The other day I had hot discussion about the value of certificates. We went through certificates for developers mainly but the issue is general: how much value certificates bear from the company’s perspective?
The point where the whole discussion started was when we started analyzing what the most objective way to appraise engineers is. Typically organizations have some appraisal system in place – I don’t want to go deep into it as that’s the subject for another story. Anyway every such system is subjective as it bases on one person judging another. And the Holy Grail of many managers is to make appraisal system more objective.
That’s where certification kicks in. Certificate is objective. One either passes an exam or not. It’s not her manager who says “she knows Topaz on Tires at 8 out of 10… I guess.” There are some standard criteria which say whether it is 89% or 23% or whatever.
Then certification process is run by some external entity which isn’t biased so certificate is a kind of independent evaluation. Guys from certificating entity don’t really care if a specific individual passed the exam or not, at least as long as they have steady flow of incoming candidates to be charged for certification process.
Where’s the problem then?
It seems certification evaluates people independently and is objective. Unfortunately it’s also pretty much useless.
The problem I have with vast majority of certification programs is that the only thing people are taught while preparing to earn the certificate is how to pass the exam. They don’t learn how to be a better programmer or a better project manager or how to deal with a specific technology. They basically learn what question schemas and standard answers are.
You get what you measure. If you measure how many certificates people have you will get “many” as the result. Would that mean that you’d improve skills of your teams? No, not really. So my question is: which problem are you solving this way? Except of course having a huge pile of certificates.
And by the way the real issue of subjective appraisal system is not system’s subjectivity but lack of trust between senior management and appraisers. “I don’t trust your evaluations so I’ll cross-check them with some certificate.” Well, I’d prefer to work on building trust relationship instead. But maybe it’s just me…