I don’t care about your certificates

I’m not exactly sure when it started, but suddenly everyone was going to get certified, and have papers claiming their skill level. Me? I couldn’t care one bit.

When I walk into an office, and the desks are filled with placks and other assorted awards (with an uncanny similarity to the ones you usually give kids at the age of ten when performing well in a local soccer tournament), and their wallpapers pretty much only consist of diplomas and certificates, I get wary.

To me, that doesn’t give the feeling of competence; it gives me vibes of fear of being insufficient, and having the need to constantly prove themselves and motivate their development presence.

Let me tell you what I think: I don’t care about your certificates. I’ve worked with a lot of different people in the IT/Web business during the last 8-9 years, both in Sweden and on an international level, and the most talented and skilled people have been the ones without certificates. Some self-taught, some just spending more time at actually getting good in practice at what they do, instead of begging for a acknowledgement for their theoretical knowledge from the company/-ies producing the technology they depend on (wonder where those companies’ interest lies in, certifying developers…).

What I care about is how you perform in real life. Not at a school-bench, but in a project with tight deadlines, small budget, pressure from the client. How do you actually act when the shit hits the fan? When you’ve worked a 12-hour days just to find out something you did was in vain/needs to be re-done/will be postponed until further notice. What I want to know is: can you deliver?

Don’t get me wrong, I know super-talented people can also have a number of certificates, but they’re very seldom good because of that, it’s just an extra feather in their hat. I can understand that certificates might be a good selling argument to convince a customer that a certain level of knowledge has been reached, and that for developers it might look good in their resumes.

So, I’m not by any means saying that you should be ashamed of your certificates, but also, don’t expect them to open every door, deliver miracles and solve your tasks. A plack that looks like something you would get the next time you fill up 5 gallons of petrol at the local gas stations won’t get you proper respect.

However, I can’t help to ponder on the fact that the people with most certificates are usually the developers in consultant companies who can’t any assignment. They end up “on the sidelines”, and have a couple of months slack time. And that’s fine, I respect them for doing something constructive with that period, but I’m far more interested in those who, during that time, build a community or put together a code library. The ones who constantly challenge themselves with tasks that don’t have to be assigned to them.

Personally, if it’s up to me, I’d rather be out in the field, in the heat. Delivering new web sites, and getting better at practical work every day.

19 Comments

  • Here, HERE !!

    I've felt everything you talk about and I really think like you do: Get your hands dirty, it's fun, keeps you on the edge and just makes you feel in touch with the technology !!

    Cheers,

    Gustavo Carreno

  • Word! πŸ™‚ I have the exact same experience as you, that the most talented people I have met has been thous without certificates. I have a few certificates myself but that is just because my employer expect me to get them, and nothing I am proud of, or something that I think makes me a better developer, or something that I flash with in my CV. I often participate as an interviewer in employment interviews, and to be honest I always am a bit suspicious about people who bring out their certificates as something very important and good πŸ˜‰ Unfortunately most of our customers still think that certificates is something very good though, so until they realize that certificates aren't any guarantee at all I guess we still have to get thous certificates just to appease our customers πŸ˜‰

  • In theory, I agree with you. I'm not certified in anything, and still, I can arguably do several things as good or better as people that are.

    I don't think at all that certificates and awards proove a lot, or are necessary, but, they might be a handy tool for a couple of things.

    One the web industry, it is easy to see someone's portfolio. It's online. You can appreciate it right away.

    Now, what if your work envolves NDAs that keep all your work in secrecy like mine does. What can you show to your possible future employer about your work?

    If you CV says: "I worked for the company X and I am Java certified" that's better that saying. "I know a good amount of Java".

    You may not be lying, and the guys at the company may not doubt it, but is "a good amount" the same to you and to them? You can build paremeters with certificates.

    I know, I know, I'm being the devil's advocate… I'm not fond of certificates myself, but I don't believe they are completely useless.

  • I believe that when you work as a web-developer, there are a few things that tell how good you are:

    – Experience / Portfolio

    – a list of technologies you master

    – be good looking πŸ˜‰

  • I agree with you as well and haven't got any certificates myself, I am self-taught.

    But when you work for the Government a certificate and/or degree is what decides your salary.

    At least when you work in the academic world.

    To me it sux but then, as I said above, I don't have a degree or certificate so I get the short end of the straw. :/

  • Jules says:

    In many other fields, such as accounting, certification is beneficial and many jobs require it. It doesn't necessarily mean that the certificate holder is good but that can be determined from the interview or references (or within the probationary period).

    Some employers don't know squat about web design and these people are looking for certificates.

    I believe certificates could be beneficial to the web community as long as there was a body that managed the training, testing and was accountable, like other certification bodies.

  • In the begining of my blog, I started to post some material about certification, trying to share my experiences while taking the certification path.

    This objective is postponed now. Why? Because is painfully boring to study for a certification, and this isn´t the path to be a better programmer, never was, I already knew this. I agree with Peter Novig, get our hands dirty is the best path. BUT how to prove our skills for a new contractor/employer? There are THE OTHERS, people who compete with you in the market and lived their lives acumulating certificates. How to defend ourselves against THE OTHERS? I don´t have the answer.

    We are human beings, and specialization is for ants and machines. Certification is a specialization. It´s already difficult to post new interesting material because I like to cook, to watch good movies, to read good books, to practice Kung-Fu, to learn new and old languages like Lisp, Smalltalk, Ruby…

    Sometimes I feel the need to delete my old posts, maybe because they don´t reflect my opinion today, but like a tattoo, a post is a mark showing what we are/was in a specific point in time. And they will stay where they are.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Good feedback!

    I'm not completely against certificates, per se, but to me they're way too focused on theoretical issues, and they also lack credibility since most of the time they're issued by the same company who wants as many developers as possible certified, so they can sell more of their product.

    I think the alternative to certificates, how to prove yourself to customers, is what Georges touch on above (especially the good looks part ;-)):

    – Experience examples.

    – References (especially important if you indeed do classified work; someone can still vouch for your skills).

    Naturally you can, if necessary, complement these with certificates, but my sincere advice is not to rely too heavily on solely papers and diplomas.

    The tough part, as Mats mention, is the academic world. They have a long history of being to stiff and inflexible, but my only hope is that they will adapt and get a better connection with the real world, in time.

    Fabio,

    I like having old posts around, writings that might totally contradict one's current beliefs. It shows that you have progressed and developed, and that you're humble enough to take in information and evolve with it.

    If you never grow, you'll just be a stubborn old fart that people will gradually listen less and less to.

  • Georges Jentgen slightly got his last point wrong. If your a female, you get more of a chance and if your good looking, well the doors open for you.

    but on topic, I agree with you Robert. In my class, I was the average student am now one of the very few that got a job straight away and got clients for myself. They got better marks etc but it did not mean swat….

  • Adeline says:

    I've been teaching myself xhtml and css for the past year and more, mostly experimenting with both design and coding. And I've been taking it more seriously so I decided to attend night school (part time as I have a full time job in admin) in IT website design this year. It has shown me alot of little things that I have missed out that I couldn't have known myself but now I'm better off.

    I know there are very talented people out there who don't need a certification but I think there should be some standards.

    As well, in most job ads for internet/website design/development most employers also look for people with tertiary or equivalent qualifications. Which means that some sort of formal training means you are serious about what you do and that's the step i'm willing to take to turn my hobby into a profession.

  • Robert, your reply made me remember of this post I read recently.

    The subject is nothing related with certification, but trust and authority seem to work more or less the same for both subjects.

  • Steven Clark says:

    Robert, I'm not sure I entirely agree. Many certified and university graduated people are also self-taught in various areas as well. Also, many incompetent self-taught people are creating the billions of garbage web pages out there as well along with incompetent certified people. I do agree about hiring on ability over qualification though in this industry at this time.

    Although I can't see how doing a degree in Software Engineering will do anyone harm in any development environment. But its fine to not bother if you don't need it, after all its about earning a living. There are various uses for qualifications and they aren't necessary for every career. Making web sites is only one small part of the IT industry and software development.

    Anyway interesting article, its always good to see this issue revitalised so at least people make considered opinions. Similarly to your argument there are also a lot of smart people out there afraid to get formal qualifications. Neither is better but each have their place in context (its always dangerous to generalise). I've generally gone down both paths – I have certification and I'm a 3rd year Bachelor of Computing student but I also self-taught web development and adopted web standards practices about 4 years ago when it was almost unpopular to mention them!

    I just had to say something (compulsive?) as there seemed only self-taught people commenting. Cheers.

  • Jordi says:

    <blockquote cite="Adeline">Which means that some sort of formal training means you are serious about what you do…

    Then again, on the other hand, I've seen many people taking formal training because “it's the thing to doâ€Â

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks for writing, and Guilherme, thanks for the link.

    I should clarify a little: I'm not against certificates, I'm against the notion that it is the only thing that tells you how good a person is, and that people believe it's the sole approach to get a job/assignment.

    Also, there's a vast difference between proper education and certificates issued by the same companies selling the product. Education is naturally a good thing in itself, and a great complement to practical experience.

  • My problem with many (not all) people with certificates or degrees is that often they don't know how to practically apply their knowledge. Often they forget the KISS principle of computer programming. They over complicate every project or don't know how people in the "real world" will use their application/web page.

    Also, it's easy to take classes and get certified but for me if I don't apply the knowledge right away, it gets lost. For instance I have taken C# .NET classes but have only once been able to use that knowledge. I have a certificate, but I would not consider myself an expert. I have never taken a web development class but I consider myself an expert and even teach at forums. I have a certificate that says I'm an expert in C# with no practical experience and no web development certificate but lots of experience.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Tanny,

    Absolutely. And that's exactly why a certificate isn't sufficient, unless it's connected with some real-world experience of the same area.

  • Woofster says:

    This is goofy. There are three comments which refer to degrees — presumably in an attempt to lump them with "certificates" — and which imply that they have little bearing on "real-world" practical chops.

    Vint Cerf. Roy Fielding. Don Knuth. Bill Joy. Are they good because of their degrees? No. Would they have been as well-known without the education and training which went into those degrees? Probably not, folks.

    The post implies that certificates have little bearing on real-world applicable skills, but that's impossible to determine, really. Everything we do is preparation for everything else we do. You do have to have some skill and knowledge to get some certifications, and while the skill required by some certs doesn't mean that you'll have great technical prowess, it does mean that you have some technical ability, a certain level, and that's all they're supposed to mean. I don't think that there's anything whatsoever which can be broadly generalized about certificate-holding professionals and their levels of talent.

    I've worked with people with certs and people without. I've worked with certified pros who were freaking brilliant. I've worked with guys who had no certs who were also freaking idiots. I wouldn't say that "the best" people, generally, belonged to any particular camp. For myself, I have no certs. I have a degree. I wouldn't trade my education for anything, regardless of what anyone has to say about education vs. "the real world".

    All a cert is supposed to do is give a potential employer a benchmark about your knowledge level. That's it. It doesn't guarantee anything after that and, to me, the flaw of this post is in implying that a cert is supposed to mean something extra, at least to the poster. But the flaw, then, is not with certs, but with the poster's perception of what they mean.

  • Tarellel says:

    I completely agree with you, I do have a few certifications but that was due to having to pass the tests in order to pass some of my college classes. But to me, having a certification is more like comparing the book smart certified IT consultant, with the street smart and uncertified IT consultant. Generally the street smart and hands on coordinated consultants/developers/etc. produce the highest quality content.

    One thing good that a certification does show, is that someone is willing to put a hefty load of dedication and time time into learning a new skill in order to improve themselves. This may not always be true about all individuals, but anyone who does try, is at least worthy of a look.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Woofster,

    The problem with certificates, as stated in the post and in comments below, it's not their existance. The problem with the market (no, not just my opinions) is that there exists some belief that everyone with certificates are great in practice, and those without can't deliver at all.

    That's what I'm arguing against.

    Tarellel,

    <blockquote cite="http://www.robertnyman.com/2007/05/24/i-dont-care-about-your-certificates/#comment-63618"&gt;

    One thing good that a certification does show, is that someone is willing to put a hefty load of dedication and time time into learning a new skill in order to improve themselves.

    Absolutely, I agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *