news The outspoken chief executive of crowdsourcing company Freelancer.com has posted an extensive diatribe online calling for the Australian Computer Society to be disbanded, describing the professional body as a “joke” and being run by “f*cking morons”.
The rant, posted on social networking site LinkedIn yesterday, was stimulated by Matt Barrie‘s attendance at a forum aiming to discuss how technology education inAustralia could be improved, which he described as “a parody”. Barrie said the ACS had distributed a brochure on every seat at the forum which did not accurately describe the career paths which Australian students could follow through studying technology courses.
“Sorry, but who are these f*cking morons?” Barrie wrote. “They are doing more damage to the industry than help. I kept thinking that at some point Candid Camera might jump out from behind the door. This is the “professional association for Australia’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector”. What a joke.”
Barrie went on to slam what he described as the ACS’s “fairly lucrative protection racket”, under which he said the ACS unfairly charged those with overseas qualifications for having those qualifications recognised in Australia. “Want your overseas qualifications recognised for a skilled visa application (in the ICT area) to get into the country? Then you need to buy off the ACS,” he said.
In other comments posted under the LinkedIn post Barrie went further. “I don’t know of a single person working for a high growth technology company in Australia that’s a member,” he said. “It seems to me like it’s an RSL club for former DEC, NCR and WANG staff from the 70’s.” Barrie also added that Google Australia engineering chief Alan Noble had also been at the event and had also criticised the brochure.
However, it appears as though at least in some of his criticism, Barrie misfired.
ACS President Nick Tate posted a reaction to Barrie’s post on LinkedIn, noting that the offending brochure had actually not been published by the ACS, but by a satellite organisation, the ACS Foundation, which broadly separated from the ACS a number of years ago with the specific aim of focusing on helping students with IT careers; the ACS itself tends to focus more broadly on representing and aiding those already working in the IT industry. In addition, Tate pointed out, the event Barrie attended was actually run by National ICT Australia and not the ACS itself.
“We are surprised to see such strong statements about the ACS based on such incorrect information,” Tate said. “The great thing about the ACS is that in representing the ICT profession, we are happy to engage with and listen to those who wish to contribute to the profession, which is why your Freelancer.com colleague and VP of Engineering, David Harrison, joined us as a guest for a meeting of the ACS congress before Christmas and why we would be delighted to engage in discussion with you. We think it would be useful however to start our discussions about meetings that the ACS has actually held and about documents that we have actually produced.”
The ACS also issued a separate statement this morning, noting that the brochures belonged to the ACS Foundation, and that the event was hosted by NICTA.
“The ACS applauds Mr. Barrie’s passion for supporting ICT education in Australia, which is an area we have championed and advanced since our inception in 1966,” the group wrote. “We are open to constructive conversation with industry leaders around helping to inspire more young people to pursue careers in ICT. The ACS will continue to reach out to industry leaders and stakeholders including Mr. Barrie, and looks forward to constructive discussion and debate on how we can further promote ICT in Australia.”
However, despite Barrie’s mistake, the issue appears to have opened a can of worms regarding the ACS’ performance in general, with many Australian IT workers and those from overseas posting comments on LinkedIn and on IT news aggregation site Hacker News supporting Barrie’s view of the ACS.
“I never joined. The ACS was not referred to in a positive manner when I was at university,” wrote one commenter on Hacker News. “No IT employer in Australia that I’ve communicated with has ever mentioned the ACS in regards to qualifications, not once — I would be surprised if any even know it exists, unless they have worked with sponsoring skilled worker visas,” wrote another.
Another added: “Former employer bought me an ACS membership one year (mainly so we could get access to their members in the hope of selling our services). The entire membership seems to be guys who built a homebrew PC in the 70s and haven’t showered since, or international students who believe so much in their education they’re fooled into believing they need the ACS to rubber stamp their degree. They’re totally irrelevant in today’s “but can you write good code?” hiring practice.”
This week’s controversy is not the first time the ACS has been accused of being irrelevant by some in Australia’s IT industry. As early as 2005, when the company was attempting to highlight the urgent need for immigration reform to stop foreign IT professionals taking jobs in the Australian industry, it was criticised by the then-managing editor of ZDNet Australia for not presenting sufficient data to back its argument.
“… what it is worth I simply do not think the ACS has ANY relevance at all to anyone in IT .. apart from a few lucky people within the ACS hierarchy,” wrote one commenter at the time, in comments similar to the sentiments of many with respect to Barrie’s this week. “General consensus seems to agree with me if you read the comments on Hacker News and Twitter,” concluded Barrie in his comments this week.
Look, I don’t want to get stuck into the ACS too much. There is no doubt that the organisation has done good work over the years and that Australia’s IT industry does need peak lobby groups such as the ACS to represent IT professionals to government and other stakeholders and help to push the cause that the IT industry represents a vibrant and growing industry which it would be attractive for young people to join.
However, I’m also not going to pretend that Barrie’s belief that the ACS is completely irrelevant isn’t more or less the dominant view in Australia’s IT industry right now. I have plenty of friends who work in IT, I’ve met thousands more over the years due to my role as a technology journalist, and I’ve never heard anyone singing the virtues of the ACS. In contrast, I do regularly hear people espousing the virtues of other professional groups such as the Systems Administrators Guild of Australia, which at times has been quite active in supporting its membership.
The ironic thing is that in 2013, the IT profession is more attractive to join than at any point in its history. You don’t have to join a major bank anymore and get work programming mainframes like you would have had to back in 1966 when the ACS was founded. Now, if you want to work in IT, a vastly preferable career path is probably to join a red hot IT startup backed by an incubator like Pollenizer, where attractive and fashionable young people work hard during the day and play hard at night in funky offices in Surry Hills.
Workplaces like Google, Atlassian and others offer career paths that are rewarding, alongside great working conditions and motivated young IT professionals.
If the ACS wants to be attractive to young people in 2013, it’s people precisely like Matt Barrie that it needs to get on-board. Dynamic startup chief executives who grew up with technology and can sell its benefits to those entering university and graduating from it. If the ACS is to survive, Barrie’s right; it needs to shed its image as some kind of RSL club for retired 70’s IT administrators and focus on what’s happening in today’s IT environment.
To a certain extent the ACS is doing this already; you can see this in its recent re-branding and it’s writ large in the speech which ACS chief executive Alan Patterson gave last year to the Young IT Conference in Sydney in October last year (PDF). Apps, mobile, social media, startups; you can see that Patterson knows what young people find cool and that he is trying to help the ACS transition into that world.
However, the ACS needs to do more. Forgive me for saying this, but it needs to become ‘sexy’ if it wants to be attractive to young people and to address the complaints of people like Barrie. Barrie got some of his facts wrong this week (and there’s no doubt that there is also some irony in the CEO of an website which helps many people outsource IT tasks overseas complaining about an Australian IT professional body), but under Barrie’s bluster is a very good point about the ACS; as indicated by the level of support his comments got.
And it’s not as though Barrie doesn’t have some cred in the IT industry. If you check out his profile on Freelancer.com, you’ll find he’s not just a startup CEO. He’s also been a long-time IT university lecturer, and in 2006 picked up the State Pearcey Award for contribution to Australia’s IT industry. In a sense, Barrie himself bridges the gap between the old world of technology professionals and the new one emerging in Australia at the moment.
Image credit: Freelancer.com