Rafael Benevides bio photo

Rafael Benevides

In a serious relationship with Software Development

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Many years after Oracle bought Sun Microsystem, I finally requested PearsonVue to merge my old Prometric id, so I can view them in Oracle CertView.

The following twitter from Josh Long made me reflect once more about the importance (or not) of IT certifications.

A little bit of history

I’ve been working in IT since 1995 and developing applications since 1998, but it was only in 2003 that I started to learn and dedicate the last 13 years to Java. As a new passion, I did everything that I could to develop more and more expertise in Java. I bought classes and books, joined mailing lists and user groups, and of course, I took some Java certifications. I can’t forget how proud I felt when I received a letter from Sun Microsystems coming from USA in my hometown in Brazil.

Years later I moved to Brasília, the capital of Brazil, to work for the Governament in the Ministry of Justice. And the short answer is: Yes! That first certification opened the doors to that job.

Now let’s discuss how this very first Java certification helped me get that position. The Brazilian governament can’t contract directly with companies that they want. At that time, there was a bidding process known as “Technical and price”, where the companies with the best technical skills and the least expense would “win” the bid, and could sign a 2-year contract with the Brazilian governament. One of the “technical” criterias for those companies was the number of “certified professionals” (PMPs, SCJPs, OCPs, RHCEs, CCNAs, etc). Bingo! Professionals with certifications were payed their weight in gold until 2007 (when the Governament changed the criteria, but also decreasing the quality considerably - I’ve written about that in another blog post from 2008 - Sorry in Portuguese!).

From 2003 to 2007, I tried to cover the “MVC” of the Java certifications: SCJP, SCWCD, SCBCD, and SCEA. During that time, I also remember discussing with my team the importance (or not) of having Java certifications for hiring candidates, and one conclusion was: Certifications don’t prove that we are hiring an excellent professional, although, it proves that a person has dedicated enough time and effort to read and study the materials for days, and submited themselves to an evalution of their knowledge on that specific topic. Any deep experience will overlap any certification title.

In fact, the discussion around the importance of certication is not new: Just google for “is IT certification necessary” and you will be amazed at the number of different opinions. Everyone who has an IT certification had their own motives to take it. In 2016, I’m still facing this question and this is why I’ve decided to give my opinion.

My opinion

You could imagine that I would defend the importance of IT certifications given that I myself have 14 certifications - 9 of them related to Java from different companies and couting :)

But believe me, I’ve seen AMAZING software engineers without a single certification, and a I’ve seen people with important titles that couldn’t deliver anything beside promises.

This phenomena happens because certifications “can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, good will, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count are isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning.”(To teach: the journey of a teacher, by William Ayers, Teachers College Press, 1993)

“Talk is CHEAP. Show me the CODE!”(Linus Torvalds)

However, the real world promotes “certificates”:

  • Academic degrees (Bachelor, Master, PhD, etc),
  • IT Certifications (OCP, PMP, CCNA, RHCE, etc),
  • Nobility titles (Duke, Baron, Marquess, etc),
  • Product/Process certifications (ISO, ANSI, NSF),
  • Community recognition programs.

I might seem rhetorical, but to me, all of these “certificates/titles” are examples of what a person/product/process can achieve. Of course, there are different pathways to achieve these “certificates/titles”, but all share at least two things in common: They require dedication, and bring some sort of recognition to the “holder”.

Furthermore, the market seems to support “IT certifications” in that almost every IT company has its own certification program: Red Hat, Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, IBM, Pivotal, Dell, Amazon, etc - All of them “sell” certifications as a way to improve the team skills.

Moreover, unless you are a unicorn, I don’t believe that a specific “certificate/title” such as “A” being more “significant” than “B” or “C”. Each one of these “certificates/titles” represents a different level of responsibility and NOT a different level of contribution. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to diminish any titles here. Instead I want to say that ALL of them are important for the reason that they were created.

I strongly believe that the essence of becoming recognized can be found in Meritocracy - I’ve discussed this innumerable times with my friend Edgar Silva. In brief, despite the fact that “meritocracy also naively assumes a level playing field, in which everyone has access to the same resources, free time, and common life experiences to draw upon” (http://contributor-covenant.org/), if someone achieves an IT certification and becomes a WCP - Whatever Certified Professional - no one can deny their individual acomplishment, thus their merit.

Conclusion

As can be seen, I think IT certifications are important, but they aren’t the only achievement that the professional should care about. To summarize my rant about IT certifications, I’ll drop my thoughts about them here:

  • Certifications don’t guarantee job positions.
  • Experience counts much more than certifications.
  • Certifications requires discipline - Everyone that got a certification that I know is disciplined, but not all disciplined professional have a certification.
  • I’ve worked with awful certified professionals and I’ve worked with genius developers who don’t have any certifications.
  • Certifications allow you to compete with yourself and yourself only.
  • Everyone has a different motivation to pursue certifications.
  • Certifications do help inexperienced professionals prove their capacity.
  • Companies can be more competitive in a bidding process if their customers require certified professionals.