Are certifications really useful?

In job ads, I often see this requirement: “… certification a plus.”

I wonder what is with certification that makes it a plus factor? If you are forming a software development team, would it be better getting certified programmers?

Getting a certification means meeting a standard. One problem though. The standard is set by vendors like Microsoft and Sun who would be delighted to see more people being stamped with their seal of approval.

Companies want to be sure there are enough qualified people to support the technology they bought. Vendors try to convince them to look for certified candidates because they are more qualified. Since companies want certified candidates, developers would aim for it. If there are many certified developers, vendors would tell companies that there is less risk in buying their product because there are plenty of qualified developers out there to support them.

Who says certified developers are more qualified? The vendors who created the exam. The vendors whose sole purpose is to sell you their product, and not to worry about how better (or worse) your software development team has become.

If you are a hiring manager, you try to predict whether the candidate is going to be a good hire. Yes, predict. Be honest. There is absolutely no way you can be certain that your hire is going to be a success. You use indicators like a education, experience, interview, exams, and certifications.

Certifications are supposed to give you a way of knowing who is qualified to perform specific kinds of work. But the focus of these certifications are a single company’s products, which are technology-based. These kind of certifications do not in any way assure you the candidate’s competence in tackling the inherent difficulties of building software – complexity, conformity, changeability, and invisibility.

Right now, one can get certified by passing an exam, typically a multiple-choice format. Exams often can only test one’s ability to recall information. It is difficult to develop a question that test one’s ability to attack problems or to evaluate information with respect to other information.

Software development requires more than recall of information. It is very easy to memorize 5 sorting algorithms but what matters is the ability to determine the appropriate algorithm to use to solve the problem at hand.

Certification is nice if it can ensure the competency of software professionals. Until then, I do not believe it is a plus factor.


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