Written by Chris Davis
Institute offers memberships to graduates and the experienced who can integrate their theoretical knowledge with practical skills in a technological sector that is rapidly advancing
Information technology (IT) applications have changed the world faster than most people could have imagined.
Within a decade, the use of the internet, broadband network access devices, laptop computers, mobile phones, PDAs and other wireless communication devices had grown exponentially, changing forever the way we communicate, run businesses and understand the world.
Chan Chun-leung, past chairman of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) IT division, said the rapid technological advances of various types of communication devices had made them indispensable to consumers and businesses which considered innovations, such as communications satellites, wireless phones and computer networks, staples of everyday life.
Dr Chan said demand for these communication devices had created a need for professional IT engineers who could help design, develop, install, test and maintain them.
Such was the dependence on communication technology, for social and commercial applications, that the edges between professional IT communication engineers and those who used communication technology had begun to blur, Dr Chan said. 'Many people who use computers, or technology, to perform simple tasks now consider themselves IT professionals.'
Without wishing to denigrate the abilities of those who use IT, the HKIE hopes to clarify the definition of IT engineers by focusing on professional recognition. 'We aim to highlight the ways that professional IT engineers apply engineering methodology, ethics and professional training when carrying out their duties,' said Dr Chan, who is also PCCW's senior vice-president of business development.
Through the HKIE's Scheme A programme, which allows graduates with formal qualifications to be registered with an approved company or organisation, young engineers are able to obtain on-the-job training which can lead to full professional membership within four years. The HKIE also provides alternative routes to recognition for experienced engineers. To support professional IT engineers the HKIE organises seminars, guest speakers and promotes best practices and development within the industry.
The HKIE believes that the qualities required by a professional engineer can best be developed and attained by graduates who have thoroughly integrated their theoretical knowledge with their practical skills.
The HKIE IT division also believes that Hong Kong's IT sector will benefit from a government policy that clearly defines objectives and avenues for achieving goals.
Dr Chan said professional IT engineers frequently held managerial or leadership positions. They act as the principle investigator on major research and consultancy projects. In education, they take responsibility for establishing academic practices and policies.
Professional IT engineers may also work in government departments where they can be responsible for IT planning, design and procurement. Alternatively, they may work in the private sector, consulting on IT business development and overseeing the application of new concepts and IT applications. Many IT engineers work in contracting and manufacturing, where they take charge of large-scale engineering projects involving the design, building and operation of plant and communication systems.
Raymond Wong Wai-man, also past chairman of HKIE's IT division, said IT engineers needed to consider many factors when developing a new product. For example, engineers precisely specify the functional requirements, design and test the product's components, integrate the components to produce the final design, and evaluate the design's overall effectiveness, cost, reliability and safety. In addition to design and development, many engineers work in testing, production, or maintenance. These engineers supervise production in factories and determine the causes of component failure.
'Principally, professional IT engineers within their sector are responsible for the financial, technical, safety, quality, environmental and contractual [aspects], and operator and customer satisfaction. If anything should go wrong, it is the engineer who gets the blame,' said Dr Wong, who was involved in a number of IT projects such as the smart identity card, e-passport and e-channel.
Horace Ip Ho-shing, deputy chairman of the HKIE information discipline advisory panel, said training was an essential element in the development of a professional engineer. 'We work in an environment where new developments are taking place almost every day. To keep up with these latest developments it is important that IT engineers commit to continuous learning,' said Professor Ip, who is also chair professor of computer science at the City University.
He said the rapid pace of IT development had created a wealth of opportunities for IT engineers. However, in many cases IT engineers needed to be multidisciplined. 'IT engineers working in the finance sector, developing and maintaining banking, analytical and communications systems, need to fully understand what the organisation is trying to achieve and how this will integrate with clients needs,' he said.
Professor Ip said the same demand for business and end-user application awareness applied to IT engineers working for government, education departments and industry. 'These are some of the challenges and opportunities that make the job interesting and rewarding.'
This article is part of a series on engineering trends and developments produced in association with the HKIE. It is published on the last Saturday of every month.