston Committee reported in 1979, its principal recommendations being that

It is a matter of history that some of these recommendations were implemented, but others - the majority - not.

The leading engineering body of today is the Engineering Council (now, for the 21st century, the Engineering Council (UK)), which operates under royal charter.

It is significantly stronger than the old CEI, but it's not Finniston!

Professional engineering today is governed in the UK by a two tier system

Chartered Bodies in the Engineering Profession

And gradually there is a re-merging of the individual professional institutions

And there are many schemes, some successful, some not, for greater cooperation

But do remember:

As matters stand, the Engineering Council is made up through the coming together of representatives of all the relevant individual engineering bodies - they are all participating bodies - and progress for engineering as a whole is then necessarily a slow matter. Does that matter?

§6.3 Role of Engineering Institutions

Think of the history of the professional engineering bodies, of how they came into being ... and it then becomes axiomatic that their fundamental role has necessarily to comprise three areas of responsibility:

Unfortunately those great statements, each worthy as motherhood or apple pie, don't actually help us to an understanding of the role of the bodies!

That role could perhaps be expressed through four different emphases

though it should be stressed that this division is one peculiar to the class lecturer.

Do note in particular

All professional bodies are necessarily quite tightly focussed, as a consequence of their charter or other documents of incorporation. But even so the split now being proposed would surely seem appropriate for any professional group.

To see how things work out in practice, have a look at the web site for one or more of the professional bodies, for example at that of the BCS.

The Technical Role is mainly internal, for the benefit of members

The Educational Role is both internal and external, being for a wider audience than simply the membership

Although you may possibly be as yet unaware of it, the implications of professional accreditation for courses are of great significance to undergraduates! Whilst (with only a very few exceptions) your future careers will not be dependent on such recognition for your academic studies, because very few career areas are restricted to those with a professional licence to practise, being a graduate from an acreditted course normally gives you a good start in professional life. In particular, it means that you will meet (or exceed) the minimum entry standards and will (at least in the context of engineering) be exempted from some - quite possibly all - the otherwise required professional examinations.

The Advisory Role is (in the context in which the word is being used here) wholly external; the point is trying to ensure that the skills and knowkedge of the technical discipline are used to best advantage. Thus in particular we can think in terms of:

The Exhortatory Role is strictly internal, urging members to adopt the highest professional (and technical) standards. In particular those standards will embrace:

But nowhere in this catalogue of professional virtues do we get a right to practise!

§6.4 British Computer Society

The British Computer Society - BCS - is the professional Engineering Council body for Information Systems Engineers

Why does membership matter for those who consider themselves professional computer scientists?

It would be wholly wrong (we'll come to ethics shortly!) for this part of the class to be presented as a sales pitch for BCS membership ...

... but as young professionals you need to be aware of the opportunities, so that you can come to your own balanced view.

So: why does membership matter? BCS has its own advertised benefits, but one personal view includes the following:

Three different bits of practical guidance - or advice - from BCS are particularly important; whether or not you join BCS you must be alive to them, for they form a framework for professional computing activity in the United Kingdom.

§6.4.1 BCS' Career Development Framework

§6.4.2 BCS' Code of Practice

§6.4.3 BCS' Code of Conduct

The Code of Conduct embraces the duties of care due by the professional to various areas of society ...

For the third time, see the BCS website. As before, you can download from here a copy of the BCS Code of Conduct.

§6.4.4 Footnote on BCS' Documentation

Remember: these are documents for living by, not petty rules for obeyance!

Do you recall how, when looking at company organisation, we observed that some professional bodies required their members to work through partnerships rather than through firms of limited liability?

That is not a BCS requirement, but "documents for living by" means that we have moved into the area of ethics.

© Paul Goldfinch 2008 Next Chapter Return to CS 302 Menu