Software Certifications

At the APLN Chicago meeting on Thurs, April 21, 2010 we had a good discussion on Certification and Certificates. The discussion focused on the reasons for and against certification as follows:

Reasons for Certification:

1)      As guide to learn a domain

2)      To get past hiring filters

3)      To demonstration that the individual has learned a domain

4)      To socialize with peers w/similar knowledge, challenges and interests

Reasons against Certifications:

1)      Doesn’t show true capability – especially when Certification occurs after a 2 day class without a test (or even 1 week class with a test – I’m thinking of PMI here);

2)      Certification turns skills, knowledge, experience and knowledge work in general into a commodity

Some of my thoughts on the issue that were not discussed at the APLN meeting:

I believe that Certification has turned knowledge work into a commodity without adequate proof that it can be turned into a commodity.  The use of Certifications for positions like Project Manager, Tester, Business Analyst and Scrum Master has made the life of a hiring official easier, but I doubt that it has improved the quality of the workers hired.

Certification is not the way to solve the problem, especially when Certification means attending a 2-day class (or even attending a 1-week class and test).  Pretending that a Certification will fix the personnel selection problem is foolish and dangerous.

Where’s the Beef?

I would like to see a hiring official show me defensible personnel selection data that shows that Certifications has improved the quality of the work force hired.

In fact, I believe that Certification in the Computer Industry has led to the outsourcing of many US jobs to cheap foreign labor without adequate demonstration that the foreign labor can in fact deliver the same results.

Assessing Talent is difficult.  It is difficult in the software development area and it is difficult in sports teams as well, as most fans of Chicago area teams know.

Interview based personnel selection systems (which most organizations use) have low validity with correlation coefficients between 0.20 and 0.30. This means that the interview based selection systems account for between 4% and 9% of the variability between interview ratings and job success.  Not a number you would want to “bet the farm on”!

Improved interviewing skills, job simulations and greater focus on grooming internal employees will provide some improvement, but current personnel selection techniques are just not very effective.

It takes many years of continued demonstration of good skills, knowledge and experience in real life situations to become a licensed Medical Doctor.  If we want to formally assess talent, than we should State License Software Engineers in a way similar to the Medical Profession!


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