John McDonald: Should working in IT require a license?

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John McDonaldRegardless of industry, every company has an IT team or works with an IT team that manages tasks such as data, security and risk assessment. The amount of customer data available to businesses is exponentially growing every year, and it’s time for tech leaders to begin thinking about professional standards for software and cybersecurity engineers, in addition to other IT-related functions.

One good reason? Significant corporate data breaches to begin with, like the ones Equifax, Capital One, Anthem and other customer-driven companies have suffered recently.

Following any sizable security breach like these, Joe and Jane Consumer’s first reaction is usually to push for new laws and more regulations. It’s a knee-jerk reaction, however. Data breaches can’t be “fixed” or minimized by letting legislators create more rules regulating how the tech industry operates.

In fact, allowing lawmakers to set rules and responsibilities in the IT sector is like allowing them to set the rules of football or say how painters must paint. We would end up with regulations that don’t apply at all to the work IT professionals do every day.

This therefore raises a question: How can the tech sector grow its own workforce while protecting consumers without new government regulation? Other industries have turned to professional standards bodies to answer this question.

For example, careers in real estate, plumbing, cosmetology and even interior design all require a license verifying a baseline of knowledge and ethics agreed upon, and reviewed by, a group of peers. Amazingly, while you need a license to work in those professions, you do not need one to dive into a customer’s sensitive data as a software engineer for a health insurance company!

The Professional Licensing Association in Indiana credibly validates the work for many of the services we use today. Licensing boards are led by leaders in their industries who have worked to advance accountability for employees by establishing clear outlines for job descriptions and a foundation of expectations for workers before being offered a job.

Our industry needs these benefits, too. We need to clarify job descriptions (such as the difference between a software engineer and developer), and set a standard benchmark of skills for all job candidates. Standardized job descriptions would also convey a clear indication of the skills needed to apply for any IT job at any company in Indiana.

Further, these standards would set a baseline for all higher education institutions and trade schools. This would then help them know what companies need and easily determine exactly what skill sets a candidate has achieved in school.

As we look to the future of career paths in IT, it is increasingly vital to think about prescribing a set of trade standards for employees and employers alike. These guidelines would empower employers to make more informed hiring decisions and would likewise help educational institutions better prepare our workforce of the future. Ultimately, Indiana’s technology talent pool and economy would both benefit.

To make this happen, those of us in the state’s technology industry must start by establishing these standards, then help Indiana lawmakers and educational institutions stay informed and make knowledgeable decisions about legislation and programs that will directly affect the availability of talent.•


McDonald is the CEO of Fishers-based ClearObject and chairman of the Indiana Technology and Innovation Policy Committee. Send comments to

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