Sunday, June 20, 2010

Professional Memberships and Value

As a recent engineering graduate, I've had lots of opportunities to think about professional memberships over the past few weeks.

For instance, I've submitted an application to register as an Engineer-In-Training ("EIT") with APEGS, the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan. I need to demonstrate four years of mentored, acceptable engineering experience before I can be licensed to practice engineering in Saskatchewan - until then, others will approve ("stamp") my work for me. This is similar to a doctor's residency or a teacher's practicum/internship. There are clear benefits to this membership: a government-recognized professional designation that will enhance my ability to practice engineering, earn wages, and accept work. The fees are around $150/year, but my employer covers them. Either way, good value!

Another example: As a student, I was a member of the SESS, the Saskatoon Engineering Students' Society. Some years I was an active member, others not - but the $20/year fee was completely reasonable for a free mug and stack of problem paper, plus discounts on other engineering merchandise throughout the school year. Decent benefits for a low cost = good value.

Which brings me to the IEEE.

The IEEE is a huge international association "for the advancement of technology related to electricity" (Wikipedia). They have lots of responsibilities and areas of expertise, but most people have heard of the IEEE through international standards like IEEE 802.11 for wireless internet.

When I entered my second year of Electrical Engineering at the U of S, I was told to join the IEEE and stay in it because "employers look for membership on resumes." So I joined for about $35/year (student rates) and added it to my resume.

As a student, there were some good perks. The IEEE student branch at the U of S is very active, and they profile students with great academic, technical, and social resources. The best perk, however, was an under-advertised one: free, completely legitimate software through the Microsoft Developer's Network Academic Alliance. Thanks to the IEEE, I'm running a legitimate copy of Windows 7 on my desktop. I grabbed some other licenses as well - SQL Server 2008, Visio, and a spare XP SP3 license.

As far as other benefits go, I have my doubts about whether it was my IEEE membership that trigged multiple interviews and job offers during my job hunt. I'd like to think that my experiences outside of my IEEE membership were what qualified me.

Now that I'm done school, the ONLY communication I get from the IEEE is constant, never-ending insurance offers in the mail. Every 2-3 months, I have another group insurance offer - no joke. I have one on my desk right now. Oh, and my dues will now be $160/year and I don't get the free software perk because I'm not a student member. Is this what an IEEE professional membership is all about?

(Creative Commons image by Clay Larsen on Flickr)

When I was doing some research for this post I found this video where people were interviewed about member benefits of the IEEE. They mentioned benefits like leadership opportunities, social activities, reading articles online, going to conferences, hands-on experience, and connecting with colleagues. That's great, but these are all things I can do without this membership. When asked, "why is your IEEE membership important," one interviewee responds with, "Well, I can't envision not being in the IEEE." You haven't sold me.

I'm getting my point in a convoluted way. My revelation was similar to the one in my last post about Facebook: If I don't need it and it doesn't add value to my life, why put up with it?

A lot of people find value in the IEEE, and I believe they're an important global organization. But I think they've failed to maintain communication with the "little member" - the upcoming or recent graduate who wasn't as involved with local student IEEE events and really can't see the bigger picture. I've received a dozen insurance offers, and zero newletters or updates about the IEEE otherwise (though I do receive a magazine, Spectrum, that's really interesting).

By pelleting me with insurance offers, the IEEE has cast itself as a robo-caller; a spammer; an insurance salesman. Organizations can't build trust like this. There is a disconnect between the trustworthiness of the IEEE Student Branch (who organize events and provide members with tangible benefits) and the massive IEEE organizational machine that seemingly just wants to sell me insurance.

The IEEE haven't demonstrated their value to me, and that's why I won't be renewing my membership once it expires.

(full hypocrisy disclosure: I am going to the IEEE Graduates of the Last Decade BBQ in July - organized by former IEEE Student Branch members)