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Agile 2016: Interview with ICAgile on Certification, Growth and Expert Tracks

| Posted by Shane Hastie Follow 18 Followers on Sep 04, 2016. Estimated reading time: 10 minutes |

ICAgile were sponsors at the recent Agile 2016 conference.  They announced a number of milestones at the event – more Certified Experts qualified, some additional certification pathways, substantive growth in the number of training organizations offering accredited classes and the number of certified class participants.

Ahmed Sidky, President of ICAgile, and Shannon Ewan, Managing Director of ICAgile, spoke to InfoQ about growth and takeup of the certifications, new certification pathways and why the agile mindset is more important than any set of practices or techniques.

InfoQ:  Welcome Ahmed and Shannon, thanks for talking to us today.  What are some of the highlights for ICAgile in the last year?

Shannon Ewan: ICAgile is going very well. We hit an important milestone recently with 30,000 certified graduates. We continue to see a year-over-year growth in the 60% range. We’ve expanded our offerings into a number of new areas this year.

InfoQ: I know that one of those new areas is DevOps. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?

Shannon Ewan: The DevOps rollout coincided with our track development process becoming a bit more community-driven, really listening to what are our partners, our Member Corporate Organizations and our Member Training Organizations, need - what do their customers need and what do they need in terms of learning? The demand for DevOps was pretty substantial in terms of communities really wanting to have courses out there and wanting to have something to base them against.

So we’ve taken an approach with this track that is going to become typical for us: we develop the initial certificate, initial set of learning objectives and run that as a pilot, see how it goes, respond to the feedback, continue to tweak the learning objectives at the same time while we’re working with our community to see what they want next along the track.

We’re still committed to the competence-building path. Taking a two to three-day course on DevOps doesn’t mean that you’re an expert; you do have the foundation for those interested in doing a DevOps transition. And then we look to get more technical and more hands-on as we progress down the track in moving towards expertise.

The bar that we’re setting for the ICAgile Certified Expert in DevOps is: would this be somebody you would bring in to do a DevOps implementation? Is it somebody you would trust to do this correctly?  A competent, experienced professional.

InfoQ: If somebody is looking at the variety of certification options available, why should they look at ICAgile as an option?

Ahmed Sidky:  From day one, we have built an organization that believes in a certain concept, and we’re inviting those that believe in that same concept to go on this path. That concept, number one, is that Agile is not about a methodology or a process or a set of tools or a set of practices, but it’s about a shifted mindset that enables people to correctly use all these other things; processes, methodologies and so forth, or create their own.  We are based on methodology-agnostic values, principles, a mindset base for Agile. So that’s I think something quite unique from the other certifications in the industry that are based on either methodology, scaling framework, et cetera. That’s the first thing.

And then number two is we really aspire -- again, going back to our target audience and who do we want to attract. So to your question about why should everyone pick us? No, not everyone, but those who want a journey of knowledge.  Those who want to deepen their knowledge in their craft, whether it’s engineering, DevOps, coaching, delivery, whatever it is. That’s why we keep building these tracks and launching them because we want to serve the audience that wants that competence-building journey. And along that journey, we have these certifications as motivational milestones, accomplishments, releases, whatever language you want to use. But these are sort of steps along the way.

But the ultimate value, the ultimate purpose is really building competence and being able to do what we need to do in organizations.

The third thing that I think is unique is that comprehensive roadmap, which provides people with a purpose. They’re trying to make organizations more responsive to the changes of whatever industry they’re in. That doesn’t mean that a certain role needs to be responsive and the rest can stay as is. What that really means is the whole organization needs to embark on this common journey of learning what agility really means for themselves and for their craft. So with that, that’s part of why we have all these different tracks.

We’re up to ten tracks now. Really covering everywhere from someone who’s never touched code, all the way to engineering, testing, DevOps, delivery management, value management, coaching,  enterprise coaching, and business agility. The wide range is there. And again, it’s not just the wide range for the sake of it. It’s to help, ultimately, an organization sustain agility through developing its people, not just changing structure and processes. So those are the three elements that come to my mind, Shannon?

Shannon Ewan: Just to add on with the initial point about methodology, you’ll see that there are a lot of process and framework-based certifications out there. And I think that’s valid, although we see that as the means to the end and we really want to look at being Agile, not doing Agile. One of our most recent ICAgile certified experts in Agile coaching, actually, a gentleman from Brisbane, put it really interestingly. He said, “If you train in a process or framework, you end up with a bunch of people who are really knowledgeable in that process or framework but you’re still trying to ultimately build something.”

You still have a product, right? So you only need so many people who are necessarily a process expert who may be are coaches, potentially. But then you need somebody who is an expert at engineering in an Agile environment, being Agile while engineering, being Agile while testing, being Agile while leading. So we believe that this is more of a sustainable path, so to speak.

InfoQ: Ahmed, you've made the point, Agile is a mindset. To a lot of our audience, this is going to sound like fluff.  What do you mean by a mindset?

Ahmed Sidky: What is a mindset? A mindset is, it’s a way of thinking, a set of beliefs, values, principles. When we say that Agile is a mindset, what we’re really saying is Agile and agility is a way that you approach “fill in the blanks.”  So when we say Agile leadership, Agile engineering, it’s a way that you approach writing code, it’s a way that you approach testing, it’s a way that you approach coaching. And what is this mindset about? I think that’s really to make sure that it’s not fluff. What is the depth of this mindset? This mindset is about a shift from trying to be right to learning how to learn.

Not a lot of people are actually comfortable learning on the job. Meaning, we’re not comfortable with failure. We’re not comfortable with people knowing that we don’t know. So what we try to do is actually map problems that we have in our day-to-day work life to other experiences that we have done in the past, or known solutions that we actually can execute. Why? Because if I can do that mapping correctly, guess what? I’ll succeed. I reduce the risk of me failing in front of my peers, colleagues, bosses.

An Agile mindset says, “No, it’s not about trying to fix things to a known state so that I can execute from it. It’s about being genuinely open to failing fast and learning.” So that’s a very different stance as a developer, as a coach, as a manager when I say, “I don’t know. Let’s learn together.” “So how are we going to learn together?” “Let’s do a quick experiment.” But for this Agile mindset to manifest, if that quick experiment fails, they themselves, first and foremost, have to be okay with that failure and not see it as a failure and see it as, “Well, I just learned something, let me move on to the next thing.” But so many people have been raised in corporations where that mindset is not present. The mindset that is present is get it right the first time.

InfoQ: “Failure is not an option”.

Ahmed Sidky: Failure is not an option, right? All these rhetorics that we’ve been exposed to, that’s the mindset we’re shifting, because if I’m going to write automated test, if I’m going to do TDD, if I’m going to do DevOps, guess what, you actually want personally, first and foremost, to be comfortable with even that test failing at the beginning so that you can rewrite. It’s starting from the smallest thing all the way up to the executive to be okay with that notion of learning. That’s the Agile mindset. It’s a mindset that is about learning, flexible enough so that as certain constraints and barriers and situations come its way, it doesn’t stop and say, “Well, this is the only way I know how to do it.” It innovates. And for it to innovate, you have to be comfortable with failure.

I hope that’s not fluff.

InfoQ: That doesn’t sound much like fluff. Shannon, why would we bother to have a certification in DevOps? Surely we just do it.

Shannon Ewan: Right. That conversation, actually, came up. Debate is probably a little bit too strong of a word but it was definitely a topic of discussion amongst those who are practitioners and experts who helped to craft the curriculum. There is a sensitivity in the community, in the DevOps community understandably because of some things that have happened in the Agile world around a premature distinction of expertise or of mastery in something.

We believe it’s not about the certification, it’s about the learning and there’s enough interest in this particular track that people want to learn more about it, hear from people who are really on the ball or thought leaders in the field. We look at this and what we say  about a lot of our tracks is that we look at the knowledge-based certifications as the motivational tokens along the way. You’ve got this, that’s great. You took the class, you’re out there practicing, let’s keep that journey to expertise going.

So it’s really more about a standard and starting a conversation and getting feedback and developing the right expertise and the right curriculum around it. And certification is a shout-out to people who are putting in the time to really learn and practice.

InfoQ: What is happening with the take up of the ICAgile Expert level of certification?

Shannon Ewan: I think one of the things that we’ve seen that’s been fantastic this year is substantial growth, I believe, has been about a 300% growth in the number of ICAgile certified experts in Agile coaching that we have. That’s a tribute to our track founders and their commitment to bettering the profession, as well as people really understanding that Agile coaching is not about being the smartest one in the room or being the most knowledgeable about Agile. It’s really about creating the environment for people to succeed both on a process side as well on the subject matter side.

So I think that’s been great, and we’re super excited about the community that we’re building around that. And we’ve seen some new experts in different parts of the world that we didn’t have before. So I think that’s something that we’ll continue to celebrate this year.

InfoQ: What about growth in general?

Shannon Ewan: Thirty thousand certified. I believe that we’re at pace of about 60% over last year in terms of what we’re tracking so far and I believe we’ve doubled (or possibly tripled) our corporate program this year and we do continue to steadily add member training organizations all over the world as well.

InfoQ: Certainly, walking around the conference sponsorship hall, there’s lots of banners saying ICAgile certified training provider.

Shannon Ewan: Yes and we are happy to have them.

Ahmed Sidky: Yes, indeed.

About the Interviewees

Ahmed Sidky is President of ICAgile

 

 

 

Shannon Ewan is Managing Director of ICAgile

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