Are Technology Certification Programs Useful?

I’m not a big fan of technology certification programs as an indicator of software craftsmanship because they aren’t as useful or effective as real-world experience. Mastering a course outline doesn’t contribute much to the daily practice of software engineering.

These programs are popular because they’re easy for companies to purchase and schedule, look good on your résumé or the yearly report to investors, and fit everyone in nice boxes. “I’m .NET certified, so you know what I know.” Side note: at least it’s a third-party achievement and not as egregious as self-assigning expert, guru, or ninja status.

Unfortunately, a one-time classroom session can only start you in the right direction. Mastering the knowledge of one platform or technology isn’t enough. You still need goals, feedback, and a deliberate approach to succeed.

You need context, too: a team, a project, a deadline. Clients and customers asking for something specific. The training you receive won’t be the most important part of your professional development. That’ll come instead from doing. Making things!

I came across the perfect metaphor for how I feel about certifications in reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, something called “sheep dipping” (p. 147-149). Farmers dunk an animal in the protective coating to ward off disease, but it wears off in a year, at which time it needs another dip. It’s intrusive, alien, toxic, and temporary.

Pragmatic Thinking author Andy Hunt describes why these programs aren’t as effective as experience.

Mastering knowledge alone, without experience, isn’t effective. A random approach, without goals and feedback, tends to give random results.

The model you build in your mind, the questions you ask to build that model, and your experiences and practices you’ve built along the way are far more relevant to your performance.

Certification programs are exactly like being dipped into a technological pool, where learning is done to you rather than you doing it. You’ll need to come back because it won’t stick for long.

Published by

Lance Willett

My name is Lance, I am a blogger, product manager, software developer, and business executive creating high-quality, engaging, and customer-centered experiences for people online. México-born.

2 thoughts on “Are Technology Certification Programs Useful?”

  1. I don’t love technology certifications. They do suggest a baseline level of knowledge, but they say little about whether that person can use that knowledge well. However, when I once worked on a government contract, the government was head over heels in love with certifications. They would hardly let us bring someone on board who wasn’t certified in the thing we were hiring them to do. (When you’re spending the US government’s money, they have an unusual amount of say in how you do that.) It ensured that the people we hired were at least mediocre. It also had the unwanted effect of blocking us from hiring many brilliant but uncertified people. It had the tendency to create a mediocre workforce.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Jim.

      It also had the unwanted effect of blocking us from hiring many brilliant but uncertified people.

      Wow, I hadn’t even considered this possibility, but it is probably quite common in public and enterprise sectors.


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