What's The Point of the BCS?

by @edent | , | 18 comments | Read ~13,145 times.

I had the opportunity recently to interact with the British Computer Society (BCS). It reminded me strongly why I don't want to join them.
BCS Banner
Last night, I attended the BCS Event "Are You Social or Anti-Social?". (The fact that I can't link directly to the event should already show you the BCS's attitude to good web-keeping).

Before I get on to the even itself, I'd like to go through a little history.

Last year, the BCS found itself in a bit of a kerfuffle. It was trying to reorganise and found itself up against a hostile membership bloc.

On one of the many blog posts on the subject, I left a comment of my experiences with the BCS.

I said...

10 years ago(!), when I was at university, we had a talk from the BCS. The number one question we all had was "What are the benefits?" Never mind the long, illustrious history - do I get discounts like my NUS card, or something better.

We never got a straight answer. There were vague mumblings about being part of a wider community, being able to represent our views to government, etc. Nothing tangible. Nothing useful.

I can't think of anything that the BCS do. I've barely heard of them in the news for the last decade. I've been working in the high-tech sector my whole adult life - I don't think I ever came across a CV which mentioned them.

So, to echo your question - what do they do? If whatever it happens to be is going well, they shouldn't change and leave me in my ignorance. Considering how they're currently perceived, I think they do need urgent change.

Perhaps they could start by sponsoring a BarCamp!

What's The Date?

Here's the current footer of the BCS Website.
BCS Copyright
This raises several questions.

  1. Has the content on the site really stayed static for around 2 years?
  2. Does their webmaster not know about PHP's getdate() functionality?
  3. Surely, as computer professionals, they should have a continuing project plan in place to update the footer once a year.
  4. Finally, does no one at the BCS use their own site? Surely someone must have noticed it during 2010.

Validating Email Addresses

Checking an email address for validity is a complex business - yet one that is increasingly common. One would expect the BCS to provide leadership in this area - or at least follow best practice.

When I went to register for one of their events, I was told that my email address was invalid. Why? Because it ended .mobi.

In the old days, you could reasonably assume that all email addresses ended with a two or three character tld. That's not the case today. The canonical list of tlds show at least 10 which are longer than three caracters - that's before we even consider the non-English tlds.

In fairness, once I emailed them, this problem seems to have been corrected.

Securing the WiFi

I'll write up my notes from the event later - but here's the first thing I noticed when I got to the BCS building.
Like any geek, I scan for WiFi in order to get my fix. This is the list of WiFi access points in the BCS.


Now, I realise that computing isn't solely confined to web pages and Internet hotspots - but I think that's a pretty big part of it. Overall, it doesn't give me much faith in the BCS as an organisation.

Where The BCS Is Today

I did a quick search of BBC News for mentions of the BCS. The results are disappointing. As are the search results from The Register. I realise that this isn't an extensive survey - but for an organisation which is meant to represent the computing society to the world it's inexcusable.

I chatted to several BCS members at the event. I asked each of them the same question - "What are the benefits of joining the BCS?"

I got a variety of answers - mostly around networking (ironic as it was an event about social media) and a few comments around putting letters after your name (is anyone impressed by that?).

So, my question to you, gentle reader, is what's the point of joining the BCS? Answers in the comments please.

18 thoughts on “What's The Point of the BCS?

  1. Ben Smith says:

    I was a member when a previous employer funded membership. I resented the hoops I had to jump through to 'get in' and then derived precisely zero benefit for about 3 years of membership except occasionally putting 'MBCS' after my name when I felt it might help (about once a year).

    When I changed jobs I let membership lapse (I certainly wasn't going to pay) and the 'reminders' from the membership department were many and annoying. It's not an organisation I'm proud to have represent my profession.

  2. Denny says:

    They had a strong presence at my university (which was a particularly crap one, so possibly you can start forming an impression on the basis of that connection). They never adequately explained why I should join, but eventually they offered it free to students so I joined anyway. They then failed to do anything that interested me ever, and also refused to take my pre-uni professional experience into account when I looked at the full membership requirements when I left uni, so I let my 'associate' membership lapse as soon as they asked for money. I don't miss it.

  3. Jo Browne says:

    If there is no point of BCS why spend so much time talking about them. You say you had the opportunity to attend some event but later also say you it reminded you why you don't want to join them. Why go to an event if you see no point in them?

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jo.

      I didn't say there was no point - I said I wanted to know what the point was. To that end, I attended a free event they were putting on.

      If you have a good reason to join the BCS, I'd be very interested in hearing it.

    2. Denny says:

      Evidence-based policy-making is good, m'kay?

  4. I'm a fully PAID UP MBCS CITP, I don't know for how much longer.

    The CITP is supposed to represent myself as a "cut above" others in my profession related to responsible handling of data and people. No-one outside the BCS know about CITP, very few know what MBCS means.

    What's more, you find that within the BCS (typically the elbow padded members), there is a distinct feeling of derision offered with regards the CITP qualification. They disagree with it and don't value it as a qualification. I want to get a CEng, but the BCS don't recognise my university as contributing towards it. If only I had known this before accepting a place, there, huh?

    I am asking the tech journos I know of whether they have had any dealings with the BCS. I already know the answer that will come back. They are not lobbying government, they are not pushing themselves on our screens and into our papers (other than their column in Computing) and they do not practice what they preach regarding their web-site/social media engagement.

    I joined the BCS because I believed that as an IT professional, with access to sensitive personal data and many thousands or millions of pounds at your disposal, you HAVE to be accountable. There is no accountability within our profession. The BCS, for me, should be the same organisation that the BMA is. They should actively police and be seen to police the profession. They talk the talk, but if you spent as much as they do on their marketing revamps you could convince me you were Jesus Christ.

    In short, I value the local BCS events greatly, but the national organisation needs a damned good kicking.

  5. Hi Terence,

    To introduce myself, I'm a member of the BCS, and I sit on the Membership Board, so I'm an active member who's trying to help improve the BCS. The BCS is an organisation in continual transition, it has c. 70,000 members. There are maybe 1 million in the UK who work in IT in one way or another - most are outside the BCS. Some are pissing inwards!

    The Membership Board is new, part of the restructure that caused so much "kerfuffle". The BCS is changing. Some of the "old guard" don't like it. Anyway..

    What's the point.....

    Have you read the website "About Us"? http://www.bcs.org/category/5651 (I and other individual members have our own views on the purposes of BCS, but these are the stated purposes of the institute).

    Mission: "We bring together industry, academics, practitioners and government to share knowledge, promote new thinking, inform the design of new curricula, shape public policy and inform the public."

    You came. I hope you enjoyed Sue's talk etc. You were brought together with others to share knowledge, promote new thinking etc....

    Actually you weren't brought in by "The BCS" - you were brought in by a local branch - London. The website you referred to is for a local branch - London, There are around 48 local branches, each getting on with their own activities under the umbrella of "The BCS", each run by volunteer members. For me this is one of the primary purposes of the BCS. Bring people together to discuss bits of this huge discipline of computing, educate, inform, share. Nobody has to join - it's voluntary.

    There's a huge raft of things the BCS HQ could do better, especially technically, and there is a process underway to get technical input from expert members into the way that BCS uses technology. Why? Because BCS is a membership organisation, not a technical org. It deals with members, recruiting, publications, group funding & support, arranging events, providing examinations and qualifications, determining professional standards, ethics, lobbying government, providing information for the public. It provides channels to the expertise of its members (like Sue, who you listened to). The BCS HQ is mainly 300 employees who don't do IT or Computing, they do all these other things, for the public, for the members, paid for by 70,000 members.

    70,000 members who have different needs, purposes and reasons for joining BCS. Any expectation of a clear, coherent unity is unlikely to be realistic. The BCS does many good things, but there are also many opportunities to criticise.

    In your place I would ask, "Why did I have to go to Southampton Street?". Why wasn't this talk broadcast on the web, why couldn't I participate through video etc. Why does BCS not use technology to facilitate this and reach a wider audience? Well we're trying, this is one of the improvements I'm trying to make happen. Other volunteers are trying to enable the organisation to do other things.

    BCS is about sharing, internally and externally. The classic "Ask not what the BCS can do for you, but what you can do for the BCS.".

    That's the primary point of joining. Come together, collect, share to improve. So if you want a say, come in and contribute. That is the point. Participate, Contribute, Share, Learn, Improve.

    My individual views as an individual member. Other members may think differently!


    Steve Burrows FBCS, CITP.....

    1. Hi Steve,

      Thanks for your very detailed comments. I want my voice to be heard and I want my professionalism to be recognised. But, as yet, I see no evidence that the BCS is the place to do that.

      I'll make two very broad points.

      Firstly, the BCS isn't promoting itself very well. I heard nothing from them during the Digital Economy Act débâcle - perhaps one of the most serious issues of last year. Indeed, the BCS's response to the DEAct is both hiding behind the proverbial "beware of the leopard" poster and so wishy-washy I'm not sure why they bothered. On Network Neutrality - the BCS appears to be silent.

      Secondly, the BCS isn't promoting itself very well. Now I realise that technically speaking that's only one flaw but I thought that it was such a big one that it was worth mentioning twice. I'm happy to put the effort in to an organisation - but I see no evidence that the BCS is the place to put that effort. Where is the BCS presence in every computing news story? Where is the "10 Reasons you should join"? All I see on the "About Us" page you linked to is a page of links which link off to another page of links which link off to some PDFs. Hardly inspiring, is it?

      I really don't mean to rag on you or your organisation. The BCS London branch put on a spectacular event - but given that it was free, I'm not sure what advantage it would be to me to join. Are there "member only" events? Are they any good? What can I add to that event as a member?

      No one has been able to tell me what one can get from the BCS that can't be got elsewhere. Training is hardly unique. Networking can be done through countless organisations. Events and lectures happen every day without the BCS. Campaigning is being done by the Open Rights Group, No2ID, and countless other organisations.

      I'm a professional in IT and I'm struggling to see why I should put my efforts into the BCS when other organisations perform a similar role and - to be frank - with more success. None of them cost £95 per year.

      Perhaps the solution is for the BCS to work more closely with ORG and similar campaigning groups? If it doesn't see itself as a campaigning organisation - the BCS needs to be a member of the W3C. In fact - why isn't it? Surely that's exactly where the BCS should be applying its knowledge.

      I'm sorry this is a bit of a rant. I realise the futility of pissing into the tent - but when the party is happening outside the tent, why would I want to come inside?


      1. Ben Smith says:

        Yep... spot on. Even as a member I didn't feel I got anything from almost £400 of fees over 4 years. And that was in addition to the fees I paid to sit various ISEB qualification exams.

        I'd love to see some objective assessment of how the BCS is faring against its objectives, because having just re-read them I'm inclined to ask for a refund.

      2. Hi Terence,

        What is professionalism? How well we code? It's a bit of it. Members of professional societies (accountants, lawyers, doctors, BCS members) "agree to meet certain duties and responsibilities towards the public, the profession, employers and customers". They have some formal codes which cover behaviour, ethics, standards etc. The BCS has these. BCS members undertake to comply.

        Publicity. I entirely agree, and there are movements towards making BCS more visible, BCS making more comment, offering more opinion - directly and through its members. There is a Policy & Public Affairs Board charged with achieving this. All part of the change. I have been very critical - and as a member I've been heard. BCS had a standpoint of being silent, non-controvertial, impartial, non-partisan, non-aligned. We are changing this. BCS has to find its voice, express the wisdom & knowledge of its members.

        Member-only events & groups. Yep, there are some, and very, very good, but... BCS is a charity, with charitable objectives to inform and benefit the public. Can we do this behind closed doors? Nope, we need the public to come in. Yes, many events are free and open to the public. Why should you join? These events won't happen without your sub.

        £95 quid, and you get into all the events you want, join Specialist Groups of peers working on the development of particular topics - Datacentre design & operation, Cloud Computing, Fortran (yep, it's still alive), you name it. Opportunity to liaise with and learn from your peers, leading thinkers from industry and academia etc. £95 quid won't even get you thru the door of most worthwhile commercially organised seminars.

        Working with other organisations - yep, BCS does that. Many organisations. Particularly in education, policy, standards development etc. Look wider and you'll find senior BCS members scattered around. I'm a Chartered Fellow, I see another Chartered Fellow is on the Advisory Board of ORG. You mention W3C - BCS is not a web development organisation, but Tim Berners-Lee has spoken at BCS events and is a Distinguished Fellow of BCS - he's involved and participates.

        BCS is simple, are you in, making a contribution, however small, or outside as a bystander. It's imperfect, it's flawed, it's a charity not a self-help organisation, it's also the only IT-centric organisation with a Royal Charter and the "official" cred that goes with that, Government consults BCS regularly - it may not listen but it consults. As a member you can be part, make it live, give it purpose, and help direct it. As a non-member you can't, you're an observer. I'm an "ordinary" member. I pay my subs, I try to make my voice heard, I organise things for people (members, public) to come along to etc. Because I do this other people in BCS have asked "would you join this committee, or that board", and I've said yes. Suddenly I have a voice, I'm one of the people pushing the BCS, slowly, clumsily, 70,000 separate opinions and views, in directions where I want it to be more active.

        Actually, if you use the benefits, discounts, access to consultancy reports etc. you probably get your £95 back easily without ever attending a meeting or contributing. I don't use those benefits much, my benefit is in interacting with and learning from my peers, and to me that's priceless.

        In short, the BCS is flawed, frustrating, infuriating... and infinitely better than the alternative of no BCS.

        One thing is for sure, anyone joining the BCS asking "what's in it for me?" is going to get less out of it that someone asking "what can I do?". We can't all join everything, there are hundreds of worthy organisations and groups that I'm not a member of, not enough time etc. For some people in IT & Computing the BCS is the right choice. If you're one you'll join, if not, join something else! BCS has no monopoly, but join, collaborate, share, participate in something, make it happen, enjoy it and grow from it.

        HTH. Thanks for the conversation.

        Cheers, Steve

  6. Great post that raises some interesting questions. I think in these tough economic times IT professionals are entitled to ask "what's in it for me?" when thinking about joining the BCS. After all they will be expected to spend time taking exams and part with money to join. One feature of working in IT is the need to constantly keep that skill set updated. Worryingly, the time spent on that BCS exam is time that cannot be spent elsewhere, maybe getting that vendor qualification that makes you just that little bit more appealing to employers. So the problem is you need a good reason to bother with all of this.

    Here is another problem: qualifications are only worth as much as the value people attach to them. Nathan Pledger's comment is worrying, if people inside the BCS don't value his qualification, why should anybody else? The commitment towards professionalism is very important, but today the idea that if you are not in the BCS you are somehow less professional that its members is insulting. Organisations have to earn the right to say that and an organisation that many see as irrelevant or even worse whose members feel hasn't benefited them has not earned that right. In some ways I feel the BCS is trying to run before it can walk in this area. It needs to take its time and grow its reputation in the IT community before claiming the right to judge it.

    Steve Burrows said "BCS is about sharing, internally and externally", this is a very important aim. Sharing knowledge and good practice benefits us all and going to BCS meetings is one of the ways to do that perhaps. The world of IT is truly global though so the BCS might be limited in its usefulness in this area however this is something genuinely useful that it can facilitate.

    I think the BCS could be a useful body one day, but it needs to calm down a bit, stop it with the letters after the name (no one is impressed!) and think beyond exams towards the power of the network. Then it might be possible to have an answer to the title of this blog post.

  7. I am a Member of the BCS, Chartered Engineer and Chartered IT Professional. Before I moved into IT, I was a Chartered Mechanical Engineer (MIMechE), so becoming a professional member of the BCS seemed like the right thing to do.

    In my opinion, the principle of professional institutions is sound: after graduation, you spend several years learning the practice of the profession, until you are judged by the institution to have reached a certain standard. This approach is more or less common to all the professions: as well as engineers, of course, it applies to physicians, lawyers, architects, accountants and many others.

    I assumed that as the IT profession became more widespread and established, it would mature into something resembling the other engineering disciplines, where professional qualifications are recognised and valued.

    Clearly this hasn't happened and does not look likely to happen any time soon. There may be many reasons for this but I believe an important one is the consequence of failure: if a lawyer, accountant or chemical engineer fail, the outcome adversely affects other people either physically or emotionally. So it is investigated and individuals are held to account.

    If a software project fails, the consequences are usually purely financial and it is much less common for anyone to be held to account. Consequently, organisations do not seem to demand that software engineers are professionally qualified and software engineers have no incentive to obtain professional qualifications.

    Given that the shockingly high failure rate of IT projects, it seems to me that it would be a good idea for organisations to start holding the profession to account. I am aware that I am in a small minority who hold this view.

    The reason I joined the BCS is to have my skills and professional experience recognised. I don't know how many potential employers/clients have been impressed by the letters after my name, and as far as I remember, nobody has ever discussed it in a job interview. Despite this, I shall keep paying my subscription in the hope that my membership of the BCS demonstrates something of my professionalism and commitment.


    Jeremy Clark B.Eng CEng CITP MBCS etc.

  8. What about all of the IT projects that don't fail? What about the people who contribute to open source projects? What about the people who work in IT, but don't have a Computer Science degree, instead having learnt the hard way - in the work environment? Are people seriously suggesting that British people (because it wouldn't affect anybody else) wouldn't be allowed to work in the IT profession or contribute to it until they got permission from the BCS? The idea is a complete non-starter. I know what the other professions do, but that doesn't mean we should unquestioningly import other people's ideas. It is time for the BCS to move on from this idea, no one will allow it to happen, employers will stop it the moment it might lead to higher costs, professionals will stop it the moment they realise they are going to lose out.

    1. Denny says:

      Your questions seem to be largely rhetorical, would you like to answer them for us?

      Nobody is suggesting you wouldn't be able to work in IT without membership of a professional body, just like nobody is suggesting you can't work in IT without a relevant degree - these things are indicators that some employers might like to use to pre-judge people's ability in, aptitude for and attitude to their chosen profession, but they're not the only way to prove yourself - as you say, you can learn on the job and work your way up. (Although those with formal software engineering training and experience of taking over projects from those without it may be sceptical of how well this approach scales, on average.)

      It'd be nice to see more professionalism in IT, particularly in large-scale development and deployment (I'm looking at you, government IT projects), but I don't personally see the BCS achieving that at present. I think Jeremy's point is that it's hard for them to do so until employers start actually caring about professionalism in IT.

    2. Liam, I don't have a CS degree, I learned the hard way. I have contributed to OS (past tense, I don't code much any more). Nevertheless I am a qualified member of BCS. Who's suggesting that BCS membership would be mandatory - where did this red-herring come from? But anyway, you say "professionals will stop it the moment they are going to lose out".

      Who are these professionals - which public code of ethics do they subscribe to? BCS, IET, IAP? Simply, if they have not subscribed to a professional code of ethics & behaviours from a recognised institution they are not "professionals" being a professional implies and requires membership of a profession.

      Being a craftsman, artist or tradesman, working full time in a specific occupation, being very, very good at it and pursuing excellence does not of itself make a professional.

      Being a professional is not mandatory except in regulated occupations; law, medicine etc. Heaven help us if it is ever required in computing and IT, it is probably not possible. There is infinite scope for pursuit of our craft outside the profession, and the majority of major contributions come from outside.

      The common usage of the term professional is a corruption, a usurping aspiration from those who work hard at their craft and wish to be seen as "professional", make a "professional job" of their work etc. But being a professional means not only excellence at the craft, but subscription to the craft, and that is where organisations such as BCS and IET come in. They allow us to declare our professionalism, to be recognised as professionals, through being accepted as professional members. Joining is optional, it's for those who are so committed to their craft that they wish to participate in its development, subscribe to certain standards, and be recognised as doing so. It's a badge of participation and commitment, nobody has to wear it, some choose to because they think it's worthwhile.

      Cheers, Steve

  9. If the BCS doesn't want to control membership of the IT profession (in a way comparable with some other professional bodies) then that is a very good thing and I welcome it. I fully support the idea of a body that spreads knowledge and tries to give the IT profession a good image, whether through ethical standards, good deeds, charity work or whatever. What I would like to see is understanding for the decision *not* to join the BCS. It does not necessarily mean that a person is "less professional", it just means that they are not convinced that the BCS would add to their life just yet.

    A small note about failing government IT projects too: I think it is important not to assume these failed (just) because of the people who work in IT. It could be all sorts of reasons and the only way to fully establish what went wrong would be an inquiry.

  10. Somebody says:

    I've just joined the BCS *because* the membership includes:
    a) full access to the EBSCO library
    b) free ITNOW magazines with useful information
    c) discounts on useful books
    d) many other resources that I can now access to learn new things and advance my career

    The post-nominals can also be a valid reason to join because they may give you a professional recognition, but this is not the main point for me. I'm a strong believer in acquiring knowledge from scientific journals, books, magazines (there are some high-quality ones), and other places. BCS provides me with the access to online libraries so I can gather more information than if I used only IEEE and my university library.

  11. Compared to professions like architects, Med Doctors, surveyors, civil engineers, accountants etc, who have practiced their professions for centuries, Computing & IT is a very new profession, having been made hugely popular in just the space of approx the last 20 years.Not 200 or 2000 years, but just 20 years.

    My point is Med Docs have been practicing for thousands of years and had already established "good practice" just through evolution of the subject matter alone. The British Medical Association (BMA) has been around for nearly 200 years now and I doubt, in it's first 20 years, it had any strict procedures in place for, for example, "blood letting". The same can be said for Architects & Architecture, or even Banking procedures, honed over the past few hundred years.

    Today IT has taken over the world. The most popular retail trading platforms are Ebay and Amazon, again just 20 years old... just as old as the most popular desktop OS today. These are just few examples.

    The BCS is a Chartered Institute of IT dealing with a world which changed in the blink of an eyelid... and will continue to change through IT. Millions of IT professionals have sprouted everywhere (i used to be a bread delivery, "white van man"), thousands of IT projects are failing, yes.. this is true.

    What the BCS needs is 'time'. Time to evolve, time to define good practices, which it does through its publications, talks, networking etc. In my mind, joining the BCS now is the exact equivalent of joining the BMA in the year 1890. What it worth it for the Doctors back then? I doubt they thought so at the time. Is it BCS worth joining? I cannot say. Will it be a major body in 180 years time? Yes I believe it sure will be and, in this respect, based on these timescales, I believe the BCS is making, at the very least, "good solid progress".

    At this point I will make a disclaimer and mention I am not a member of BCS but, through having just entered for one of their awards last week, I hope to be a member. Will I get anything out of it? Maybe yes, maybe no but, as someone said above, I'd rather have it around, than not.

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