Looks like the idea of a professional organization for web designers is back in the feeds. Mark Boulton, after listening to the Hot Topics panel from @media 2006, had quite a bit to say about the idea. Richard Rutter followed up with thoughts of his own, and then D. Keith Robinson chimed in. There are probably more posts out there by more people, because this is one of those topics that just spreads like a virus, infecting host after host with a copy of itself. (If you have one, feel free to drop a link in the comments.)
Since Mark started things off by mentioning my comments about education being behind the times (but didn’t actually link to me like he did everyone else; where’s the love, Mark?), I’ll start there. I still hold that certification is much too premature for our field. Even if we could wave a wand and create a good set of certification criteria in the next week, it would be out of date within a year. Anything that wouldn’t go out of date that quickly would be so basic as to make a mockery of the whole idea of certifying someone as competent in the field.
I’ll concede that if a relatively well-funded organization took on the task of creating and (more crucially) keeping up to date the criteria, they could be kept useful. Hey, maybe an independent W3C! Well, it’s a thought.
The deeper problem is in deciding what constitutes professional competence. Does using AJAX get you bonus points, or automatically disqualified? Does absolutely everything a developer produces have to validate, even if that breaks layout or interactive features in one or more browsers? Web design isn’t like chemistry, where the precipitate either forms or it doesn’t. If chemical engineers had to work in conditions equivalent to web developers, they’d have to mix their solutions in several parallel universes, each one with different physical constants, and get the same result in all of them.
Richard’s take is that certification could be based on relevant education and cross-discipline experience. Well, that leaves me out: my degree in History isn’t likely to be considered relevant. Then again, I’m not actually a web designer, so maybe Richard’s organization isn’t for me. I might be considered a developer, but on the other hand, maybe I’m just a technology writer and need to go apply for membership in their club.
Richard’s approach doesn’t really seem to make the “what qualifies” problem go away so much as it abstract it into a non-issue. You just have to have experience in a discipline. Nobody says it has to be particularly good or bad—though evaluating that would, apparently, be up to the peers who review your application. This introduces an interesting subjective element, one that I think may feel foreign to those of us who like to work with computers. In any organization composed of humans, of course, you’re not going to get away from subjectivity.
In all this, though, the people who are interested in creating a professionals’ organization will have to answer a fairly tough question. Given that both the World Organization of Webmasters and HTML Writers Guild already exist and offer certification, why aren’t they more widely known or highly regarded, and how will any proposed organization do better? What will make it better or more influential?
Of everyone, I think Keith’s got the best idea with his proposed professionals’ network. It’s probably game-able, but heck, so is entrance into a professional society. I know I’d be very interested in participating in such a network, especially one that let people indicate who they’ve worked with, and on what. Analyzing those link patterns could be endlessly fascinating. If it includes community features similar to those of the original MeetUp, thus encouraging physical meetings of members, as well as the endorsement and networking features of LinkedIn, I’d be there in a hot second.
So… who wants to start forming the team to make that network come alive?