Sunday, July 23, 2006

Certification: Pro vs. Con.

[This was originally posted at]

In the consulting world, I saw a constant pressure for devs to get Microsoft Certification. This has benefits:

  • A certification implies at least minimal knowledge, commitment to the technology, and initiative to take some tedious exam.
  • They're great for younger developers trying to get their foot into the door, or consultants who want to bolster a resume.
  • They're good to ensure at least a general, broad knowledge
  • They tell you what Microsoft and the Industry thinks is important to know.
  • They're good when competing with another candidate for a job, to match their credentials. I.e. if they have certification but you don't, then it's an edge. But if you also have certifications, then it nullifies that advantage.

Many managers would point out that a certification is better than nothing, and distinguishes you from your peers. While this has some merit, I think certifications (at least the MS ones) can be overrated. Speaking as someone who has several MS certifications, I think that they have several limits:

Tests only broad and shallow knowledge, not the ability to think: A MS certification essentially requires broad, but shallow, knowledge in an area. That is important, but it has many limits. Developers need the ability to think and solve very complicated problems. Certifications don't really test in-depth problem solving.

There are other good things: Sure, a certification is better than nothing, but most developers aren't doing nothing - they're doing other constructive things:

  • Reading up on other technologies
  • Practicing technologies that are too complicated to have certifications for.
  • Open source projects
  • Extra features at work
  • Their own personal pet projects
  • Writing articles
  • Mentoring other junior devs

These activities all can help make someone a better developer.

They can be cheated: Somewhere out there, there's got to be a black market for exam answers. Microsoft recognizes this is a problem, and wants to enforce exam security and integrity. Of course, the exams are straight-forward enough that if you need to cheat on them, you have bigger problems.

At Paylocity, any developer we hire needs to write code on a whiteboard. This quickly lets us see more of someone's thought process than a multi-choice certification exam. Certifications are good, and of course they have benefits, but they're not a silver bullet for everything.

No comments:

Post a Comment