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New ICS president’s vision for a new IT community

At the Irish Computer Society AGM last month, Professor Mike Hinchey was elected as the new President of the Society.

He is professor of Software Engineering at the University of Limerick and the former director of LERO – The Irish Software Research Centre. Prior to his time at LERO, Prof Hinchey was director of the Software Engineering Laboratory at NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland. He remains a consultant to NASA.

His work with NASA was implemented in various space projects and will be incorporated in future missions. Particular areas of software research for Professor Hinchey include Formal Methods, Autonomous Systems and Software Reliability.

In addition to his new role as ICS president, Professor Mike Hinchey is currently the president of International Federation of Information Processors (IFIP).

We asked our new president what is next for ICS as the society passes under his watch.

Role and mission

“My role and mission at ICS and IFIP are very similar, just that with ICS I want to help represent Irish IT professionals at every level and to get the respect that IT professionals deserve, which is way overdue in both a national and international sense.

“IT is a fundamental enabler of all business and public services; it impacts every part of our lives. No sector of the economy can thrive without a strong IT professional workforce. We want our highly-skilled IT workforce, over 10,000 of whom are ICS members, to be valued as an unparalleled national resource.

“Our IT workforce has saved the economy in the last few years. It’s the reason why we have one of the strongest economies in the EU today. But we’ve now reached a point where further growth is being constrained by funding, capacity and capability issues.

“We at ICS – and IFIP – want a future where our IT profession is strong, flexible and respected. Our goal is to create a professional ecosystem that attracts, nurtures, retains and creates talent.

“Thousands are already recording CPD activities and planning their career paths with ICS. Ireland are leading the way in this area. The EU are fully supportive of what ICS are doing in terms of professionalising the IT profession. The truth is that IT is moving too fast for us to legislate for the impacts of the technology we develop.

Two choices

“We face two choices; we continue to develop systems and assume that everyone has the technical skills and ethics to deliver safe systems or choose a new road and hold the professional accountable.

“We got to this point with inconsistent standards and testing procedures, largely formulated by the industry ourselves. We got through Y2K and even GDPR because everyone has tried and done their best. But as our world becomes entirely reliant on technology, we need an overarching governance standard.

“Well-meaning policies and procedures just aren’t enough. We can no longer see ourselves in a vacuum and set our own rules.

“We would not accept that from medicine or the legal profession.

“People forget that our members build the systems that every profession relies on – not just law or medicine.

“Every doctor is accountable to the Medical Council, they take a Hippocratic oath to do no harm and they maintain their license as a medical professional by doing CPD which ensures they are up to date. Meanwhile IT delivers the software behind the ECG machine or the MRI or the incubator protecting a new-born, and is largely unaccountable if a system fails.

“The recent airline crash in Indonesia on a brand new 737 has been attributed to one of two things according to Reuters — a failure of the anti-stall IT system or the failure of the airline to train staff in the changes to the anti-stall system which came with the new model.

“It seems to me that if this failure was attributable to, for example, a doctor who was trying an unproven medical procedure then he/she would be struck off.

“Similarly, if the hospital insisted that this procedure was attempted regardless, shouldn’t they be held accountable too?

“It is time to open our eyes and realise that IT is the most influential profession in the world. It is time for us to take responsibility. It’s time to make Ireland’s IT profession not only the best trained but the most trusted.

Benefits

“There are huge secondary benefits too.

“If we do this right, employers will know what skills their IT teams need – who needs more encouragement and who might be a next-generation leader.

“New multinationals will establish in Ireland to tap in to our unique talent ecosystem; IT professionals worldwide will aspire to work here; and school students (both male and female) will want to be IT professionals.

“We’ve worked hard to develop the tools to ensure everyone — educators, policy makers, employers — can understand the talent pool available, identify weaknesses before they occur, and target funding and other resources where needed.

“IT professionals will be able to access continuous professional development supports to develop the right skills at the right time. Our IT profession’s code of ethics will guide how we implement privacy, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence.

“Every IT professional will be connected to each other just like they are in Law or Medicine delivering a consistent, reliable, single view of the whole profession. In our future, our IT workforce will not just be the best in the world — it will be the right size to take on the world.”

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