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. 1/24

    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. 2/24

    coda commented on 26 November 2005 @ 03:59

    Well said! 

  3. 3/24

    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. 4/24

    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. 5/24

    Justin Halsall commented on 27 November 2005 @ 02:12

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

  6. 6/24

    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. 7/24

    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. 8/24

    Jeff Adams commented on 28 November 2005 @ 12:20

    Finally, someone who talks sense about this whole thing.  

  9. 9/24

    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. 10/24

    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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    Barbie commented on 21 May 2011 @ 02:47

    You've hit the ball out the park! Incredlibe!

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    Lesa commented on 21 May 2011 @ 05:11

    You have shed a ray of sunshine into the forum. Thkans!

  18. 18/24

    Loradae commented on 21 May 2011 @ 14:36

    That's 2 cleevr by half and 2x2 clever 4 me. Thanks!

  19. 19/24

    Blondie commented on 4 July 2011 @ 18:19

    Thanks for writing such an easy-to-udnerstand article on this topic.

  20. 20/24

    Earthwind commented on 4 July 2011 @ 19:03

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  21. 21/24

    Hoshi commented on 26 August 2012 @ 14:52

    It was 1990, I was 2 years into a 4 year degree at Wright State University with the emeetsed major of undecided . I was leaning toward social work I had been influenced greatly by my own social worker when I was a teenager and in foster care. My school counselors were recommending some serious career exploration but really I was pretty consumed with taking a full time class load and working full time to pay for those classes! Who had time to hang out in the career services office? I was working at the Dayton Marriott Hotel as a banquet server and my boss had chosen me to be on the project team to help roll out this new program called Empowerment . I went to the project team meeting, which was run by our Director of Human Resources (her title and the department name had just recently changed from the term personnel ) and I couldn't believe my ears. They wanted me, as a banquet server, to make decisions about customer service! What? I didn't have to go to my boss anymore to get 4 forms signed to give someone free dry cleaning if I dropped something on their new suit? This was a whole new concept for someone who had worked in food service for the whole 4 years of her working life. I helped train other employees and I spent time with our Director of Human Resources asking her about her career and how she got into the work she was doing. She was great willing to spend time with me and tell me what she liked about working in Human Resources. I should say, we had THE BEST general manager at this Marriott at the time, he truly embraced the idea of empowering people and mentoring others to become great leaders, even when they weren't in a leadership position by title. I sought out the major of Human Resources after that and at first was appalled that I'd be getting my degree from the College of Business. By my senior year, I was President of the Management Club and had become so involved in the work of HR and in the college of business that I won a scholarship from our local SHRM chapter for a free prep class and fees to take the PHR exam. I graduated and while still working full time as a banquet server, took an unpaid internship at a hospital for 3 months, passed the PHR exam, and then got a full time job in HR. I had too many wonderful influential people at work and college to list here over those last 2 years at Wright State, but now that 20+ years have passed, I think about them when I am mentoring my own employees or rallying to hire a summer intern. Paying it forward is just something that should be part of our very being as an HR professional people and their careers are too important not to!

  22. 22/24

    Mauricio commented on 26 August 2012 @ 19:06

    It was March 2000 and the Y2K Millennium bug had just come and gone without inidcent and I was unemployed. I had recently been terminated from my job as a regional branch manager due to a corporate buyout and I suddenly found myself looking for my first real job since college four years earlier. On a cold spring day, I had just interviewed with a French company for an outside sales role selling postage meters truly was not excited about the prospect of driving building to building every day and cold calling office managers.I made an appointment with a temp agency and met with one of their new direct hire recruiters. She had been in her job for less than three days and one job req. It was for an internal branch manager position running their staffing office. She was over the top excited and her enthusiasm was magnetic. By the time I left their office, I was scheduled to interview for the the role and had visions of staffing stuck in my head! However, the only problem with this was that I didn’t know anything about staffing and was supposed to interview the next morning with the Regional Vice President.I met my potential new boss the next morning. Adecco Staffing had just purchased Olsten Staffing and she was the new Regional Vice President over 27 branches and needed someone to run the warehouse district of Denver, CO. She offered me the job; I accepted and began to learn what recruiting was about. People have asked me over the last eleven years why staffing and my response has always been that it was because I was simply closer to all of the open jobs on the market. I was with Adecco for 14 months and ended up running four branches and two onsite facilities after the first nine months. I loved my job, but didn’t care for the commercial staffing side very much. Mostly, I was in love with the higher level processes and RFP’s that we were writing and some of the strategic staffing solutions that we were providing in the marketplace. At the end of fourteen months, I was managing over $20 million in sales and was a master at RFP writing (or so I thought).Then I got the call… “Can I get you to look at a professional opportunity with a fast growth recruiting organization that is looking for a leader to grow their local market?”After three high-level interviews, I accepted the role and dove into the full contact sport of professional recruiting with a growing finance and accounting organization.…more to follow…

  23. 23/24

    Henery commented on 27 August 2012 @ 02:02

    Chris This is a great creative idea.Let’s see how did I get into the HR pfisersoon? When I started college I initially decided that I wanted to major in computer programming because I loved playing video games and had a big interest in graphic design as well as pretty much anything that had to do with the internet and technology. I quickly found out that loving to play video games didn't translate into being good at programming or design (frankly I sucked at it). I started to think about what else interested me and what I was good at! I always had an interest in business and even envisioned owning a restaurant/sports bar later in life. I started to look into the different areas of business but didn't know which direction I wanted to go in, was it general management, marketing, finance, etc. In the first semester of my sophomore year at Rutgers I took intro to labor studies and employment relations with Professor Amy Bahruth (I remember it like it was yesterday). I instantly saw and was intrigued by the connection and importance that effective employment practices had on the success of business. That same semester I started working with FedEx as an intern in the recruiting function. I got to see first hand the link between human resources and business outcomes and furthermore the appreciation that people showed me for taking the time to consider them for open positions and to train and onboard them. From there I switched my major to Labor and Employment Relations with a minor in Psychology. As I went through my first internship and got deeper in to my HR courses I couldn’t help but reflect on jobs that I had in the past and remember how poorly employees were treated many times. The more I learned about the HR pfisersoon, the more it seemed to be the perfect fit for me. I was good at it, it would allow me to interact with various levels of business, and it would give me the opportunity to help ensure people were treated better than I had witnessed in past jobs. From there I took on a couple more internships and then as they say the rest is history. I have been in HR ever since that intro to labor studies class with Prof. Bahruth.

  24. 24/24

    Andrea commented on 27 August 2012 @ 04:26

    I knew at an early age that I wanted a caerer where I could help people…okay, that's not it at all. While I really do love people, the fact is I did not choose HR as a caerer, it landed on top of me one day. Despite my initial efforts to crawl out from underneath it, I eventually accepted it, and then developed a passion for it.I started my caerer in law enforcement because that is the only job I could get during a recession, with a BA in English. After several years and much persuasion from my wife, I made an independent decision to try something new that came with better hours. I was hired into a position doing marketing and community relations for a small community hospital. Within the first few weeks of that transition, the organization received 2 union certification election petitions. Things changed!Because there was not a HR leader role, and probably because I was an ex-cop who was still licensed to carry a gun, I was tapped on the shoulder to learn labor relations and HR while standing in the fire. I spent the first 18 months of my HR caerer learning from one of the top labor relations attorneys in the country, was tied to the hip of a corporate labor attorney, and received once-in-a-lifetime, on- the- job training, mentoring and coaching from some highly experienced, corporate HR pros – a truly amazing group of people. The amusing realization that I’ve had since then is that law enforcement is a great foundation for HR. Not because it prepares you to do investigations and enforce things (although that is sometimes helpful too), but because both roles are about dealing with people (sometimes difficult people), and solving problems. I also find it ironic that labor relations is still one of the most enjoyable and challenging parts of my HR role. I would rather be lucky and good.

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