A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





Back to Archive Index

Back to

Computer License

by Douglas E. Welch

November 12, 1999

© 1999, Douglas E. Welch

Are the wild and wooly days of the independent computer consultant coming to an end? Today, anyone with computer expertise and the inclination can promote themselves as a computer consultant, web designer, programmer or any number of other computer-related jobs. As computers are becoming more important there are more and more murmuring about licensing high-tech workers of all sorts. While there are both practical and legal challenges involved, I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere down the road high-tech workers might be required to join the ranks of building contractors, doctors and lawyers.


The first move towards some sort of computer worker licensing is already underway. More and more companies are requesting, if not requiring that job candidates be certified in a variety of computer software and hardware in order to be considered for employment. These certification programs take a variety of forms, but most involve some sort of classroom training and testing.

" It might be that computer jobs just present too much variety to be licensed in any sort of specific way."

Further licensing based on these certification programs might address one of my largest complaints with them. I would prefer to see the certification programs fall under the control of an independent body instead of the manufacturers themselves. I believe this would remove any doubts people might have that manufacturers are using certifications more to promote their products than improve the quality of overall service. It is in the manufacturers' best interest to certify as many people as possible, locking these people into their products. This could lead them to certify people who haven't really learned what they need to know. We hear much talk about "paper CNE's." These are people who have passed all the certification tests but perhaps haven't had much hands-on experience with the software products. Perhaps an independent body would be more focused on improving the industry as a whole.


Of course, one of the most distasteful parts of any licensing program would be the bureaucracy needed to maintain it. Too often, licensing bureaus become overwhelmed with the task or bloated beyond all need. One only has to look at the DMV for examples of both success and failure. While everyone might want to know that their computer workers are qualified, the weight in dollars and time must be in proportion to the protection provided.

There is also the danger of seeing computer licensing as yet another cash cow for the state. The goals of licensing must be the improvement of computer workers skills, not the filling of state bank accounts.


One of the biggest sticking points for any sort of computer worker licensing is the licensing requirements. What exactly should a computer worker know? You could use the current certification programs as a model. Each worker could be licensed according to the software and hardware they have learned. Unfortunately, this would mean and endless series of tests for each and every product that is released. The speed of computer innovation already defies the best intentions of other bureaucracies. How would any licensing bureau keep up?

It might be that computer jobs just present too much variety to be licensed in any sort of specific way. A more general approach to licensing, say having training in a certain number of underlying computer principles, might be more in order, but would it really provide any great benefit to computer workers and their employers? It can only be assured that the process of developing a computer worker licensing program will be long and arduous.


Personally, I would have difficulties with any licensing system that would suddenly make outlaws out of a large number of computer workers. Licensing fees, training fees and other monetary requirements could force freelance consultants to either stop working or risk fines if they were reported. There would be unlicensed workers, of course, just a there are unlicensed building contractors, but I think these people need to be allowed to work even without a license. Employers would be more likely to hire licensed candidates, but smaller companies could still use unlicensed computer workers if necessary.

We are more important than before

The fact is, computer workers are becoming more and more important to society as a whole with each passing day. Just as mechanical engineers are entrusted with public safety when they build roads and bridges, increasingly, computer workers are entrusted with no less. Computers operate and control important devices in hospitals, police stations, railroad crossings and much more. It only makes sense that the people developing these computer systems should have some base level of knowledge. Whether licensing computer workers is the best way to insure this knowledge has yet to be seen. The only sure thing is that as computer workers become responsible for important parts of the public infrastructure the calls for licensing will increase.

You can share your views on computer worker licensing by joining the Career-Op Mailing List. Visit <> to subscribe.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

Book Recommendation

Browse the WelchWrite Bookstore



Also on