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The Certification Conundrum

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

I have certifications. I have also taken classes not involving a certification. Honestly I couldn't say if one is better than the other from a learning point of view, or quality wise. I see value in getting certified, but I also see problems and limitations to their value.

Certifications can be expensive so it is certainly worthwhile to consider the pros and cons, and decide what is best for you.

Why Certifications?

The idea behind certifications is to guarantee quality: of the course and its content, and of skills acquired by the certified individual.

A more cynical reason is for organizations offering certifications to make money. Certification based courses can be very expensive.

  • You pay for the class and to get the certification

  • The trainer pays to do the class

  • You pay to renew your certification

To that end it is in the interest of some certification organizations to make people pass. To be honest, some of the certifications are not that difficult to obtain, which kind of invalidates the original point.

Benefits

From an individual's perspective it can be advantageous to include a certification in the CV. (I have my certifications listed on my LinkedIn profile.)

For employers certifications provide a level of assurance. This is true both when recruiting and when paying for employees' trainings. You can be relatively certain about what you get buying for a certification based training.

Drawbacks

One issue with many certifications is that although you get a sense of assurance, in practice they says very little about how well a person is suited for a specific role or his/her under-standing of the content.

Certifications tend to focus on practical aspects: tools, processes and practices. Less time is spent on truly understanding and discussing mindset and values. This is understandable, as these are more abstract and hence more difficult to certify.


Another drawback of certification centric training is that you get certified on a specific framework, concept or technology. You don't get to know about alternative frameworks or viewpoints.

Sometimes after a training, as you return to your workplace, you end up confused. How do you adopt the topics you learned? During the training everything made so much sense, but it is nothing like what you see at work. The examples are sometimes overly simplified and assuming a somewhat utopian reality.

Conclusions

Certifications have pros and cons. It is a good idea to reflect on what is right for you, and if the extra cost is motivated.

Pros

Cons

Stamp of quality

Expensive

Good addition to CV

Fixed scope and content, with limited flexibility

Focuses mostly on practices and processes

Certification or not, it boils down to the course leader and whether the course is well set up.

In my experience certifications work best for concrete knowledge, for example programming skills and specific technologies (although a programming language certification says fairly little about if a person is a good developer or not).

What is your experience and view on certifications? Did I miss any benefit or drawback?


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