According to my LinkedIn profile, I have been working in the Information Technology Industry for over five years now. During that time, I have done a variety of different jobs. Ranging from posting social media to managing channel partners, each role that I take on gives me a different insight on what encompasses this massive industry. In each role, I have meet a variety of people all with their own unique backgrounds, experiences, and goals.

While we all differ, one this is the same—we work within the Technology Industry; we are IT Professionals—or are we?

Many people would not consider us (‘us’ being the people that have roles within the technology space who do not work with their company’s clients on technology services on a daily basis) as IT Professionals (rather IT Pros as they say). Over the last six months, this debate of what constitutes an IT Pro has continued to pop up in my tech circles. What does it mean to be an IT Pro in today’s world? Are we narrowing down that definition too much or are people utilizing it for their own advantage?

A quick Google search for “what is an IT Pro?” provided a couple of answers:

  • “Take it to be someone who is doing a job related to computers, software and related field.” – Quora
  • “In my opinion a Professional (with a capital P) is a person who is good at there job, i am classed as an IT professional from the users because i can fix things they can not even understand, a Professional is someone who can do a task that others can not.” – Bollo on Spiceworks (sic)
  • “As part of a legion of dedicated technology experts—not only system administrators, but network engineers, database administrators, information security professionals, developers, IT support technicians and all other professionals serving in IT-related roles—every IT professional plays an immense role in leading the charge for technology innovation and business success.” – IT Pro Day

As expected, this search did little to clarify what an IT Pro is. As presented above, perhaps there is a level of expertise in certain types of technology that constitutes an “IT Pro.” Perhaps the person has to “play an immense role” in technology innovation to be considered an IT Pro. Regardless of how one classifies IT Pro, one thing is for sure, there is a grey area around what gives someone the right to use the title.

But at the end of the day, why do we care what someone uses for their title?

Let’s be honest, I do not know of anyone that just labels themselves as an IT Pro. I mean, when you talk to someone in the IT space, and ask them what they do for a living, it’s not like they tell you, “Well, I am an IT Pro” and leave it there. Many times, this title of IT Pro only comes into question when some is talking to a person who is outside of the IT industry. Many times, people who use IT Pro as their title or job description are talking to people who do not understand, well, technology. Come on, we all know it’s easier to talk to someone and say “I am an IT Pro” then say “I am a Network Engineer” which, two seconds later, you will have to explain.

However, the problem with this whole IT Pro title thing may be deeper than laziness. With everyone using IT Pro when explaining their job, it’s implying a level of expertise that may not be true. When people hear “professional” anything, they believe that individual as full knowledge (expertise) in whatever it is they are claiming. When someone utilizes IT Professional, they are giving the impression that they have knowledge of many different types of Information Technology (at least they are giving this impression to others who don’t “get it”). Debatably, this ends up hindering the growth of true IT Pros everywhere.

Imagine with me that you know little about IT. All of sudden you take a seminar on improving your business. The expert on stage tells you that you need “the cloud.” Next thing you know you are Googling “cloud experts” and you come across a listing for an “IT Pro for $10/hr.” Of course, you are on a budget so you call the person up and they explain they are an IT Professional and they understand your needs. Heck, the price is right so you hire them (remember you don’t know the correct questions to ask nor do you really understand what IT you need).  Next thing you know, this IT Pro has spent thousands of your dollars on a system that doesn’t work.  You are stuck with a system that doesn’t work and no money to fix it—how would you feel about “IT Professionals”?

Let me guess, you have heard a story like this once or twice in your professional life. If you are anything like the IT Pros I know, stories like this piss you off. Thanks to one person, your career and expertise has been undermined. This individual will never fully trust an “IT Pro” again.

Perhaps the problem is standardization. Unlike other industries, the IT world does not have standard titles for particular jobs. In healthcare, you know a radiologist is a radiologist regardless of the hospital. However, in IT, a system admin at one company may just be help desk support at another company. This lack of standardization means that many people are being hired for jobs that are either beneath them or above them. And I am not even mentioning the pay structure of these titles.

One argument I have heard echoed in recent months is that we, the IT industry, must create standard job description, requirements, and titles, that can be understood across the industry. This way we can streamline the hiring process as well as the customer service we offer end-users. Just think, the next time you hire a database administrator, you could be hiring a person that understands MySQL not just data entry.

However, the standardization of titles may not help the overall problem of what constitutes an “IT Pro.” In today’s world, IT Pro is a label used, primarily, by marketing companies looking for a way to sell their platform or, really, their audience to companies. Think of it this way, if I was trying to sell software, I would want to push it out to “IT Professionals”, broadly used of course. The problem is that the marketing company is the one deciding what an IT Professional is, not the actual professional.

While marketing companies are throwing all IT Professionals into one bucket, IT Communities are narrowing their acceptable users to what they define as IT Pros. The problem with IT Communities being the decider is that it’s limiting IT Pros to what they do within their company, not what they are capable of doing. For example, while a VP of Strategy may be looking at the bigger picture within their company, it does not mean they do not have the knowledge or expertise to provide useful advice on a number of IT-related issues. Chances are, this individual has an IT background that has enabled them to get to this position.

So this leaves us, yet again, without a definition of what an IT Pro is. While individuals are using the term for their own gain so are companies and communities trying to identify their audience. Perhaps, as presented above, the best way to handle this in the future is by standardizing titles. For me, I just want to be considered part of the Information Technology Professionals community and not based on someone else’s guidelines. If I can offer insight that may help others within the space, then why not let me have that title? Whatever that title may be—I promise to not abuse it.

My name is Samantha Walters and I am what you would consider a “millennial executive” over at Colocation America. Every Monday (get it, get it, Samantha on Mondays – the S.O.M column) I will write a little something on whatever is on my mind from business practices to current events and everything else in between.