Is that REALLY the tone you want to encourage?

You can tell when I’m on a lecture week at Oxford, because I suddenly have the time to catch up on all the blogging that I intended to do over the past weeks/months!

This is something I stumbled onto when browsing the latest news on LinkedIn Today. Startmate, a startup incubator in Australia, has provided funding for a bunch of companies – in particular, to a company called Chorus. According to TechCrunch:

Chorus lets companies reply to the angriest emails first, decrease risk of bad PR on social networks, and predict future trends and sentiment. The goal: more customer love.

Now, I completely see where they’re coming from… but is that REALLY the kind of customer engagement you want to encourage? Surely, if your customers realise they’re only getting fast responses when they’re angry, they’ll start to only send angry emails. It won’t be long before they start to associate their anger with your customer service.

Having recently dealt with terrible customer service from a “reputable” UK web brand, I have a fairly fresh perspective on this. Admittedly, this is just my own perspective and there’s absolutely no doubt others will act differently. I was quite polite initially, and only got angry when they simply refused to do what I had asked (which was to close my account). It took over 20 minutes for them to get the message, which is why I got angry. If I had known that they would only take me seriously (or would only consider me a priority) when I became angry, I’d simply get there sooner!

I’m sure there’ll be a lot of disagreement over this point – and I’m not a marketing expert – but I think it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t be surprised when your customers hate you purely because they have to in order to get a response from you! I can only imagine how well that would work in a classroom of young children :-)

I just hope Chorus is intelligent enough to separate polite anger from rudeness.

Certification and Competence

I found it quite interesting reading Martin Fowler’s recent post about the correlation between certification and competence, especially so recently after writing about the changes to some of Oracle’s certifications!

I have to say that I completely agree with his opinion – and I know it’s shared by most (if not all) of my friends. Having earned a number of certifications over the course of my career, I have seen first-hand just how useless so many of them are. I must emphasise that this is not necessarily true of all certifications. However, from my experience, none have proven enough to establish the holder of the certification to be an expert on the subject – and this is really where they fail.

So why did I decide to take on the Java Enterprise Architect certification? Well, I approached my investigation of it with the usual skepticism, but was finally convinced by one major aspect: it is ultimately assessed by a human being! As Fowler points out:

“At the moment the only way you can tell if someone is a good programmer is to find other good programmers to assess their ability.”

I don’t like certifications that are comprised of nothing by MCQ’s – not enough can be tested in a few multiple choice questions to be able to certify someone as mediocre, let alone an expert! Unless the candidate has had to form an opinion and defend it, you haven’t really tested their ability to apply their knowledge and reasoning. You’ve just asked them to regurgitate simple facts. At best, you’ve tested their ability to recognise a solution to a particular problem – but you haven’t established whether, given a blank sheet of paper, they are able to come to the solution themselves.

I’m hoping that the Java Enterprise Architect certification is able to distinguish the competent from the incompetent, but at this stage I’m not sure. I do know one thing though… adding a course attendance requirement does not strengthen the certification. Unfortunately, I feel this is where the “good money-making opportunity” that Fowler mentions comes into play.

Changes to Oracle Certification for Java Architects

I’ve recently completed the first exam towards the Oracle Certified Master, Java EE 5 Enterprise Architect and had aimed to complete the assignment later this year. However, I just happened to go to the Oracle Certification website where I saw that the rules are changing for a few of their certifications.

Quoted from the announcement on their website:

Beginning August 1, 2011, Java Architect, Java Developer, Solaris System Administrator and Solaris Security Administrator certification path requirements will include a new mandatory course attendance requirement.

I can’t say I’m impressed with how quietly they announced this! I haven’t seen anything on the OTN Java site about it, nor have I seen any attempt to make developers aware of this through other channels. I also have not received any emails from them about the changes to a certification track that I am currently working on. Unless I’ve managed to miss the announcement somewhere, I can only guess that they’re trying to sneak this in quietly to get more money out of us. Perhaps I’m being a bit cynical, but I don’t think it’s too far from the truth, given Oracle’s recent track record with the Java community.

So if you’re busy working towards any of these certifications, I suggest you pick up the pace and get it done by the end of July! And here I thought things were starting to settle down.

Fortunately the certification assignment has a very similar focus to my next assignment at Oxford. If all goes well, I might just manage to get it done in time.


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