In the past, as a Technology and Engineering student in the UK, I received literature extolling the virtues of joining a professional institution such as the BCS (British Computer Society) or the IEE and IEEIE (Institute of Electrical Engineers and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Incorporated Engineers, which merged to form the Institute of Engineering and Technology or IET in March 2006).

Even then there was a real dilemma regarding which was the better institution to belong to, the very old and established Engineering institute, or the newer Computer Society. There was also the American based IEEE with its large membership and separate Computer Society. The sway for a lot of people was the chartered status that could be achieved within the Engineering discipline. However now the BCS also offers members the ability to be a chartered IT professional the decision for graduates must be even more difficult.

In the end I didn’t join either. Now as a seasoned professional, who has long since left her college days behind, I was reminded of the dilemma again at a recent technology event.

I think as a student one of the criteria that stopped me joining was the cost. What would I get for my money? What benefits would belonging give me? At the time I was going into the ranks of the fully employed and did not require the added kudos membership may give me with employers.

Now with membership of the IET currently at £112 a year with an extra £29 for chartered status, and chartered IT professional with the BCS costing £255 for the first year then £135 for subsequent years, the costs are comparable for each institution. However the question still remains for me on the benefits.

The supporters of these institutions claim belonging to them gives you access to a huge library of articles and papers for your chosen area of interest. I don’t doubt that but with the explosion in social media and blogging it is difficult to follow all of the articles published freely already. Can I access all the latest and greatest news already from LinkedIn, Twitter links, Google searches and free podcasts? Also aren’t past articles too out of date for the fast paced area of mobile and IT anyway?

I can network with like minded Engineers and scientists and attend social and educational events. Again is this not something I can now engineer for myself. By attending targeted technical conferences am I not gaining more relevant information than I would attending general institution events?

What about qualifications and the endorsements belonging to such a group can bring? The BCS brought us ISEB which includes the IT Service Management or ITIL qualification as well as covering other disciplines such as Business Analysis, Project Management, Systems Development and Software Testing. However these qualifications are separate from the membership of the organisation. What about Prince2 or PMI? How do the ITIL qualifications compare to these? An ISEB qualification in Project Management is said to be compatible with Prince 2 and conversion courses are accessible for those already qualified as Prince2 practitioners. However is it really necessary to gain as many qualifications in a particular field as possible? How much notice do employers take of the actual qualifications gained and do any of them look favourably on membership when considering candidates for a position?

Currently I am remain unconvinced of the virtues of joining any professional body let alone knowing which is the best to join. However I am always open to persuasion. Do you belong to any? If so what are the benefits to you? What do you believe I could gain from joining?