Certification or Craftsmanship
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About 10 years ago I recall studying profusely so that I might pass my Java programmer's certification exam. I purchased a copy of an exam cram book that had sample questions similar to what I might encounter on my certification test. I recall dealing with questions like the following:
- Can an abstract class be subclassed?
- What interface does TreeMap implement?
- What is the output of the following code snippet?
- Identify the compile errors in the following code snippet.
- What are the different access qualifiers?
I'm sure many of us are familar with these questions, as well as others of similar ilk. Of course, I'd taken similar exams prior to this for a variety of technologies, but the Java certification exam was the last one I've taken. I'd come to the realization that time spent studying for these exams is largely a waste of time. I was no better at developing software systems in Java after taking the exam than I was before. I simply possessed a bunch of useless knowledge that I could have easily gotten by looking at reference material.
The skill that I needed to develop enterprise applications could only be obtained by developing applications. It could be found no other way. There are no shortcuts. Making mistakes and fixing them. Discovering new ways of doing things that worked better than what I had done before. Knowing what assumptions I could make, and those I could not. The reality is that certifications exist largely to sell training courses, while the marketing that surrounds them leads organizations to believe they are relevant. A while back, the agile alliance issued their public policy denouncing agile certification. They state:
Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but businesses pay for performance. Performance requires skill.
A skill is not as simple to acquire as knowledge: the learner has to
perform the skill badly, recover from mistakes, do it a bit better, and
keep repeating the whole process. Especially for the interrelated and
interpersonal skills required of Agile software development, much of
the learning has to take place on real projects. It is that learning
that a certification should vouch for.
And unfortunately, it is that learning and skill that certifications do not provide nor account for. In fact, this is exactly why the software craftsmanship movement has begun to gain so much traction. Through trial and tribulation, a software craftsman has obtained the practiced skill required to develop great software. Of course, it's easy to dilute the notion of craftsmanship if we are not careful.
Tom DeMarco also published an open letter to Cutter IT Journal expressing his dismay with certification. The debate on certification certainly is not new. But with the Scrum certifications, among the many others that abound today, the debate is still relevant. Where do you stand on certification? Would you rather work with a craftsman or someone with a wall plastered with certifications?
By the way, if you stand on the side favoring certification, and would like to get an agile certification, then maybe you should visit Agile Certification Now to get started.