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Reactions to the First Certified Scrum Developer Course

| by Vikas Hazrati on May 25, 2010. Estimated reading time: 4 minutes |

Dave Nicolette shared his candid feedback about the first official Certified Scrum Developer course, presented on the Lean Dog boat (Cleveland, Ohio) last week by Ron Jeffries and Chet Hendrickson. Though, he mentioned the learnings and advantages of attending the course but his thoughts did manage to re-ignite the debate about the significance of CSD.

According to Dave, CSD is the first step for software professionals who want to make a personal commitment towards software craftsmanship. The C word would help managers send people to attend these courses and certified developers would be held at a higher professional standard than others. However, Dave was quick to point out the flip side too

When people treat "certification" as a substitute for skills, then it can become a negative thing. There is always a risk that recruiters and hiring managers will come to depend on a given credential to the extent they neglect to verify what they see on candidates' résumés and what they hear in interviews. Those people will dismiss candidates who do not hold the credential.

The first course had its fair set of failures in terms of meeting customer obligations. According to Dave after day one, out of the two teams, first team committed 5 stories and delivered one and the other committed 3 stories and delivered none. As expected, the instructors were not impressed.

Donning their instructor hats, Chet and Ron mentioned that in past presentations of their Agile Developer Skills course (on which the CSD course is based), they haven't seen a worse result; an outcome that truly surprised them, given the composition of this class. It surprised the rest of us, too.

The results were ironic, given that experts were doing the certification. Dave mentioned,

The pendulum had swung to the extreme in both directions in the course of three days. At first, excessive focus on agile technique had allowed stories to remain incomplete. On day three, excessive focus on pushing stories to the "done" column had allowed code quality to suffer. This, from 11 people who already understood the importance of customer collaboration, rapid feedback, incremental delivery, simple design, test-driven development, frequent check-in, continuous integration, and pair programming...11 people who do all these things for a living, and teach others to do them.

The retrospective that Dave and George Dinwiddie did, yielded the following main points

  • Agile development is hard. If basic principles are skipped then even experts get easily side tracked
  • Insufficient interaction with the product owner
  • Technical set-up of developer workstations was problematic, as it always seems to be in hands-on classes and workshops
  • The instructors did not provide much guidance about expectations; they may have assumed that with a group of advanced participants
  • Participants bent over backward to avoid being opinionated, everyone backed off a bit and let others take a lead in defining the solution
  • Everyone's goals for the class were not the same

Most of the retrospective points could be tracked back to inefficient communication.

Tobias Mayer reacted strongly to the process of getting a CSD certificate. He questioned on how the team could get a certificate given that the instructors had a critical opinion about team performance.

Help me to understand how "sitting through" this class for three days to get a CSD is better than "sitting through" a CSM for two days. Neither course seems to have any expectation beyond active participation. Is that all that is required? If so, why knock CSM?


What qualified each of you to get the certificate, beyond showing up and taking part. Could I have got it if I had done that? I've hardly written a line of code for five years. I would likely have been a very dysfunctional team member. What is the pass criteria?

Dave responded that though some of the points that Tobias mentioned were true, however, the current set of students should not be considered a benchmark sample as the goals for attending the course were different. In the real life, this would not be the case with developers.

Different people had different goals for taking the class. Most didn't think of themselves as "students," exactly, and didn't approach the whole experience in that spirit, although we probably should have. This interfered with the putative goal of the "class teams" to deliver the user stories that were presented.

Tobias added that there is a potential problem in such courses,

Your description here shows the problems inherent in such a course: different agendas and different levels of technical expertize. What is really being taught/tested for on this course? If it is the non-technical stuff, maybe we don't need machines at all. If it is technical then it is outside the Scrum domain. If it is both... well, I wonder if that is wise on a three day course.

Agreeing with Tobias, André Dhondt suggested that as a community we seriously need to look at the value of a certification. He mentioned that some people of the community are trying to do that with the Agile Skills Project.

Hence, though there were some valuable learnings coming back from the first CSD course, however it seemed that the value and the nature of the CSD certification still leaves more questions to be answered.

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Um really ... by Ron Jeffries

The whole point of the class isn't to succeed to ship features to the product owner. It would be easy to set up a class to do that.

The point of the class is to provide an experience that shows students how important the Agile Developer Skills are.

Failing to deliver in class is a big part of that learning.

One wonders whether a decent journalist might have talked with the people who created and gave the course, to find out at least some basics about what it was about.

Re: Um really ... by Mark Levison

Ron - could you say the same thing to Dave, George and Tobias? Why pick on Vikas in particular? In addition you have remember that people who don't know you can find you intimidating. I did 5yrs ago when I first encountered you.

Finally the negative comments aren't about your course or the training you delivered, they seem to centre around the CSD as an idea. An issue which is larger than Ron and Chet.

Mark Levison
Agile Pain Relief Consulting

Re: Um really ... by Ron Jeffries

I pick on Vikas because Vikas chose the quotes and wrote the article. I am certain that at least some of the quotes are out of context. The article is IMO misleading about the course, its purpose, and its results. The author doesn't even have the team's story accomplishments correct: both teams completed some stories ... just not every Sprint.

I am surprised that the article was written without even talking to me or to Chet. If Vikas had asked, he could have even come to the course.

If people find me intimidating they are not paying attention. I'm a jolly old fat man, not Darth Vader, much as I might wish otherwise.

I do not favor this kind of certification, as people who have been paying attention surely already know. I am, however, in favor of people learning what Agile practices are, and why they are important, by actually experiencing what it is like to try to use them. Part of that learning will include a good taste of failure ... and figuring out what to do about it.

A better article could have been written. I think it's fair to wish for it.

Re: Um really ... by Konstantin Ignatyev

I would hire developer with just development skills any day versus one that has Agile Development skills. IT industry _need_ to do skill certification and assessment, instead it focuses on customer satisfaction as measure of success the same way as food industry 'satisfies' people with sugary foods which ruin people's health.

What a disappointing article! by George Dinwiddie

This is certainly not up to InfoQ's usual standards. It's really not reporting, but only hearsay repetition of snippets of one blog posting and comments made to it. A simple link to Dave's posting would have been better reporting than this.

This issue of "certification" has been discussed in depth (along with a lot of smoke and noise) during the past year. There's little point in trying to capture that in a comment to this non-article.

The retrospective that Dave and I did had much more to do with our own behavior than with the course. The fact that the course brought out the emotional response that I felt is indicative that it's a powerful course.

There was also a retrospective of the course at the end of the course. That was a different matter, but is not brought out here.

In fact, much of this article is given to quoting the opinions of someone who wasn't there, and who might have give very similar opinions before the course was held. I'm not sure how that's germane to the title, at all.

There's no indication that Vikas contacted anyone who attended the course. He certainly didn't contact me. Yet I find my name used in an article that doesn't represent my thoughts or my views very well at all.

Re: Um really ... by martin t.

Well, if you would wear a robe and a hood you could at least qualify as the evil emperor - who is more evil than vader. The emperor is just not as intimidating.

Re: Um really ... by Tobias Mayer

I don't really see the purpose of this article, as it draws all its information and quotes from a single source, so in fact adds nothing. It would have been more useful to have just supplied a link to Dave's original article and left it at that. At least that way the reader would have had a little more context.

Normally, I’d relish a mention on InfoQ by George Dinwiddie

but this one seemed to require more comment than fits here:

Re: Um really ... by Vikas Hazrati


I agree with you that most of the information is drawn from the single source that you mention. However, the idea of this post was to bring to the community that
1. There was the first official CSD course conducted
2. Reactions that people like you and Andre had to the course

It tries to summarize the sentiments that the community shares / does not share and gives an open forum for people to talk about it.

Re: What a disappointing article! by Vikas Hazrati

George, thanks for sharing your thoughts but I am surprised why do you suggest that the retrospective thoughts were not yours?

George and I had a retrospective of our own by phone this week. We talked through a lot of details of how our team had gone off track and what we might have done differently. Most of that is probably not interesting for a blog post, but it may be useful to mention a few points that came up in our conversation.

Would anyone reading this conclude that?

I agree, it would be have been worthwhile to contact you and Ron to get more details but would your retrospective points have been different had I contacted you than the ones that you discussed with Dave?

If you would like to talk about other thoughts about the course then please feel free to share them here. The post mentions your name only for the retrospective points.

We need to know more by Anurag Shrivastava

I think this article has evoked unexpected strong response from Ron and George. We all are interested in knowing what Certified Scrum Developer program is all about and this article helps to some extent. I guess you need to be very careful when you call something Certified Scrum XXXX when CSM programs that are running houseful in the US, Asia and Europe, do not produce skilled people to run Scrum projects. @Ron and George: We are keen on knowing what CSD is all about so a next article on CSD from you on infoQ will be eagerly awaited. We will love to hear about the contents and goals of CSD and not about journalism with respect to you all.
Anurag Shrivastava(Xebia)

Re: Um really ... by Vikas Hazrati

One wonders whether a decent journalist might have talked with the people who created and gave the course, to find out at least some basics about what it was about.

I might be missing something here but I guess as an agile developer if I goto, it is not very hard to understand the basics of the course. Or at least that is how I think. If you feel that there is more to the course than what meets the eye please let the community know about it.

Again, the intention of the post was to bring forward how the first course was conducted and the reactions of the external world (people who did not attend the course). As a part of the community, it still feels that something more tangible needs to be brought to light, than this just being a sit through certification.

I am a firm believer in good engineering practices and as per my personal opinion, Scrum or No-Scrum, a project cannot succeed without good people and good engineering practices. As a community we want to discuss and debate whether attending the CSD course we can make a positive impact in that direction. If we can ...great! If not ... what else can be done!

The Gods are Angry, Let's shoot the messenger by Guillaume Bernard

This looks a perfect case!

The experts are angry as to why someone is questioning their authority. They have invented a course, must be good, lets just do it. It seems that instead of letting the community know the benefit of this certification and what we as Software Developers can achieve by doing it, it is easier to kill the messenger who posted this. Bravo !

On a serious note, being a CSM myself and practicing Agile and XP since past several years, I would like to know from the experts how attending this 3 day course is going to help me in becoming a better Software Craftsman.

Re: Um really ... by Ron Jeffries

Vikas: The page you mention does not describe the course at all. I'm interested to hear why you would say it is "easy to understand the basics of the course".

Re: What a disappointing article! by George Dinwiddie

Vikas, when you excerpt something, you give weight to the parts that you excerpt and leave out other points.

When you do that on a conversation you overheard, such as Dave and Tobas' discussion of his post, you likely don't get the context to do so in an unbiased or representative manner.

When you do so on an overheard conversation about another conversation, you have so little actual data that it's highly unlikely you'll capture the flavor and essence at all.

Think of it like using User Stories. Don't run off and code to the notes on the card. Go have a conversation to understand what those notes mean.

Re: Um really ... by Vikas Hazrati

Ron, are we now talking about the extra comma in the URL? I think we can have a better discussion than that.

Re: What a disappointing article! by Vikas Hazrati

When you do that on a conversation you overheard, such as Dave and Tobas' discussion of his post, you likely don't get the context to do so in an unbiased or representative manner.

I think that "unbiased context" is what many people on this forum are trying to hear from you. Agreed, that the discussion was between Dave and Tobias.

The way I look at it is that it was a discussion between a person who attended the course and another one who did not. The person who did not attend the course is trying to understand the value of the CSD certification. What is wrong in that?

As a member of the community and like several thousand others, I did not attend the course. On the basis of the discussion between some one who attended and some one who did not (with whom we can connect) we are trying to understand the value. I do not see the reason why you would not answer anything related to that.

Fundamentally flawed? by Jason Gorman

I would agre that this article could have been more balanced by talking to the course leaders. Having said that, like Ron, I have my reservations about certification and the whole "cram it all into a 2/3/4/5 day course and hand them a piece of paper at the end of it" approach. I've been on plenty of courses, and delivered an order of magnitude more, and I strongly believe that the best we can hope to achieve through full-on training like this is to introduce people to new ideas.

If clean code and craftsmanship (or whatever name you find socially acceptable to call practices that lead to higher quality software) is about habits, as I believe from experience and from what others say, it is, then 3 days is a drop in the ocean. Habits take a long time and a lot of practice to form. There are plenty of developers who know what we SHOULD be doing, but when the deadline's looming and the PM/SM is standing over them beating the delivery drum, anything they don't do instinctively out of habit will just not get done.

I've been taking a different approach with clients like the BBC. Figuring our what teams _should_ be doing is just the start of a long journey. Once that's been articulated and agreed, developers spend several months getting focused, dedicated practice to help them reach a point where they're capable of fastidiously applying those practices under pressure. The exercise zooms in on just a dozen or so habits (e.g., habits for doing basic TDD like "write the asserton first", "run the test to see it fail" etc). At the end, developers undergo a peer assesment, which entails a whole day of programming exercises designed to test these habits under considerable scrutiny (we screen capture sessions and watch them back to see if there are any lapses over the course of each session).

Once developers have passed an assessment, their peer group can move on to other, perhaps more advanced disciplines like refactoring and OO design. We've been keeping an eye on the quality of the code participants have been producing throughout this programme (which has ben running with considerable success for 18 months at the BBC). The evidence supports our feelings that code quality has significantly improved along the dimensions we are interested in. Anecdotally, that seems to be translating into project benefits, and we hope to build up a portfolio of hard data to test that, too.

All of this, of course, takes time. Lots of time. And not all organsations are as open and progressive, or put as much faith in their developers, as the BBC. So I doubt it would work everywhere. But when it's working, it really does seem to work.

We have discussed options for academic accreditation, as well as the possibility of applying these techniques within degree and post-grad computing courses, and I guess that might mean some kind of qualification at the end of it all. Which I have no real issue with, provided I'm satisfied that if Johnny or Janey pass an assessment, they really have proved their metal. If you want to know if a juggler can juggle...

Software community and CSD by Anurag Shrivastava

I am really interested in hearing (like thousands other in the software community) what CSD is all about. I have heard about it from some people in Lean Dog in Agile Conference. Present discussion just raised my curiosity about whether it is another CSM or it has some added value for developers. Instead of having a heated debate about you not being quoted properly, you should put your view in InfoQ.
You are questioning the skills of a person who does not claim to know all about what you guys are doing. So what is this fuss all about?

Ron gets a bad rap. by Chris Matts


I felt I had to contribute my experience where it comes to the "Fearsome Ron Jeffries".

I first met Ron at ADC v2 in 2004. I accosted him and protested that "XP was the wrong name for XP, and was putting people off". Ron was patient, kind and gentle in pointing out the error of my thinking. It was only after that I learned of his "reputation". I doubt if Ron even remembers the encounter.

Over the years I have interacted with Ron on a number of occasions. Now that he knows me better he will respond with a gruff reply if he feels I have proferred some nonsense.

My recommendation to anyone is engage with Ron, you will find a razor sharp mind and a man with a very gentle way of explaining things. However, if you tweak his nose, expect to be cuffed round the side of the head.


Did I just waste 30 minutes? by Gary Chia

I went through the entire thread to see what is the value of CSD. Is that coming somewhere?

Re: Normally, I’d relish a mention on InfoQ by Vikas Hazrati

The existing comments on your blog post should convince you what the community is trying to ask.

Re: Normally, I’d relish a mention on InfoQ by George Dinwiddie

Yes, we had discussion on my blog about certification in general and the CSD in particular. Do you think there's more that should be added to that discussion?

Re: Normally, I’d relish a mention on InfoQ by Vikas Hazrati

Yes, couple of things

1. We are talking about 2 different posts here. I mentioned the "Normally, I’d relish a mention on InfoQ" post on which inspite of what you wanted to say people still asked about the value of certification. Does that leave you "somewhat" convinced about what is the real issue that we are trying to discuss.

2. The post that you mention has a good discussion about certification. Acknowledged. But, that was before you did the course and knew little about it. Now you have done the course. You have first hand experience. Could you let the community know the value that you perceive from this 'certification'. How does it help the developer community.

Waiting for the real discussion to start.

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