Home > Uncategorized > The world hates certifications

The world hates certifications

You’re in IT and you want to increase your value. You ask your friends “What can I do to make more money…. er, um, I mean become more valuable to the, um, shareholders?

A few years back you’d be told to get certified. In the Java world, this typically starts with the SCJP exam.

But times have changed. Folks don’t look at certifications like they used to. The romance is gone and the certs have lost their former sparkle.

Even Certification Magazine, best known for its salary survey, threw in the towel went “green” by shutting down production of the paper magazine to go totally web-based this July.

How did certifications fall from grace?

For starters: Open Source. It used to be that certifications were the obvious choice for increasing your value because there wasn’t much else out there. Now, participating on an open source project is among the best ways to make your résumé stand out. You can make the same argument for blogs, which are a great way to portfolio what you already know. Certs are soooo out of fashion. We’re all about Value 2.0.

Some have become jaded by horror stories of some hack that had a dozen certifications but was a ninny-pooper (NNPP) to the project.

Time to put my cynical hat on and question your intentions. Why do you want to be more valuable?

You want to make more money. Right? If that’s all there is to it we can stop right now – certifications probably aren’t right for you. What you need is a get rich quick scheme.

OK, if there’s more to your intentions than dreams of sipping margaritas on your own private island, let’s continue.

My hope is that you simply enjoy becoming better at your craft. Studying for a certification will make you better. Look out! Here come my greatest detractors saying:

But you don’t learn to program by memorizing APIs, you learn by doing it!”

I can empathize with this. If you are about to have a complicated brain surgery (yes, your brain) would you rather have a surgeon who has performed the same operation 100 times or some dude that memorized a medical encyclopedia? If you have half a brain, you’ll pick the surgeon with experience. If you picked the other guy, you probably don’t have much to lose anyway.

You just had to evaluate two different kinds of knowledge: how-to vs factual.

That’s not totally true. Despite my efforts, this wasn’t a purely how-to vs factual question from your perspective. Think about it. You carried an assumption that the surgeon with how-to knowledge also had an equal amount of factual knowledge but that the encyclopedia memorizer probably hadn’t so much as touched a scalpel. I’m not pointing fingers, these are intelligent assumptions you made.

You don’t have to be a great surgeon to memorize a book and you don’t have to be great programmer to get certified. 

BUT – factual knowledge will help you develop your how-to knowledge faster and better. Having factual knowledge of an Intercepting Filter (SCWCD exam) will help you to identify a great potential solution for all the unmaintainable boilerplate code you’ve been putting in your servlets. Having factual knowledge of classpath declarations at the command level (SCJP exam) will help you to troubleshoot a missed dependency even if you’re using an IDE.

Your how-to knowledge scaffolds off of your factual knowledge, just as your factual knowledge builds alongside your how-to knowledge. Learning the facts first is about knowing what tools are available, learning from other’s mistakes, and standing on the shoulders of giants.

Get certified. The factual knowledge will help you to make better decisions as you build on your experience. When you do get certified, be humble and realize there’s still a lot to learn on the how-to side. You don’t want to become a ninny-pooper!

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  1. omi
    September 4, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    LOL, I have understood what you mean?
    I will go in the road what you tried to tell us. :)

  2. September 8, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Certifications have there place, but nowadays in the enterprise Java world, strong knowledge of just Java and the out of the box enterprise stuff isn’t enough. Many skill sets in demand can’t be certified, like Groovy, Scala, your favorite framework (Hibernate, Spring, Wicket, etc.).

    If we had a respected certification source for like Sun or IBM behind some of these, perhaps certifications would be a little more popular still. For now, they only way to get “street cred” with these is to use them on a project, for your day job or in an open source project. I think this is part of the reason certs aren’t as popular right now.

    Btw, I just pulled examples, sure there’s plenty of other tools & technologies I didn’t mention, some more widely adopted than others. I don’t mean to offend anyone by leaving out their favorite. ( JRuby for example ;-) )

  3. marcpeabody
    September 8, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Funny you should mention Spring. Spring does have a certification… and the program requires evidence of actual experience: http://www.springsource.com/certification

  4. September 8, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    That’s really cool, I didn’t know about that.

    And, I think requiring experience, similar to how the PMP certification does for Project Managers, helps give employers confidence that they not only memorized the encyclopedia, but performed the operation a few times.

    Not to detract to much from the Spring cert, I think it’s a step in the right direction. But, one thing I noticed is if you can’t provide evidence of actual experience, they allow you to buy your way out of it by taking their 4 Day CoreSpring class at a cost $2,490.

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