Do Certifications Matter?

Name any prominent software technology, and you'll find a certification program for that technology. For a fee, of course.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I am a developer. I have been my entire life. I have exactly zero degrees and certifications.

I have noticed, at least from my travels, that the bigger the education, the smaller the usefulness. This is not always true, but often is. I do not know how many people I have worked with who were completely useless despite doctorates and masters degrees. On the other hand, I have worked with many briliant self taught programmers.

I think I know why. Some people say “computers pays good, but I don’t understand them. I should go to school.” These are also the people who do not have PC’s at home, and would never consider programming “for fun.” There are also others who truly understan them, and think in the way necessary (and it is a different way of thinking than the general public) and write software out of a love for it, and not just because they think that it will make a nice fat paycheck.

All certificates and diplomas are leaky abstractions.

You left out my favorite one, the PMP “(Project Management Professional)”! This one means that you can make a Gantt chart in Microsoft Project, and that you have all of the skills necessary to expect that your projects will not fail, and to inform your subordinates that the project is “really important beacuse …” in order to motivate them when your schedule slips.

Of course, it’s important not to mix up certain industry designations with certifications (which I’m sure many are wont to do). For example, a Microsoft SQL Server MVP pretty much has the cred to be on a SQL Server project of mine any day. Anyone else know of/believe in any “instant credibility” designations?

I myself give designations professionally, though I don’t supply my awardees with certificates. The latest one I have awarded is that of FSO (Fork Spoon Operator) for professional conduct under and below the call of duty.

Perhaps I should not respond to blogs after 4 beers.

Certifications have to be judged with a grain of salt.

I was working on the PMI (Project Management Institute) certification in the mid 90’s. Although PMI realized at that time that their Quality Management concept was outdated, certification was still performed against the outdated ‘Body Of Knowledge’.

What does the certificate say about the individual that passed during that time?

And yes - I did not get the certification (what does that say about me?).

I’m studying right now for the CISSP that I’m sitting for on Saturday. Why? It’s a simple matter of not getting “lost in the shuffle” as DeMarco put it. Will it help me with my job? Judging by the example questions in the book, that’s a resounding no. Will it help the company I work for get more contracts approved based on the collective bios in the proposal? Maybe.

To me, a certification’s worth is directly related to how it’s administered. I have an RHCE, and I’m proud of that. It was a full day of real, actual, troubleshooting and configuration. Over 50% of the people in the room didn’t belong there, and they didn’t even finish after 6 hours. You know it was challenging. I can’t say that for any of my Microsoft exams.

A good rule of thumb is:

  • All multiple choice = bad.
  • Mostly hands-on labs = probably good.

If you come across a cert that you haven’t heard of in an interview, ask the candidate how they earned it. Their response will tell you all you need to know about its credibility.

I think that just saying “certifications are worthless” is a bit too broad of a generalization. Speaking as someone who has a ColdFusion Advanced certification, an A+ certification, and is working on my CCNA, I have to agree with Hartmut about taking them with a grain of salt.

The CF cert is a pretty good indicator of competency in CF. Sure, it says nothing about coding style or product lifecycle management abilities. But, if I’m hiring someone to do some maintenance on existing CF code, then a CF cert goes a long way towards making me feel comfortable. Obviously, if I need a rockstar developer, I’m going to look for skills far beyond just having a cert.

Conversely, having an A+ would not have any effect whatsoever on my decision to hire someone. I’ve got the cert. I know it’s completely memorization with no practical knowledge.

As for the CCNA, it would definitely influence my hiring decision. That is a tough cert to get, and by the end of it you know your stuff. Far too many web programmers don’t truly understand how the web works, so when I see one with a CCNA, I know they aren’t going to bug me every time their network card hangs. Sure, a CCNA isn’t meant for web programming, but there are certain skills that you can’t be missing if you have a CCNA, and they are all at least applicable to web programming. (Even the routing stuff.)

So … yeah. They have their place. But they’re not “Get Out Of Interview Free” cards, either.

Well, it depends on heavily a certification is weighed against other credentials. Does it mean more to have a 4 year comp-sci degree with a decade of real engineering experience or a certification and a few years experience? I’d pick the degree any day over the certification.

I see the point of tech specific certifications (ala SQL Server), but would still choose the degree.

I’m not knocking self-taught programmers, it’s just that I (from a tech manager’s point of view) weigh the degree + experience heavier than just experience.


what the hell is idempotent, and why should I care? do you agree with the differences between a POST and GET?

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BTW… wish I had your office.

At my first company, we had a drive to get our developers certificatied not because we felt they would ensure our developers were good, but in order to get Microsoft Gold Partner status in the hope it would drive us more business. It really didn’t work.

I think one of the easiest ways to determine the credibility of someone’s certification is how much they’re publicizing it.

I’ve seen it in e-mail addresses, “from” fields, signatures, Messenger display names, and anywhere else someone identifies them self.

Just based on personal experience, if I encounter someone’s name appearing as “David MCSE” my expectations are lowered immediately. The person in question may know what’s in the book, but beyond that they seem clueless and unable (or unwilling) to even do simple Google searches to assist themselves. A quick search through the newsgroups for MCSE or similar monikers will quickly validate this. However, just to clarify, I do know that there are some exceptions and some great MCSEs out there.

All of this reminds me a lot of the so-called “experts” and “analysts” who end up on news broadcasts giving their advice on the latest “virus” or other problem. The information is either completely wrong or dumbed down so much it is useless. I of course am aware of their error because this is my industry and my passion – but other topics where I am not such an expert in I have to take the word of other “experts”, and in turn I question their credibility now too.

The scary thing about certifications is that some companies completely ignore experience instead of certificates.

When I first graduate from college, I had a tought time getting work so I applied at Geek Squad. I figured I spent 5 semesters as a computer/electrical engineer I was more than qualified. The manager at Best Buy looked at my resume and said “I’m sorry but you’re just not qualified. You need to be A+ certfied.”

Apparently programming robots and building my own USB devices was easier than replacing a video card or installing Windows.

As someone who is currently studing the for SQL server (2005) exam. I’ll throw in my two cents.
I work day to day as with Oracle and writing apps to talk to the DB. I’m wanting to expand my area of knowledge into sql server. I find the cert provides a cheap and easy curriculum to follow. (That being said I’m disgusted that the 1st level SQL server has barely any transact sql in it). If I follow the study material to learn for myself why not get the baubble to hang on the wall? Having loads of Oracle experience and a cert in hand may convince my next employer that I at lease won’t drop a table by accident.
The key to the cert is the person holding the cert. If they quit their dish-washing job, got a cert from a 3 week bootcamp and now think that they now know everything about computers “Cuz I got my A+” then it’s a waste of paper.

I interview so many people whose resumes say “MS Certified”, who even have logos on their resumes, and know so little. And I mean basic questions I have come to distrust people who flaunt them.

I’ve held down various technical jobs for the last decade and the only certification to my name is a GED from Missouri. I’m 26, I’ve been working in technology since I was 16, and I got my GED at 21. That means I spent half my career working without so much as a high-school diploma. I’m completely self-taught, and I’ve gotten to where I am today through my own knowledge.

That said, my thoughts are pretty concrete: college degrees are completely useless if you’re not going into a field that requires some level of timeless knowledge: ie - engineering, C++ programming and pirating. Those have all pretty much remained the same since they were formed from the original primordial ooze.

Certifications are mostly useless. Technology changes too quickly for any one technology to really reign supreme long enough to need to be certified. If anything, I think certifications on understanding of principles would be far more useful. Who would you rather hire:

Guy A, who has a certification for Networking Using Specific Company’s Products


Guy B, who has a certification for Network Operations, Management and Administration, Those Principles That Are Key to ALL Networks.

I may be biased, because its my opinion, but I’d rather hire guy B. Yeah, he may have to take some time to learn my particular network, but what happens if I hire guy A and what I have isn’t what he knows, and isn’t close enough to quickly compensate? I’m taking a chance that he’s bright enough to segue into my system without completely taking me down and out.

Certifications merely prove that you know one specialized thing. Being able to prove you know a lot of specialized things really isn’t the same as being able to prove you grok the underlying concept and can then learn any implementation.

This topic hits home with as all but two developers (including me) at my company are studying for microsoft certification. the problem i have with certs, is the same problem i have with standardized testing, your studying for a test. it’s all about memorization. most of the stuff your tested over, in at least, is stuff you will never use. And if you do use it, then you’ll more than likely find your answer from google not your certification.

I actually certified myself as a RHCE (red hat certified engineer)AFTER I got my job. It was a bonus to the education I was offered from my company.

I should also mention that the test for my certification was a practical one with lots of troubleshooting and I learned a lot studying for it and by doing the test.

But I agree with you all, experience beats certifications.

I tried to hire an accountant for my company’s finances. For some reason, I couldn’t find any that didn’t have certification.

I tried to hire an engineer to build me a bridge. For some reason, I couldn’t find any that didn’t have certification.

I tried to go to a doctor to get a checkup. For some reason, I couldn’t find any that didn’t have certification.

Yes, IT absolutely needs certifications. A governing body needs to hand out those certifications. The tests need to be hard.

I wouldn’t trust my car to an uncertified mechanic. Why the hell should I trust my company’s application to some IT d00d that claims he knows what they’re doing?

I’m tired of working with morons in the IT industry. I’m tired of reading blog article after blog article about how 99% or whatever of IT projects fail. I’m tired of hacks snaggling themselves into the IT industry from wherever just so that they can get a higher salary.

When I interview someone, I have to ask basic questions such as “What’s HTML?”. Most interviewees fail that question. That’s what the IT industry is riddled with. Posers. People who hang a shingle for business. How do I tell the good from the bad?

I agree, having certifications alone is worthless. It doesn’t hurt having certifications, though, if only to get past the HR part of the hiring stage.

Once you have an interview with people who actually know what they’re doing, then you show them examples.

I set little or no store by any sort of certification. Interviewing experience leads me to conclude that there is little or no correlation between candidates having a certification in such-and-such a technology and actually having the first idea about that technology when asked technical questions about it. The fact that the exams tend to be (a) multiple-choice and (b) as much focussed on tools (IDEs etc) than the actual concepts are also strong reasons to be skeptical.
It’s real-world experience and technical nous you want, things that can’t be vouchsafed by a piece of (electronic) paper.