An historical review of the teaching of appropriate norms of behaviour to novices by professional groups, with emphasis on the teaching of computer ethics, and some observations for the future.

Dr. Jenny Davies


Despite the many definitions in existence for the term profession, it is difficult to derive a clear conceptual category. Pavalko (1971) invokes the notion of a continuum between occupation and profession. Where a particular work activity is situated on the continuum depends upon its adherence to eight traits, one of which is “sense of community”, considered to be high in professions. This is manifested as a sense of common identity, a distinctive culture with shared values and norms which can be used to exert control over the behaviour of members. To this aim, many professions have highly developed codes of ethics, which are also used to reinforce to clients and the public the notion of the service ideal, and the standard to be expected.

The question arises how do novices learn behaviour appropriate for their work group? The professions possess long training periods during which socialisation begins, continuing after entry into the profession, through formal mechanisms such as codes of ethics, licensing regulations and appraisal, and informal mechanisms such as colleagues expressing disapprobation.

The paper will review former academic studies which examine socialisation amongst professional groups during the training period. A historical review of engineering will be undertaken comparing the British nineteenth century system of pupillage with a consultant engineer or engineering company, followed later by apprenticeship and study at night class for admittance to the engineering professional bodies, with the degree programmes of the later twentieth century containing a taught element of engineering ethics. Further comparison will be drawn with the German system of engineering education based on the Technischen Hochschulen. By reference to the history of the education of labour for the software industry the socialisation of computer scientists, specifically software developers, will be placed in the context of the professions, in particular engineering.

However, we are now in a post-industrial society, characterised by a rise in the service sector, very large scale organisations and globalisation. It could be argued that old occupational models are no longer relevant; society is now based on a professional ideal, as against the entrepreneurial ideal of previous industrial society (Perkin, 1989). The organising principle of such a society is specialised expertise, and it is based on trained and certified expertise out of the ordinary, selection by merit and similarly trained experts, social ascent through ability and education, and mastery of a skilled service vital to fellow citizens. The present systems of educating computer scientists in occupational norms and standards, which have evolved from those of nineteenth century engineering, will be superseded. Models will be proposed of the future direction for the inculcation of computer scientists into the norms of the industry, including an evaluation and potential of the present systems of teaching computer ethics.


  • Pavalko, R.M.: Sociology of Occupations and Professions (Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock) 1971.
  • Perkin, H.: The Rise of Professional Society (London: Routledge) 1989.

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