I came across a wonderful blog post today that examines the issue of what it means to be an “engineer” and more specifically, the monopolist position taken by an individual certified engineer laying claim to ownership of a specific class of engineering problem. The post I’m referring to is here and a follow up and slightly altered post is here. Both posts are worth a quick read.
The issue I think this highlights — as it relates to our new, opened ended, topsy-turvy, globalized, out-sourced and free-agent market economy — is the role of certification and accreditation schemes for groups of skill sets, whether they be engineers, doctors, lawyers, career coaches, journalists, or any other collection of people engaged in a some defined function. Below is the comment that I added to the post, which states my position on this:
Loved this post. I agree completely with your take — anyone coming to the table with the passion and skills to present compelling arguments, developed complex problem-solving analysis, write open-source software, create accurate and readable Wikipedia posts, etc. should be encouraged.
Just because someone has been certified doesn’t necessarily mean they are competent — just that they were prepared to jump through whatever hoops the certification group presented. Accreditation and certification are specific forms of monopoly-making, and in our rapidly evolving “open information” society all monopolies are under sustained attack.
For example, as a business owner, I may want to engage someone who is passionate about writing great software — I am getting much less interested in whether they have a formal computer engineering/science degree from a notable university/college than whether they can demonstrate their passion & capabilities. In the “old” days I may have had to use a notable “brand” from a university as a proxy for competence — now a days I’d first turn to the open source community to check out how well this individual is regarded by his peers and what his actual track record is of real software production.
My bigger argument relates to the imperative to re-engineer of our formal educational institutions — from what I see our universities are busy catering to the business world in churning out more “labour-force ready” participants by focusing more and more on technical skills and less and less on critical thinking, effective communications, and “big picture” perspectives. We increasingly live in a world where the shelf-life of technical skills gets shorter and shorter by the day, so universities are really selling an aging product at a high price. When there was no optional source of “trained individuals” that might have been a sustainable position — however now we have more and more places we can turn to for real, meaningful work experience at the same time as technologies and globalization are radically altering all industries.
The end result is the destruction of monopolies everywhere — now coming to an educational institution near you.