Sunday, March 07, 2010

Passion vs Professionalism

Passion: a powerful or compelling emotion

Professionalism ( Meticulous adherence to undeviating courtesy, honesty, and responsibility in one's dealings with customers and associates, plus a level of excellence that goes over and above the commercial considerations and legal requirements

Another good one from Paul Glen
I've enjoyed reading Paul Glen's articles on IT management, but was more ambivalent on Two Cheers for the Passionless, in which he calls out the convention that passion is needed to do great work. His argument is that he prefers professionals to the passionate.

My first reaction was to ask, "What about passion for professionalism, or passion for quality?" Upon re-readings of the essay, I have relented somewhat in Glen's favor. He concedes in the writing that passion can be pivotal in certain types of projects, but that the average work of IT people is often routine and better served by professionalism.

It's never that easy though!
However, I still think my question, "What about passion for professionalism, or passion for quality?" deserves an answer. I've come across my share of IT workers for whom it's all "just a job" and frankly, the quality of their work reflected this nonchalant attitude. These individuals did not hone their skills by reading about and learning new techniques. They attack the symptom but not always the root cause of issues in production support. They do not do a thorough job in the analysis, design, development, and testing of new systems or enhancements. In other words, these so-called professionals were unprofessional.

Glen is right that it can be very difficult to sustain the intensity of passion for long periods, and that in the swing downward from a high there is a risk the practitioner becomes depressed or apathetic if not hateful. But I think we're confusing some of our syntax and semantics here. What is the term for an enduring, lower-intensity passion? I don't think there is one. Conversely, what do you call the cadre of uninspired workers for whom it's just a job? I don't think professionals is the right word.

Mutually Exclusive?
Perhaps passion and professionalism are not mutually exclusive. Someone can be both passionate and professional. Passion is more about motivation while professionalism is about how a person carries himself in doing work and dealing with others. Work requiring intensity, focus, and vision almost demand some passion especially when time is limited and a project needs sacrifices (such as unpaid overtime). I therefore believe Glen's definitions of passion and professionalism are narrow in the article. How do you explain the phrase "a life-long passion" if passion is something that cannot be sustained? How do you explain professionals that vary in competence and thoroughness? The phrase "over and above" in the definition of professionalism indicates an above average motivation.

In conclusion, I'll split the difference with Mr. Glen. Professionalism, and the competence and honorable behavior it implies, is what we should aspire to uphold. I think it's ok to have some passion for it.

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