Computer Science Illuminated, Third Edition


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Licensing Computer Professionals

Plumbers, electricians, beauty operators, psychologists, professional engineers almost anyone who provides a service to the public is required to be licensed. Accountants (CPA) and medical doctors who specialize in a particular area of medicine are certified. Computer professionals, however, are not licensed and certification is scarce.

Certification is a voluntary process administered by a profession; licensing is a mandatory process administered by a governmental agency, usually at the state level in the U.S. The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals is the most well-established certification organization in software. They offer two levels of certification: Associate Computing Professional (ACP) and Certified Computing Professional (CCP). Both require an examination that includes 110 questions on topics of human and organization framework, systems concepts, data and information, systems development, and associated disciplines. The ACP certification requires an exam on core topics and an exam on one programming language. The CCP certification requires the core exam; an exam on two additional topics, including management, procedural programming, business information systems, and systems programming; and 48 months of full-time experience or academic credentials with 24 months of full-time experience. This certification is slanted toward business uses of computing rather than general computer professionals.

Many commercial software companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Novell certify practitioners in the use of their tools.

There are two main professional organizations in computing: ACM and IEEE Computer Society. In 1993, these two organizations formed a Steering Committee for the Establishment of Software Engineering as a Profession. To make "computer professional" become a true profession, the steering committee recommended adopting standard definitions, defining a required body of knowledge and recommended practices, defining ethical standards, and defining educational curricula. In 1998 the Software Engineering Coordination Committee (SWECC) was established by ACM/IEEE to act as a permanent committee to foster the evolution of software engineering as a professional computing discipline. The Texas Professional Engineers Licensing Board asked this committee for help in defining the performance criteria for a software engineering licensing exam to be administered in Texas.

Licensing is already required for medical professionals, lawyers, and engineers.

Clearly the engineering model would be more appropriate for computing professionals. The engineering model requires that the candidate be of good character; a graduate from an accredited engineering program and have four years of experience, or have a non-approved degree with 8 to 12 years of experience; and pass an examination.

SWECC was asked to help with the exam. The ACM is governed by a council, the members of which are elected by the members. Several members of the ACM Council had reservations about whether licensing software engineers was in the best interest of the field or the public.

After further study, ACM Council passed the following motion: ACM is opposed to the licensing of software engineers at this time because ACM believes it is premature and would not be effective at addressing the problems of software quality and reliability.

ACM is, however, committed to solving the software quality problem by promoting R&D, by developing a core body of knowledge for software engineering, and by identifying standards of practice.

One of the reasons for ACM opposing the licensing is the 8-hour Fundamentals of Engineering exam, which covers the first two years of an engineering degree. Many of these topics, such as thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, statics, and material science, are not of relevance to computing professionals. In August 2001, IEEE Computer Society beta tested a certificate program in software engineering. The requirements are similar to the licensing requirements, but the degree can be in any discipline from any accredited institution of higher learning. Thus general engineering subjects are not included in the exam.

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