We're professionals, but do we have a profession?

25 November 2005


A Blue Perspective: We're professionals, but do we have a profession?

Web professionals, it's the topic du jour. (Follow-the-link goes: Andy Clarke, Molly Holzschlag, Roger Johansson, WaSP, PPK ... and on.) If you aren't going to read all that, the premise is that we should be able to excommunicate people who can't be bothered to learn "best practice" from the inner circle of Web professionalism.

Hey, I'm all about excluding people – love nothing better than a bouncer and a velvet rope – but what are we excluding them from here? What profession are we being professional about?

Every person I work with on the Web did not enter the workforce as a Web professional. Sure, they were programmers, graphic designers, engineers, teachers, lawyers ... anything but. And that's the great thing about the Web – its open nature. The way that you can stumble over it one day, then be building it the next. But it's also that nature which makes it so hard to define, to codify. Perhaps that's the way that all professions started out – some people who were good at doing something did it for long enough, and then thought: hey, why not start wearing wigs and having sidebars? Voila: the legal profession, and by the way, now you all need a degree.

But right now, I still think that we're just a bunch of people that are good at doing something. There's no accreditations which we can wave in front of clients and say "trust me, I'm a Web professional". From what I can see of most higher education Web courses they barely know what to teach as the essentials, let alone give their students a decent understanding of each and every competing standard or practice that pops up on a regular five minute cycle.

Part of our job is still convincing clients that what we do has value. As much as I'd like to think it, even the Standards set out by the W3C are not well developed enough – or even well known enough by the majority of people in our industry – to form a codified body of knowledge which could be the basis of a profession.

And as far I see it, this isn't a bad thing, just a challenge. The Internet is so immature we don't even know whether we'll be coding HTML and CSS in five years, so don't beat on the people who haven't yet decided to join the party. I don't know about you, but I'm in this because I have an opprtunity to shape something, to contribute to something completely new. Right now you can join a W3C working group, create a microformat, re-define the way people use CSS. You can even have a role in defining the structure by which all web pages could take shape via John Allsopp's WebPatterns.

So do that. Go out, be loud, be positive. Build a profession.




  1. 1/10

    Steven Woods commented on 26 November 2005 @ 03:24

    *depression kicks in*

    I knew I should've stayed at college instead of screwing around with this no-good computer.

  2. 2/10

    coda commented on 26 November 2005 @ 03:59

    Well said! 

  3. 3/10

    Scott commented on 26 November 2005 @ 04:07

    Indeed, the term "Web Professional" is not entirely accurate because we do not fit the definition of a true professional. These days, everybody wants to be a professional, but a real professional is somebody with accreditation. Lawyers and accountants are professionals.

    Not that I am discouraging Web Professionalism. The IT industry at large has already embraced professionalism with the ability to obtain certifications from Microsoft, CompTIA, and Cisco among others. I'm very much in favor of developing something similar for the Web side of things, as long as it doesn't end up being something silly like Brainbench certifications which only test knowledge of obscure syntax that most people don't use rather than knowledge of semantics and best practices.

  4. 4/10

    John Allsopp commented on 26 November 2005 @ 13:02


    couple of definitions, as in this context, we are using terms like discipline and profession in a specific sense.

    A branch of knowledge or teaching.

    An academic discipline is a branch of knowledge which is formally taught, either at the university, or via some other such method

    professions tend to have certain qualities in common. A profession is always held by a person, and it is generally that person's way of generating income. Membership in the profession is usually self-restricted and self-regulated. For example, lawyers regulate themselves through a bar association and restrict membership through licensing and accreditation of law schools. Hence, professions also typically have a great deal of autonomy, setting rules and enforcing discipline themselves. Professions are also generally exclusive, which means that laymen are either legally prohibited from or lack the wherewithal to practice the profession. For example, people are generally prohibited by law from practicing medicine without a license, and would likely be unable to practice well without the acquired skills of a physician. Professions also require rigorous training and schooling beyond a basic college degree. Lastly, because entrance into professions is so competitive, their members typically have above average mental skills.

  5. 5/10

    Justin Halsall commented on 27 November 2005 @ 02:12

    So who wants to start the school of web with me?

  6. 6/10

    The Man in Blue commented on 27 November 2005 @ 02:32

    If it's anything like the School of Rock, and you can get Jack Black on board, I'm all in! 

  7. 7/10

    Beto commented on 28 November 2005 @ 02:45

    The "professionalism" theme has been around for a good while in the webdev circles. In fact, one of the main woes of many old hats and not-so-old web slingers is the absolute lack of a given entity that somehow validates and stands for a given subject's tried-and-true professionalism, much in the way as lawyers, architects and physicians associations do for these professionals. What's better, being lumped together with the "garage kids with Frontpage" or having your hard work really recognized and, more important, paid accordingly to what your experience is worth?

    However, we also just have to admit that, unlike going through major surgery or a trial that can make or break your entire life, web site building isn't so brimmed with such life-or-death issues. There's not much at stake in comparison. I mean, it's not like your entire house is going to fall down if you use tables instead of CSS, or whether your web page validates or not. These are small potatoes compared to making a building actually insecure due to a lousy engineer and/or architect's work.

    The same can be said about the graphic design field in general. For a true change to happen, people's perception of the web as a profession should have to change too. It's anybody's guess how much time it will take for it to happen though.

  8. 8/10

    Jeff Adams commented on 28 November 2005 @ 12:20

    Finally, someone who talks sense about this whole thing.  

  9. 9/10

    Don Crowley commented on 7 December 2005 @ 21:07

    I've been blogging on a similar vein. Thanks Man in blue. By the way I really want the javascript anthology book to hit the streets, Whats up?

  10. 10/10

    The Man in Blue commented on 7 December 2005 @ 23:12

    Don, patience my good man :)

    I just put the finishing touches on the last chapter edit, so it should published by January.

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