We're professionals, but do we have a profession?
25 November 2005
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.
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