There are certifications for everything nowadays.

We earn technical certifications from Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, or Red Hat. We earn Agile certifications from Scrum.org, the Scrum Alliance, or EXIN. We become certified trainers or coaches. Certain certification programs take months to achieve while others don’t even take an hour.

We can obtain a certification for [almost] everything and [almost] everywhere. And certifications seem [almost] mandatory as they are a prerequisite or a sought-after asset in many posted job offers.

But what is the purpose of a certification, whether technical or Agile?

Since the beginning of my career in 2002, I’ve repeatedly heard that question and asked it to myself even more often.

Naturally, THE answer (the real and only one) does not exist. However, I suggest that we go through different perspectives based on my experience and path.

The (fervent) beginning developer

First computer (Olivetti M24, 8086) at 5, first (copied) program in Basic at 6, and first real development at 14, in VBA.

But it’s at 18, when I entered a computer programming school, that I realized that the IT “virus¨ would be part of my life, after working days and nights on end-of-study projects in C++.

In 2002, I got my first job in a firm that wanted to use a new language that had been on the market for two months only: Microsoft.NET. For me, a new language and a new paradigm: the web.

I then swore to learn and understand everything. I’ve read all Wrox books that I could find, reading them length and breadth, seeking book after book these little—almost banal—sentences hidden in the middle of these huge volumes, and that would teach me something new or give me a new perspective on what I’ve read so far.

The recruiter

Recruiters often have a unique perspective. And they have to hire developers, but they do not know much about the development world made up of technologies they do not know nor understand.

I will always remember this: a colleague writing a job offer for a “SilverFlash” developer, blithely mixing up the two competing technologies of the time, i.e., Flash and Silverlight.

It’s a puzzle for recruiters to match résumés with job offers and to apply a first filter with respect to what is expected. I’ve seen all techniques, the most adequate probably being to accept one’s incompetence and have a technical recruiter pair up with a recruiter in charge of the human, collaborative, psychological, etc., aspects. But, depending on the corporate culture, we can come across (and it’s a true story) the “buzzword count” technique, which is to have someone “neutral” with as little knowledge in IT as possible to seek for common words in both résumés and job offers to find the ones that match the most (and please be noted that JS and JavaScript are two different things).

And besides this probably a little extreme technique (and hopefully an infrequent one), there are recruiters relying on certifications.

Certifications prove that candidates wish to evaluate (thus, challenge) themselves and provide an objective measure of the level of knowledge reached (which is comparable between two candidates with the same certification).

Anyway, that is what they believe. But what we measure is what we get. You want certified developers, well, that’s what you’ll get.

The (technical) recruiter

At 26, I was part of the recruitment circle. Therefore, I met dozens of developers, of all ages, levels, and motivations.

I have valuable memories of these interviews. Some were extraordinary challenges and others were pleasant surprises, but there also was an incredible disillusion that I couldn’t even imagine one or two years before that.

The greatest slap in the face at the beginning of my career challenged my beliefs: the worst candidates whom I’ve met all had multiple certifications. They all showed an astonishing (almost magical) absence of knowledge, understanding, analysis, and questioning.

And what about the best ones? Some had multiple certifications, others didn’t, but their interpersonal skills, curiosity, or humility made them shine.

Certifications are mainly used to add a stamp to résumés (which are sometimes too short). A world of cramming and cheating among the torrents, where real/false online assessments are sometimes used as bargaining chips or for money making.

A juicy business, fueled by recruiters/clients who are seeking for a false guarantee of knowledge that they are unable to challenge, and developers that are obliged to satisfy the demand.

The Agile newbie

In 2005, I discover Agility and I’m questioning myself regarding this new world that both pushes and inspires me.

I then discover the Continuous Integration and Testing Conference (CITCON), and for 3 years, in Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam, the same topic returns in open spaces: “Is Scrum evil?” There, the vision of Scrum, courses, and certifications I’m being depicted is an ultra-commercial one. It is a vision of a world that is relentlessly delivering certified Scrum Masters after two days of training (and without any assessment) who are, year after, in exchange for cash, renewing their “guarantee” of expertise.

[Agile] certifications… a juicy business, which delivers certified individuals without any experience, but who are sought after at high cost by organizations that do not know how to express what they need.

The fervent developer

When I had 15 years of experience, I was told that I had to be certified. I was giving courses and conferences, indeed, but that is not worth a nice stamp, which opens the way to the world of partnerships. It then became a “necessary evil”.

Objective: C# basic certification. Nonexistent challenge, mere dilettante.

Group certification: Different levels, different paths. And my colleagues try to find in me a type of “technical coach” to help them with their preparation.

Direction: Preparation books; we delve into all subjects, we discuss high level, pattern, low level, IL coding, etc., and I can feel the same desire to discover line after line the unknown or forgotten detail. (What? There is a case where a “finally” is not referred to as ?)

It is then that I discovered a new perspective where the certification becomes incidental; the value being transferred to the preparation.

The certification is incidental; the value resides in the preparation for the certification.

Just like a marathon runner who, when crossing the finish line, starts to think about the next race. The only thing that matters is running!

The convinced Agilist

When I started working at Pyxis, it had been 10 years that I was introducing Agility into my projects and teams and 5 that I was giving conferences and training courses on the subject. And it had been as many years that I was questioning and challenging myself.

As it was done in Canada, we introduced in Belgium the three Agile certifications from Scrum.org (“Professional Scrum Master”, “Professional Scrum Product Owner”, and “Professional Scrum Developer”).

These training courses are given by Christian Lapointe and Tremeur Balbous: 40 years of experience altogether, certified trainers, integral development coaches, and professional facilitators. It is always a great pleasure as well as a personal enrichment to cross their paths. Naturally, I seized the opportunity to take their courses and obtain the Scrum Master and Product Owner certifications. And I took the courses again and again.

Agile certifications are first and foremost an exploratory path that pushes to confront the vision, experience, or certainties of the coach-trainer and the participants, whom all have their own truths, problems, and experiences.

Thus, each course is an opportunity to open the door to the acceptance of a new perspective, giving room to new points of view and new ways to interpret one’s role as facilitator, Scrum Master, or Product Owner.

The trainer

Behind many certifications, there are specific courses. And behind these courses, there are certified trainers.

And these trainers present two aspects of the certification world. There is sometimes this commercial world, where trainers become brand ambassadors and pay—sometimes a lot of money—for the right to use a title, a label.

However, Christian and Tremeur provided me with another vision of the world of certified trainers. A vision that is also shared in the graphic facilitation courses, which we are now introducing in Belgium with Bikablo.

And this reality is that of mentoring, where trainers are coached in their learning during which they will be helped by seasoned trainers.

It is that of excellence and criticism, where trainers meet several times a year, somewhere in the world, to talk about the courses and contribute to their improvement. To also work on course materials or exams.

The trainer certification promises course quality and consistency, regardless of the trainer, language, or country.

It also keeps it promises regarding continuous improvement and calling into question.

The entrepreneur

I am now an entrepreneur and, in a certain way, I find myself an accomplice of the perverse sides of certifications, pushing my colleagues to obtain their certifications in order to reassure certain recruiters or clients.

But above all, it’s the accomplishment of everyone that we advocate, and learning—whether within the context of a certification or not—plays an important role.

Certification must be a means, not a goal.

And to contribute to the shift of paradigm, we have the objective to train recruiters and business leaders in order for them to better understand Agility and to help them identify their needs. One of the goals is to put an end to this absurd and paradoxical, but classic, job offer: Scrum Master-project manager with ITIL and Prince 2 expertise.

What about you?

And you, who may be certified or have the will or need to achieve it… What is your perspective and goal? What is your motivation, and who made the decision?

The only advice that I can give is to achieve a certification for oneself, not to please somebody else (client, boss, etc.). And the certification must not be considered the achievement of the objective, but rather a milestone, a step.

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Pierre-Emmanuel Dautreppe

Pierre-Emmanuel has a passion for software development. Specializing in .NET since 2002, he discovered Agility in 2005 and is convinced that it is the way to achieve not only great software but also to bring the greatest satisfaction and pleasure while doing so.

Since 2009, he works as a developer and architect, but also as an Agile and .NET trainer and coach. He frequently assists teams in the implementation of ALM, TDD, and testing practices in general.

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