Uncharted Waters

Oct 12 2017   2:20PM GMT

Rethinking The Technical Certification

Justin Rohrman Justin Rohrman Profile: Justin Rohrman


I have been a pretty staunch opponent of certification in the past. I spent years working as an instructor for a program that dealt in hands on experience. To get through a class, students had to perform tasks, and then debrief on what they did and why with their peers. Assuming a student made it through the class, some did not, they were awarded a certificate to indicate they completed it. Not a certification of skill level.

I thought certifications were terrible. Worse than terrible. A student could buy a text book, or pirate the PDF version, spend a couple of weeks studying and memorizing and then take a test. After that person takes and passes the test, they get a new acronym to add to their resume. Something that indicates a level of skill. Something that sets them apart from other people that might be applying for a job.

I have changed my mind and want to talk about that for a second.

The name of the game for most certification bodies is profit margins, and creating a monopoly around the hiring process. These companies make money by selling tests and classes. If they can convince an industry that their certification is the one you want, and that it is standard, then they make lots of money.


For the people taking the certifications, the name of the game is access. Access to jobs, and to the idea that you can study a field of work.

Many people getting certifications would not be able to enter a field otherwise. Maybe they don’t have access to a university because of where they live or their financial situation. Maybe there are well into a career and want to do something else, but can’t afford to temporarily pause their life and spend months on developing a new skill in their spare time. These populations usually lack the professional networks that allow others to side-step the resume submission process.

Let’s say a person that fits this profile takes a certification. They get access to a professional network through the test prep classes if they took one, and then again in the group of people they took the test with. Once they take the test, they have a magical grouping of letters to put on their resume or LinkedIn profile (do those even matter anymore?) that gets them past resume scanning software. All of a sudden, rather than ending up in the trash bin, these resumes are contenders. That is a big deal for a lot of people.

If I were to have one gripe about technology certifications, especially the ones certifying software testers, I’d complain about the lack of demonstration required to get a certification level. Most of the technical certifications I am aware of are completed through a test, and maybe a class. Pass the test, get the certification. You don’t actually have to demonstrate an ability to perform what ever task you are getting certified for. But, that doesn’t steal away from the value it provides to the people taking the cert.

Certifications, for many people, create a form of employment accessibility, and they also introduce that idea that you can study a field. I think there is value there.

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  • AkshayBissoon
    You are right to say the service providers just mint cash by providing the classes and tests. Nothing compares to practical experience. I remain skeptical to the performance of candidates with a certification. The HR auto-scanning process of letter groupings is an outdated methodology that needs revamping.
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