scuba-diving-introductionI note in my About page that “from time to time I will digress to my hobby passions because I sometimes find interesting connections or insights from them.”  Well, perhaps its an excuse to indulge a hobby through this blog, but one of those “time’s” has come as I’m on a scuba vacation with plenty of scuba to enjoy, and many relaxing moments to reflect on the hobby, sport and business of scuba diving.

Sensible, Collaboratively-Developed Standards

Scuba diving is fairly well regulated on a global basis and maintains an excellent safety record for recreational divers.  The process entails multiple levels of certification, with each level requiring behaviors that demonstrate that the key skills have been learned.  While there are always rogue operators who will rent anyone a tank of compressed air, and clearly bozos who will use them and dive untrained and uncertified, most recreational divers will pick a licensed dive operator who will insist on seeing and take note of your diver certification before they will rent you an air tank or take you to a dive site.

There is a powerful collaboration between the retail dive shop operators, training operators, dive boat and the equipment manufacturers and with the independent scuba certification agencies.  These agencies provide all levels of diver training, regulate and represent diving professionals such as divemasters and dive instructors, regulate dive operators, participate in research in dive medicine, promote marine conservation, and market diving as a sport.  The largest global agencies are The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) and the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI).

Lessons for IT Management

Now think about what this in the context of the IT profession:

  • Scuba diving has global standards, including the required competencies for open water diving, advanced diving, rescue diving, dive instructor, and so on.  In order to be certified, you must go through standardized training and demonstrate you understand and have acquired the skills.  The IT profession does not (though there are respected certifications for domains such as project management.)
  • A diver wishing to rent a tank of air, and/or get a guided dive,  has to show a valid dive certificate to prove they’ve reached a minimum level of competence and safety.  Furthermore, (though this is not enforced) they can ask to see the diver’s log book to see their diving record, including total number of dives, date of last dive, and the kinds of conditions they’ve dived in.  In the IT recruitment process, this is not the case.  We have to judge competence largely by a resume, which often have limited value.  Have you ever seen a resume that said the individual was incompetent at anything?
  • Scuba diving has a globally standardized competency model, and associated competency development resources (training, on-line lessons, tutorials, etc.)  What are the global standards for roles such as “business analyst”?  Where are the standardized competency models and certification programs for different roles in the IT profession?  Yes, I know that some certifications do exist, but they are not globally regulated or standardized.  For example, I have  worked with hundreds of people with business analyst titles over the years, and their actual business analysis knowledge and competencies have varied widely.
  • There is substantial science behind scuba diving.  In the early 1900’s, studies began to establish the relationship between dive depth and bottom time, and how to avoid the painful and potentially life-threatening decompression sickness (the bends). This research, refined by the US Navy, led to dive tables, one of the fundamental skills for Scuba certification.  IT geeks note, dive computers are available and reasonably inexpensive nowadays to monitor each dive on a continuous basis to figure out the state of dissolved nitrogen in your tissues – the source of the Bends.  The dive computer shows precisely how much time the diver can safely remain in the water, or how long they have to stay on the surface before the next dive.  This is more accurate and much easier than calculating the results using a dive table.  By contrast, tasks such as estimating a solutions delivery project, especially if software development is part of the solution, are typically more the result of rough rules of thumb or often guesswork than any real science!  Many IT projects get the equivalent of the bends, and some suffer life threatening consequences!
  • But I think that the biggest insight is that all this regulatory activity, training, and recreational diving takes place on a global scale with minimal fuss and bother.  Why is this?  Divers a passionate about scuba diving!  How can you create jobs for people that foster in them the passion they feel about their favorite hobby or sport?
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