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.