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How good a techie are you? Objective about yourself and your skills?

I think I am... So come judge me, readers

Learning to - *shudder* - pivot

Sadly, the chances that I was going to afford my very own space station as a technology journalist were slim to none. Even if I worked my ASCII off at the kind of break-neck pace that got me into trouble with systems administration I'd only barely make my mortgage payments.

I decided to keep a foot in both worlds; continuing to work the coalface as a systems administrator would give legitimacy to my writing and serve as a source of novelty and experience that would help set me apart from others in the field. The contacts and connections I made through writing would hopefully net me resources I could use to make the networks under my care less mind-shatteringly labour-intensive.

Of course, satisfaction for people like me is fleeting and ephemeral. I am an ambitious man, a trait I would gladly delete if I could find the relevant source code. There are some real limits to how far I can take my career in Canada. We don't exactly have much of a tech sector and there aren't a lot of large enterprises to go around. If I want to really stretch my legs I need US clients.

And here is where the bad decisions of my past punch my future in the face. If you don't have at least a two-year diploma combined with a decade's experience – or a bachelor's degree – then you're an unperson. I've discussed this before when talking about setting up my own consultancy. One of the most notable real-world impacts of this is that I cannot enter the United States with the intent of working for an employer or client unless I can get a TN visa. As an unperson, I don't qualify.

I do have US clients; I do my work for them remotely with my feet planted quite firmly on Canadian soil. I often find myself under intense pressure to go Stateside for weeks at a time because people want me to physically be in the room for meetings. I've lost clients because I can't.

The path to resolution on this is to join CIPS, Canada's only legally recognized national association of IT professionals and obtaining the "Information Systems Professional" certification. Getting in isn't easy, but if I manage it then I can spend the next several years slogging through a master's degree at the University of Athabasca (they accept the ISP designation in place of a bachelor's degree) and with luck never have trouble at the border again.


Getting my ISP designation and joining CIPS would make me a legally recognized IT professional. The credentials are cross-recognized by other professional associations in other nations. I would join the ranks of doctors, lawyers and engineers as a "real" professional; it is a recognition I have always wanted and yet for the past eight months the entry forms have sat on my desk untouched.

The task is deceptively simple: fill out a series of forms that include self assessments of my knowledge and proficiency in various areas of the CIPS Body Of Knowledge (BOK). The BOK is well designed and covers the foundations of our industry reasonably well. If I fill out this paperwork and submit my references I think there is a reasonable chance that I will be accepted via the Established IT Professionals route.

What holds me up is ethics. One of the most critical aspects of joining a processional association is a commitment to professional ethics. I believe passionately in this concept; demonstrating my commitment to it was one of the strongest motivators behind my joining the Canadian Association of Journalists, an organization with a similar ethical requirements. I even post a full disclosure listing in the about section of my website, just so you can determine for yourself how much of a shill I may or may not be.

My whole life has been dedicated to doing the best I can by others. From volunteering at innumerable places to going "above and beyond" for my employers, it's hard to say that I lack dedication, compassion or put myself before others. Yet I am highly unorthodox. I approach life at a bit of an angle; I think orthogonally to most of the people who populate our industry. This trait leads me to question the ethics of square pegs flirting with round holes.

The ethical requirements of CIPS lean heavily on the dark word "competency". My competence – relative or absolute – is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

Insert tab A into slot B

Computers are everywhere, they are in everything. The Internet Of Things is coming and, quite frankly, the day has already come that if IT practitioners are not capable of thinking beyond just the technical aspects of our job then people will die.

Create a wireless pacemaker but forget to secure it against a world filled with madmen? People die. Create a car where electronics systems can be tampered with to override driver input on steering, braking, etc? People die. Create electronic display signage for emergency situations without taking into account people with visual disabilities of various types? People die.

I'm scared of the future. I'm scared of a world of armed drones and cybernetic implants, of self-driving cards and creepy "always on" wearable video cameras. I'm scared of a world where these products and services are designed and overseen by nerds who can't overcome brand loyalty or make objective judgments about privacy.

To sign those papers and turn them in is to implicitly imply that I have risen above all that. That I am capable of being truly objective. That I am professional, competent and able to see past my biases.

Will branding me competent or professional change me? Move me out from being the scared kid into perhaps being one of those bullies I so loathe? Will I become too self-assured and in my overconfidence miss some critical detail in my IT design and cost lives?

I don't know. My whole life has centred around a fear of failure and the drive to prove myself. Once I have proven myself will how I behave change? Confident, cocky, lazy, dead... fear and drive have their place.

And, for now, the paper sits on the desk unsigned. ®

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