Brazilian government has gotten a lot of praise from geeks in US for their stance on open source, which they really do support. But not everything is not quite so rosy. According to to a talk by Roberto Bigonha that I heard at SBC last week, as many as seven draft laws are currently making their way through Brazilian Congress, all aiming to prohibit people without undergraduate degree in software engineering from working as software engineers and to give control over the profession to a “professional council” of informatics. Note that getting an master’s degree wouldn’t be enough: only an undergraduate degree. So, people like myself (with an M.S. in CS but an undergraduate degree in a different area) would be out of luck. Not to mention people like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. (Ok, one might argue that one of those two shouldn’t have been allowed to code, but you get my point.)
What’s worse, according to a recent study, the self-educated make up half of Brazil’s open source developers, so professional regulation wouldn’t exactly be a pro-open-source move. I don’t want to say that self-educated developers wouldn’t benefit from formal education, but banning them from work or letting a council decide who should work and who shouldn’t is counter-productive. Note that the measure will quite obviously fail to solve the main problem that it aims to address – that of software quality and security. As Prof. Bigonha points out, most of the countries that Brazil routinely imports software from do not require certification. Thus, making sure that Brazilian developers get their BS before touching any code, isn’t going to protect Brazil from the next Windows worm. (Of course, Windows worms aren’t caused by lack of formal education anyway – crappy software is more often a result of management priorities.)
If all of this sounds too far fetched, a crazy idea of some nutty deputies that would never turn into an actual law, consider that many professions in Brazil are already regulated in exactly this manner. For example, one cannot work as a journalist in Brazil without a BA in Journalism. (One wonders where this leaves bloggers…) As I understand, major newspapers do sometimes find ways to hire people without journalism degrees by crafting their job descriptions carefully, but I've heard stories about the association of economists trying to prevent a statistician from “illegally practicing” economics. Or maybe it was the other way around – it’s a blog post, so I don’t need to check my sources. :) Additionally, two professional councils have already tried claiming the authority over regulating software development. One is the Council of Administration who is regulating employment of “administrators” (and making sure that nobody administrates without a degree, I guess). Another one is the Council of Engineering and Architecture. Both have laid claims to software in the past, but haven’t managed to enforce them so far. As I understand, of the seven laws, some propose giving informatics to one of those councils, others suggest creating a new one.
So, not everything is so rosy in the land of “software livre.” In fact, government’s support for open source itself is a more complicated issue that it appeared to me from California, but that’s a topic for another post.
Prof. Bigonha has a page discussing the issue of professional regulation (unfortunately only in Portuguese). To summarize the site, Brazilian Computation Society (SBC) has written it’s own draft law that establishes that software industry should be self-regulated and that anyone should be able to work as a developer regardless of type of education. They are now trying to get the Congress to pass this law instead of the seven that would impose regulation.