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What does certification achieve?


What does certification achieve?

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Steve Jones
Steve Jones
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Comments posted to this topic are about the item What does certification achieve?

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tim.pinder
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Heresy!

How can you say such things?
paul.knibbs
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I think the latest information to come out of Microsoft about the MCSM etc. cancellation shows precisely what Microsoft thinks their certifications are for--namely, they're there to help sell Microsoft products. I don't think this should necessarily come as a surprise to anyone! :-) This means there's an essential contradiction in the certifications--it's in Microsoft's interest to have more certified people so businesses can hire them to help with their Microsoft products, but getting more and more people certified requires lowering the barrier to entry and thus devaluing the same certs.

Frankly, it seems to me that having the company which is selling the software also providing the certifications for that software is a conflict of interest which is never going to come out well. We need to have some sort of large, well-recognised third-party certification to get some trust back in the system, but I have no idea what the chances of *that* happening are.
jeff.stanlick
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paul.knibbs (9/10/2013)

Frankly, it seems to me that having the company which is selling the software also providing the certifications for that software is a conflict of interest which is never going to come out well. We need to have some sort of large, well-recognised third-party certification to get some trust back in the system, but I have no idea what the chances of *that* happening are.


^^ This right here. As long as there is a chance of unclear motivations in handing out those certifications, they'll never be fully trusted.

To Steve's question, "The actual syntax might be different, but are we hiring people that remember syntax or accomplish tasks?" the answer has to be tasks. I've taken various development certification tests in the past and all they proved was that I could tell you how the compiler worked, not that I could actually write a program that worked. Until there's a certification that proves that (and I thought the MCM with the lab tests did a decent job of that), I'm skeptical about the depth of someone's knowledge when I see a certification on their resume.
lshanahan
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I remember a couple decades back reading about MCSEs and so forth, how Microsoft billed them as a way for professionals with demonstrated experience to document that and were intended for people currently working full-time in the field.

Whatever it was back then, now most certifications (not all of them) are pretty much commodities. I think it goes beyond just selling Microsoft products. Think of all the books, exam prep material, technical courses and schools and so forth that exist around various certifications. People are providing goods and services to those wanting to obtain certification and that's not really a Bad Thing. Yet it has also contributed to the current situation. I have in mind Gail's post about taking one of the exams and passing without having experience in a number of the skill areas on the test. Gail's knowledge is orders of magnitude beyond mine, and *I* looked at the test and thought "Gee, I could probably take a whack at that."

I don't know if the current state of affairs is salvageable or even if Microsoft would want to. Maybe a progressive series of certification including documented work experience as a prerequisite to sit for higher-level exams even to the point of a dissertation-like process for the "pinnacle" certifications. But as Steve points out, as companies keep asking for them, why should Microsoft want to?

The only way I could see it working is some kind of trade association or such like handling the certification process independent of Microsoft.

____________
Just my $0.02 from over here in the cheap seats of the peanut gallery - please adjust for inflation and/or your local currency.
FunkyDexter
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I think the problem is that it's easy to test someone's knowledge of syntax but it's close to impossible to test someone's ability to complete tasks in a classroom setting. To test that you really need in-depth essay type questions and while those aren't too hard to set they're incredibly expensive to mark so you could expect to see the fees go through the roof. Even if we were willing to pay for it the outcome become far more subjective and I'm not really sure we want that either.

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely agree that the "light" nature of certifications makes them pretty worthless at present but I'm not sure it's a problem that can actually be solved. Other prefessions such as Law, Medicine, accountancy etc. put a heavy reliance on membership of professional bodies so maybe there's a solution there but I'm not sure I'd put much faith in those types of bodies as they currently exist in the IT industry. Those other industries have a whole tradition of peer acknowledgement that we still lack as an industry.
jay-h
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The certs and tests that rely on details (syntax etc) really miss the point. Such tests reward blind memorization and don't look for understanding.

Ideally a qualified applicant has a more general understanding of problem solving (and work habits to go along). This person can sit down with a different version than the product tested with, and, with a little consultation into manuals provide a solution. This is also the kind of SQL dba who can, in a pinch, help out with an Oracle problem after reviewing the documentation.

Details change constantly. Problem solving not so much.

...

-- FORTRAN manual for Xerox Computers --
pdanes
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Amen to that. Rote memorization has its place, but that's not the highest skill level you should want in an employee, or contractor. I rarely even bother trying to memorize anything any more - constant changes to syntax and new versions of stuff make it difficult and almost pointless, and Intellisense and online help make it unnecessary. I remember things I use daily, just because I use them daily, not because I've made any effort to memorize them.

If I need to know something, the answer is usually just a few clicks away, or I look at some old code where I did such a task previously. Taking a certification test usually means you've managed to regurgitate some material from a lecture, but provides very little indication of whether you'll be able to put that 'knowledge' to use when confronted with a real problem.
roger.plowman
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I've been in this business for over 30 years and seen the enthusiasm for certificates wax and wane several times. In my experience they're totally useless "cram" tests that cover minutiae that no one really cares about.

There's no simple way to prove some random candidate knows their stuff. But silver bullets are well-neigh irresistible and snake-oil salesmen in no short supply.

Rather than certificates I would prefer an employer use short focused classes on some subject or other. That's how I was introduced to PowerBuilder back in the day, a pair of three day courses.

Of course the fact PowerBuilder and the PowerBuilder library use exactly opposite programming techniques didn't help... Hehe

Still, the idea of certificates is moon mist. Pretty, but ultimately there's no "there" there.
TravisDBA
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Microsoft is about making money, bottom line. If that was not crystal clear to everyone before, well it should be now.:-D

"Technology is a weird thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other. ...:-D"
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