In Scotland, we are angry. We are organising. We are professionalising.

Last month I spoke to a cracking audience at a Highland Fling Session in Glasgow on the subject of “Professionalism in Software Development” and, by extension, all things digital.

My talk, graciously arranged by Orde Saunders and Alan White, was an opportunity to run through the increasingly frightening issues that we as digital professionals are facing, and to point a way forward.

“Professionalism” in this context does not mean saying please and thank you and remembering to wear pants when you’re Skypeing with a client. “Professionalism”, here, means your obligations to your industry, to your fellow workers, and to the integrity of your craft.

You can view my talk notes here, minus a few dozen f-bombs (I am Glaswegian after all.) I am happy to elaborate on any of these points to you, and even give the talk to your own group.

Shit just got real

When I first began talking about the need for professional organisation, I was thinking of things like cookie popups and VATMOSS.

Trump, May, Brexit, and Indyref2 had genuinely not occurred to me.

The thought that digital professionals would sign petitions pledging not to create registries of citizens based on their religion had not crossed my mind.

The thought that a Home Secretary whose appetite for surveillance left even Edward Snowden aghast would become Prime Minister had not crossed my mind.

The thought that the laws and regulations which shape our craft would be renegotiated in secret had not crossed my mind.

And the thought that those of us in Scotland do not know what country or system we will be working in three years from now had not crossed my mind either.

But there they are, and here we are.

Complete chaos

This morning the First Minister announced a second independence referendum for Scotland.

All politics aside, that leaves us, as digital professionals, with this cold reality:

  • At some point in the next three years, Scotland will have left the European Union, OR
  • Scotland will have left the United Kingdom;
  • If the former comes to pass but the latter does not, we will have a regulatory clusterfuck;
  • If the latter comes to pass and so does the former, we will have to negotiate to get back INTO the European Union, causing another regulatory clusterfuck;
  • If the former comes to pass, we may have a loss of tech talent;
  • If the latter comes to pass, the digital industry in Scotland will see a massive influx of investment, incorporations, and talent fleeing northward;
  • Regardless of which one comes to pass, we will need to renegotiate a range of EU and UK digital laws and policies ranging from accessibility to data protection to e-commerce to privacy and that’s one hell of a regulatory clusterfuck;
  • On the subject of privacy, the Scottish Government is no friend of it either, a reminder that this is not all milk and honey.

In short, we’re going to need a voice in politics.

So here’s what we’re doing about it.

Fired up by our discussions (good lad!), Orde contacted the Economy, Jobs, and Fair Work Committee of the Scottish Parliament. He has now spoken with Andy Wightman MSP about the way forward for digital professionals in Scotland in the political sphere, a discussion which – as of two hours ago – is now critical.

Andy Wightman has confirmed what I’ve been trying to get people to understand for years:

  • Governments deal with industry bodies. They don’t deal with individuals. Any individual can, of course, engage with the committee process, but that person’s word carries all the weight of an old man shaking his fist at a cloud.
  • If you want a law introduced, governments need a two-year lead time, at the very least, presented by an industry body. That is how politics works the world around. Real life is not a hackathon.
  • The aspiration for any profession, therefore, should be to create a legitimate, democratic industry body and then register that body with the Parliament. That is how a body achieves consultative status, the right to be consulted (asked) about draft regulation and to speak as experts with the Parliament about how the regulation will impact their work. (It’s as if I’ve said this all before somewhere…)
  • Industry bodies create their own legitimacy through their own work. That means that if you want a voice, you have to show up at the table. That voice is not bestowed onto you by prestige or reputation.
  • The legitimacy of industry bodies is determined by the activity, and the integrity, of their membership. There are a few industry bodies which are grassroots, lightweight, and democratic. There are many more industry bodies which are rich men’s golf clubs. It’s down to you to prove who you are.
  • There are no industry bodies currently representing individual digital professionals in Scotland. There is one corporate-style body representing large companies, but he had never had any dealings with them, despite them having a policy officer…
  • The bottom line from Andy was: if you want it, do it.

So we’re doing it.

What’s next? Orde is now working on confirming the proper forms of legal incorporation for an industry body for digital professionals in Scotland.

From there, we are hoping to stage a repeat and update of my Highland Fling talk in Edinburgh, hopefully in May.

But this isn’t “our” project. It’s yours. So get involved. Leave a comment or tweet @webdevlaw and @decadecity. We also do coffee, lots of it, so get us in Glasgow or Edinburgh. I’ll keep comments open on this one.

Time to grow up and show up

Let’s be clear here. This body is not anyone creating a job for themself. This body is not a talking shop. This body is not a peddler of vanity awards. This body will be the voice of digital professionals working in Scotland in the political sphere – a voice that every organised industry takes for granted. We are simply showing up at the table.

Whatever comes to pass, I know this: we’ve gained a lot of experience in the past eight months observing what happens when a government runs roughshod over digital professionals, and the culture they work in.

We are not going to let any one, on any side of the political spectrum, for or against any cause, to do it to us again.

Now get off your arse and get to work.

About the author

Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.

2 thoughts on “In Scotland, we are angry. We are organising. We are professionalising.

  1. I’m all up for this with one caveat… We take experience into account and not just formal qualifications. I’m an old git and got involved in the web not long after Tim Berners-Lee invented the beast. Since then I have done CPD to keep up with developments. Everything from Open University Courses to Wordcamp. As a result I feel just as qualified to be part of an industry group as any fresh faces Web Development graduate. It is a lack of equality between experience and formal qualifications that always stopped me joining the BCS. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself any better than someone who has just got their degree. I just feel I have as much to offer, and I’m just as professional, albeit that our strengths may lie in different places.

  2. @Dave, qualifications do not implicitly create good ethics nor standards, they equate to hoops to say you’ve done something.

    I commend anyone that has gone via this route as it isn’t something I have done myself (despite a few years at college) however it shouldn’t be a prerequisite to professionalising our industry.

    Many people that learn to code, do it for the love it and quite often not through official channels. I have been successfully working in web for nearly 20 years and have no degree nor fancy bit of paper.

    Equivocal experience should be rated on par with a degree in my opinion as it shows you have proven track record in the work place / life / whatever.

    What we don’t currently have is any form of industry body that supports people no matter which route they come from it’s vital that this is inclusive as opposed to exclusive otherwise it will fail.

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