Professional organizations and associations throughout history establish some sort of standard of operation or minimum standards of conduct which are considered acceptable for the profession and the members they represent. A generally agreed upon Code of Ethics can define the overall aim of the profession, and the ideals to which Web professional workers aspire.
As a membership supported organization for practicing and aspiring Web Professionals, we should adhere to a “higher standard.” We should “set the bar” for professionalism for our members. As such, we propose an adherence to a code of ethics and we invite you to participate in on the discussion.
Essentially, we should define our roles, rights and responsibilities in our relationships with other practicing professionals, those who rely on our services, and those who teach the next generation of Web professionals. Although we have espoused these since our inception, we have not formalized our “code of ethics” and we believe it’s time to do so.
Why is this important now?
Today the world wide web plays an essential role in commerce, government, research, education, medicine, communication systems, entertainment and many other areas of our world. Web professionals who contribute to the development, design, implementation, analysis, specification, maintenance and evaluation of the many different applications of Web systems have a significant impact on society, making beneficial contributions to the customers they serve. However, some of these impacts may be less than positive for some clients.
To ensure that their efforts will be used for the the common good, Web professionals should commit themselves to making practicing within the of the profession a beneficial and respected one, including promoting an ethical approach to their practice.
As practicing professionals (and teachers), we are often in positions of great influence. Our students and clients look to us to guide them through a complex process. At a minimum, we should commit to a standard of conduct which should be generally agreed upon. Although we recognize that our Code of Ethics are not enforceable by law, we hope and should at a high level expect everyone to adhere to the highest standards when working in our field.
Why do we need it now?
As I recently mentioned on our blog, the lines are blurring for web professionals, tools are evolving rapidly; many Web professionals are expected to be experts in many different disciplines which increasingly challenging for both the practitioner and the customers we serve.
At the end.of the day, we need to be responsible to our clients and to our profession to be honest when we are not an expert in a given area. For our own sake, the sake of our clients and the sustainability of the profession we should consider of putting those clients when appropriate in touch with another professional who may specialise in the areas we are the weakest.
Furthermore, we should refrain from trying to “be all things to all clients.” We need to clearly identify our strengths and clearly communicate those to our clients. For example, those who know me, know that I am “graphically challenged.” I would never try to develop a logo for a client. Instead, I would contract graphic artists I know and have them design the logo. While this is an obvious example, we often see web professionals try to interpret website analytics with limited knowledge of the underlying statistics and associated math.
If a Webprofessionals.org member works for you full time, part time or by contract, you should expect them to:
- Be open and truthful. Although we cannot guarantee that all of the members of the Webprofessionals.org community subscribe to this code of ethics, as a professional association we aspire to instill in our members and non members alike the highest ethical standards.
- Respect and protect your intellectual property. As web professionals and more specifically WebProfessionals.org members it’s our responsibility to protect the intellectual property rights of others including personal data and all electronic media and files. As web professionals we have a duty and a fiduciary responsible to protect the integrity by adopting and implementing best practices of our customer’s data and to keep it secure. We should keep client information confidential (whether we have signed a nondisclosure agreement or not).
- Be responsive. As web professionals we owe it to our clients and stakeholders to respond to inquires in a timely manner. WebProfessionals.org members should candid about their available response time and communicate that to customers in advance. It is important we set proper expectations in all communications with our clients and peers.
- Written communications: As Web professionals it is our responsibility to effectively communicate to our clients and stakeholders. When making request of the customer or when making promises put them in writing. Despite our best efforts, disputes sometimes happen. Having a well documented and agreed upon relationship will serve both parties. This should include all conversations about who does what and when, work to be performed, timelines, cost and change orders.
Why is this important to Web Professionals?
As practicing professionals, it is important we be recognized for the time, money, and effort we have devoted to staying current in a rapidly changing technology field. We recognize that we have specific areas of expertise and we need to convey those to our customers. We also need to formalize how we will interact with peers. It is to no one’s benefit to have deceitful practices or to promise more than one can deliver. The whole of our profession is harmed when there are such “bad apples.”
Why is this important to consumers?
You are hiring a professional (or committing to learn from a professional teacher). If you are planning to comparison shop and base your decision solely on price, we wish you all the best with that. Designing web sites is a complicated process. Do not hire an amateur. Practicing professionals have years of experience in user experience design, search engine optimization, accessibility, and a host of additional skills. When you meet with an amateur, you will likely find they ask a limited number of questions. They may also not be able to share their overall process. They may even offer to do some initial work for free. Practicing professionals will ask a host of questions to better understand your business goals and objectives and how a website can help you realize these. They will share their overall process and help you better understand why aspects such as user experience design need to be conducted. They will also not do work for free. As a professional, they have spent a great deal of personal time and money keeping their skills up to date (no small feat in today’s rapidly changing field). You are paying for their expertise and current knowledge.
Why is this important to those who teach the next generation?
As teachers, we have a special responsibility to stay knowledgeable as technology changes. We also need to focus on a solid foundation and understanding of these technologies so our students have a firm basis to learn. We also need to encourage our students to develop a habit of lifelong learning. We should not provide all the answers, but should point our students in the proper direction and encourage them to think for themselves. This field changes so quickly, it is not possible to keep up on all aspects of these technologies. We need to recognize that and show our students how to learn. We do our students a disservice if we provide all the answers and “spoon feed” all the materials. We should point them in the proper direction and mentor as needed so they develop the necessary skills to succeed.
When you work with a web professional, ask them if they have signed a code of ethics. Ask your teacher as well (if you are an aspiring web professional).
Mark DuBois, Community Evangelist and Director of Education
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