Is there value in software accreditation?
“Accreditation is an academic preoccupation. I see no value in it.”
On this controversial note, David Hislop, chairman of the IEEE Computer Society South Africa, opened the fourth biennial Software Engineering Colloquium (SE12), at Old Mutual West Campus, in Cape Town (Pinelands), on Thursday.
The lone maverick
Hislop's comments sparked a snap poll among delegates, which revealed a variety of opinions - broadly (but not always) congruent with their role with respect to software.
His words, for instance, were a defence of the practitioner's viewpoint, the lone maverick creative who doesn't want to be controlled, regulated or stifled.
Another speaker, Hans Muller, of the University of Stellenbosch, argued in qualified support, pointing out the difference between accreditation of institutions (which he supports) and certification of individuals (who often contribute to innovation, but would be hard-pressed to conform to certification).
“My concern is that we're limiting the number of people allowed to code,” said Muller. “Are we creating an exclusive club here?”
Other academics pointed out the challenges of accreditation, while broadly agreeing with it. Retief Gerber, CEO of nano-circuit design software manufacturer NioCAD who is also attached to the University of Stellenbosch Engineering Faculty, noted the sheer administrative load of changing courseware.
“Quite often you find that the course is five years out of date by the time you've got it changed to your satisfaction.”
Employers, on the other hand, appeared largely in favour of accreditation. Telkom's Derek van der Merwe noted that the academic mould in which graduates are cast is quite 'broad' and needs further qualification. “If they're accredited upfront, that would indicate where they would be suited.”
Another speaker echoed this view, saying that, in his opinion, it is most vital that “the people doing the fundamental architectural work in an organisation” be certified.
Need for balance
The unspoken concession by many was that, while there is a need for standards, it is important not to stifle creativity.
What is needed may be a balanced approach, whereby institutions are held to quality standards, but developers who learned their craft outside academic institutions are also given freedom to operate.
Communicate and contribute
This view is supported by Sikhumbuzo Kholwane, chairman of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Communications.
“South Africa is a consumer of ICT, not a creator of innovation,” he says. “We need all the ideas we can get. We urge software engineers to engage us. We are rethinking regulation to a pretty fundamental degree, and we want to ask industry to communicate and contribute.”