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Pro or Against Agile Certification

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Some people stress the need for agile training with certification, for instance because it helps to select candidates and a to lay a foundation for an agile transformation. Others are against certification, because in their opinion they don’t reflect people’s abilities and skills properly and people who have no certifications might be better candidates than others who have.

Daniel Gullo wrote the article Certify THIS... on LinkedIn Pulse in which he discusses agile certification. He gives an example explaining why he thinks certification is needed:

If I am a hiring manager, recruiter, or even a member of a Development Team responsible for filling a spot on my team, I don’t have time to talk to every one of the 1000-2000+ people who are interested in and believes they MIGHT be qualified for the single position we have open. I need some kind of criteria for establishing at least a baseline for knowledge so that I can narrow the list down a bit. I would like to see some kind of preliminary proof that someone has taken an active interest in his or her career / lifelong learning as shown by their accomplishments; e.g. certifications, et al.

Being certified is a starting point, but it is not enough as Gullo explains:

If the person I am talking to, who has several certifications, can’t articulate the concepts clearly by teaching it back to me with examples and analogies, etc. and they are unable to demonstrate how they have applied the knowledge, how they have grown since achieving the certification, how they see the limitations of the certification, and so on, then I would not be interested in hiring that person.

In one of the comments Gullo stated that "(...) [certifications] are SOMETHING and that’s better than NOTHING as a STARTING POINT". Tobias Mayer reacted to this with:

I do not agree that certification is better than nothing. Better for what? The best coach I ever worked with was untrained and uncertified. It was this lack of rules, process, dogma, formal learning... that made him so great. Many of the best developers I’ve worked with also had nothing (no certifications). Of course, they didn’t have "nothing" at all, they had a huge range of experience, thinking and practical skills. Not having a certification doesn’t mean one has nothing—it just means we need to talk a little time to get to know the person before making assumptions.

In another comment Savita Pahuja shared her view on certification:

Nice post. I agree.. we need to understand that the question is not of certification or no- certification. Its more about how do we use this information. If practitioners join training for the learning perspective, there is no harm in getting one extra piece of paper. But don’t spend money only for the piece of paper without having learning objective.

In his blog post say no to agile certification and the fall from agile grace Ron Quartel shares his opinion on agile certification:

Now understand - I have no problem with handing someone a certificate to say that they sat your course. That is good! But to certify someone as an expert just because they sat your class is very different to certifying that they sat your class. Anyone can sit a class, but not everyone can be an expert. And therein lies the key differentiation and why I dislike (most of) the agile certifications.

I have no problem with the content of any of the agile classes I have seen. But calling yourself a Certified because you sat a class is a mockery to any industry. Why has it become so pervasive in Agile? It just adds to the Fall From Agile Grace in my opinion.

Quartel has been tweeting with the hashtag #SayNoToAgileCertification. He explains what made him decide to do this:

To make a change, first you have to change yourself. And that is what I am doing publicly. I am letting go of my certifications that I feel are either valueless or pointless and encourage others to do the same rather than continue to prop up a systems that seems to be more about making money than changing the world. #SayNoToAgileCertification

Michael Valdes wrote about certifications vs. real world experience. He explains why he thinks certification matters, but isn’t enough:

Part of staying up to date with today’s technology is by obtain new experience in it. But experience is an intangible concept for certain people and it is hard to prove from the get go. As a result, certifications were made to legitimize a person’s knowledge about a technology. But I have found that even after a person obtains a certification, they can still be a little green on how to implement it in the real world. One person I spoke to about this called the concept a "paper cert", which means that even though a person has a certification because he or she just passed a test, they don’t know about how to implement a technology in the real world.

According to Valdes experience beats certification for keeping up with technology:

In my opinion, the marketplace has shown that technology moves too fast for IT professionals to always stay on top with their certifications and experience wins out in the end because it is more agile. (...) in the marketplace, IT professionals are more agile with keeping up with technology by obtaining experience rather than getting certified to stay on top of it.

In the blog post certified Agile training is vital, but certification alone won’t make you an expert James Harvey describes how certified training can fit in an agile journey:

The ideal scenario is to start with a brief Agile change plan, outlining what your roadmap is. Become certified with a suitable and relevant Agile training programme and then apply the knowledge you have learned from the classroom to some real case studies through workshops and activities.

According to Harvey training and certification increase the chance of success in an agile transition:

Certified Agile training should be treated as your starting point – something to engage your brain with the fundamentals, before utilising workshops and the support of an Agile coach to apply your knowledge and add real value to real projects.

Are you pro or against agile certification?

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Community comments

  • Certificates are about money

    by Patrick Kranz,

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    From my personal experience usually companies pay the trainings for their employees. Since I won't pay 2000 euros from my private bank account for a training when I in fact can learn more with a book for 50 euros, it means that even though I might be good at a certain topic, if my employer does not send me to the training, I won't receive the certificate. Therefore if companies require certificates in order to invite a candidate they might actually not invite some of the really good people.
    So far many of the certificates I made were basically "sit in the class and in the end you receive the paper". Is this really meaning something?

    Besides, companies like Oracle rarely have their trainings updated when new versions of some technology come out. So, certifications in technology also have a big chance of being outdated.

    In the end you want people with the right mindset and not the right certificate. Having a certificate does not give you any clue about the mindset.

  • Why stop there?

    by Kenn Thompson,

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    It seems the same arguments could be made about Degrees... replace certification with Bachelors in CompSci, and the same arguments hold true. You can be a green degree holder, an experienced non-degree holder, or any combination between. In my experience in this particular industry, I've not hired on the basis of degree or certification in some time based on the former being the majority. That being said, I would not want some guy without the degree doing open heart surgery on me, so where does that leave us?

  • What Ron Jeffries said

    by Scott Duncan,

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    At the recent Agile 2015 industry speaker session, Ron Jeffries said that what would be preferable is having a certification that asserts the person was actually observed doing the work the certification represents. Training is necessary for a certain level of knowledge transfer and that leads to a medical degree, but doctors don't get to practice independently until they go through a residency experience where they observe and are observed.

  • Tobias comment is spot on

    by Augusto Rodriguez,

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    The only place where I've seen that certification influenced a decision (slightly) has been in outsourcing/consultancy companies when they were selling teams (e.g. all of our devs have java certifications & have are certified scrum masters).

    The reason being that the company buying the services wouldn't really know all the people who would be working in a team until they sign a contract or start a project.

  • Re: Why stop there?

    by Mac Noodle,

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    It leaves us comparing apples to boxes.

  • Re: What Ron Jeffries said

    by Aleem Khan,

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    good point

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