Monday, June 6, 2011

The value of certifications

PMI's Agile Community of Practice [CoP] hosted Alistair Cockburn and James Shore in a debate by webinar on the "Merits of certifications". If you're a PMI member, you can listen to a recorded version at the Agile CoP site by searching for past webinars.

Shore and Cockburn are respected thought leaders in the agile community going back at least a decade.

In a word: Cockburn sees value in certifications, with caveats to be sure, and Shore not only sees no value but actually believes certifications are counterproductive to their aim.

I was a bit shocked to here Shore rip into the very idea of certifications, calling them immoral and utterly misleading, and damning all those that use them as filters. This on a PMI sponsored webinar!

To be fair, here's the summary points each gave at the end:
  • Both agree that certification does not demonstrate or indicate competence and maybe not understanding
  • Alistair Cockburn: a certificate:
    is evidence of having gone down a pathway of education
    permits or enables scale to be applied to examining large numbers of candidates, or a company, for a job
    encourages individuals to re-up on latest techniques
    should be valued according to a market value established by business and hiring officials
    should be more granular, like associates and interns, etc so that the value proposition is more readily established
  • James Shore: a certificate:
    leads to institutional stagnation
    creates institutional power structure that limits advancement
    confuses competence and expertise with simple exposure to information
    should not be a filter on considering a candidate for a job
    should not substitute for due diligence, even at scale
I find myself in both camps: I agree a certificate does not indicate competence, or even predict competence. Same for a college degree; although in a bridge-too-far Alistair argues that a degree is just another form of certificate. No, I'm with Shore on that one. It's not.

And I'm with Shore when he points out that the industry that promotes "Scrum Master" certificates for $1500 and a two day sitting in a hotel room presentation is pretty much a joke on everyone except those collecting the money.

But I'm strongly with Cockburn on the value of forcing a re-up from time to time. Even Shore see merit in the education, just not in the certification of the education.

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