Hack Attack, New Jersey


To barbers, auto mechanics, and other occupations that states and localities license, New Jersey may soon add another: computer programmers. A bill passed by the state Assembly would require "software designers" to prove their competence to state regulators before they can hack away.

Proposed as a "consumer protection" law by its sponsor, Associate Assembly Leader Barbara Kalik, the bill requires any person wishing to work as a software designer to either pass a state licensing exam, prove "sufficient" work experience to a state licensing board, or have a degree or college credits in computer programming.

Mary Juliana, a spokeswoman for Kalik, says the state Senate will probably amend the bill. One proposed change would drop the licensing requirement for programmers who work for firms such as AT&T. Freelance programmers would still have to pass state scrutiny.

Existing computer firms would also be "grandfathered" under this amendment. So some of these consultants actively support licensing new entrants into their field. In a letter to The New York Times, Leonard Turi, president of Farmingdale's Consulting Services Inc., writes: "Today, anyone could claim they are a 'consultant' without any supporting criteria. This devalues the integrity of consultants who have spent years in the industry."

But other software developers oppose licensing. Sophia Veney, a spokeswoman for the trade group Information Technology Association of America, says the definition of software developer could include people who enter names on a company mailing list. Such licensing requirements could have kept software powerhouse Microsoft, founded by self-taught programming whiz Bill Gates, from ever getting off the ground. While recognizing that the law may encourage businesses to leave New Jersey, Juliana says "we think it's a good bill."