Certifications vs Experience

   Agile Software Development

Rewind to 2 years ago…I was in my final interview for a product manager position at Modus Create, Inc. I was set to speak with one of the founders. I blatantly remember him asking me “So, why don’t you have your PMP certification?” Before I could really think about a polished, polite response, it slipped out. “Because certifications are a waste of money.” Doh. Let’s hope that was not the wrong answer.

For those who know me, this response wouldn’t come as a surprise. I tend to have strong opinions and am not afraid to voice them. I do usually control whom I voice them to a bit better. This just happens to be a topic where I have a hard time being quiet.

Certification classes are a profitable business

Lo and behold, it was the exact answer that allowed the conversation to move forward. We talked in more detail why I did have a Certified Scrum Master certification. That was easy — a past employer wanted to pay for me to get it. The certification class did not provide any new ideas or concepts; not because it was a “bad” class, but because I had been working in an agile team for years at that point. To “earn” my certification, I had to have exactly 0 hours of actual working experience. I did have to pay a nice chunk of change and pass a short, multiple choice test covering topics discussed during the 2 day class.

Being agile doesn’t require certifications

What I value most about Agile is constantly inspecting and adapting processes and teams to allow high performing individuals to work together as a team and deliver. (holy buzzwords) The worry I have is, how do you teach someone this? For me, I have learned the most by being in the fight. I have more failures than I can count, but each has allowed me to tweak pieces of the puzzle.

Over the past couple weeks, as I followed along with some of my favorite thought leaders, I started noticing some trends. People are tired of following “by the book” processes to fit square pegs in round holes.





Just to prove I HAVE been thinking this for more than a day. ;P


Certifications don’t necessarily equal experience

This brings me back to what certifications don’t do. Each time I am on LinkedIn, I am amazed with the plethora of acronyms, that represent certifications, following people’s names. Tech teams already are known for having an acronym for everything ;  now this also includes people. I know…you are thinking:

“But so many companies have xyz certification listed right on their job posting.”

This is truly unfortunate. I have the pleasure of speaking with many of the interviewees looking to join our team. Rarely do I find someone with multiple certifications more qualified than another candidate with 5+ years of experience actually doing work and not learning about it. While I will admit training and certifications can help someone fine tune their skills, using certifications to prove someone’s value is ridiculous.

Certifications do identify great test taking skills

I once worked with a woman I will call Gina. She was Java certified and Oracle certified. (This was when people still wanted to use those technologies.) People were so impressed. Some of our top developers could not pass the Java Certification process. The only problem was, Gina could not write a simple business rule to save her life. She could, however, memorize an entire book and reiterate it to you.

Now, I must also say…I fully know that all certifications are NOT created equal. There are plenty of certification programs across a wide array of industries that do have real value. My main beef is with technology certifications, and specifically with those focusing on Scrum, Agile, Lean, etc. Anytime I can be fully certified for multiple disciplines within a week’s time without ever having spent a day doing the job, I smell scheme.

In closing, it is always important to remember experience trumps everything. But even then, making sure the experience is relevant is extremely important. And let’s not confuse experience with years of service. While somewhat similar, they do not go hand in hand. Above all else, do your job well and the results will speak for themselves.

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