The value of certifications

Reading Davy Brion’s post on Does Certification Have Any Value?, he provides a common answer:

Someone asked which certificate would be the better choice on Twitter today: Microsoft Certified Professional or Certified Scrum Master. My answer was very simple: neither because they’re both utterly worthless.

That’s a very common answer to those looking at the point of view from those taking the exams as a means of proving they’ve learned something. In that light, things like Certified Scrum Master and Microsoft Certified Professional are useless. They don’t provide any indication whatsoever that the person holding the certification is able to actually apply those skills in the real world.

In fact, if someone comes to me using certification as a substitute for examples of experience, it pretty much guarantees that experience will be lacking but bravado will be abundant.

So if you’re wanting to use certifications as a means of learning – don’t, it’s a waste of time. If you’re wanting to use certifications as a means of gaining credibility – you can, but be aware that those that give you credibility because of a certification are likely clueless.

So do certifications hold no value?

No, there is value in some contexts. Clueless or not, sometimes the illusion of credibility from a certification is better than the alternative for some folks. For example, we often meet clients thinking they need Agile advice, but once we start talking to them, it becomes clear that we can help them in other ways.

However, a certification might be a foot-in-the-door to start a conversation that we would otherwise be eliminated. It’s not being disingenuous – it’s recognizing that we have to understand biases and work with them rather than pretend/hope they don’t exist.

Certifications, in some organizations, have currency beyond the illusion of expertise. This could be in the form of currency for promotions, or special deals with vendors (like the Microsoft Partner program was the last time I was involved with it).

Having a certification gets you points that puts you in “Gold” status that gets lower licensing fees. Basically, certification is a coupon for lower prices. It’s a sacrifice employees make for the good of the whole.

Otherwise, yes, don’t waste your time or money. Don’t worry about the worth of the certification, decide if the process of getting certified holds any value.

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