Scrum Agile Project Management

I am Certifiable! – Honest Mom All The Agile Kids Are Doing It!

CSM, PMI-ACP, PSM. Some people wear their certifications like badges of honor. In this article, Mark Haynes describes, with a facetious bias, some of the negative sides of Agile certifications.

Author: Mark Haynes,

Instead of practicing a few Scrum Master marketable skills, or figuring out how to apply Earned Value to User Stories (please don’t), you have decided to follow the new career paradigm and feed the Certification beast. Before getting on that train, and spending all that money, you should consider all sides of certifications. Is it simply a good career move, or is it a cult industry preying on human weakness? On one shoulder is an angel, speaking in platitudes and pontificating about its virtues. On the other is a devil, whispering all those de-motivational things you don’t want to hear. Or is that the other way around?

Why do you want to get certified?

It is not that certifications are bad. It is just that they can never be a panacea for lack of knowledge and experience. If you are on an agile train wreck and your first thought is “If only I had an agile certification?” then you have a much bigger problem than you suppose. But who knows, maybe getting a few certifications will help convince people you know what you are talking about.

Let’s consider a few reasons for getting certified. There may be others but these are the ones I wish to satirize.

  • Marketability
  • Subject Matter Expertise
  • Status

I am Certifiable! - Honest Mom All The Agile Kids Are Doing It!

Marketability: Hire me for I have more certs than the other guy

Certifications are a marketing tool, and without them act as a barrier to entry, as argued by many pro-certification articles. Will they increase your compensation, or chances of getting hired? Maybe but what’s the alternative? The hiring committee could review candidates’ resumes, asking probing questions about their knowledge and experience. That takes time and doesn’t let them use expensive Requiting Management software to make their decisions.

In an agile framework certifications may be required for specialized jobs like a Release Train Engineer. but isn’t a big issue for developers, testers, or Product Owners. Scrum Master may require a few and could be a barrier to entry unless their first job was an internal placement. Incrementally, how many more certs do you need?

Many boilerplate job postings feature a wish list of certifications from columns A and B. Since it is hard to tell which ones the hiring committee wants, why not just get them all? Will more certifications make you more competitive by tipping the balance between two equal candidates? Nothing warms the cockles of a consultant’s heart like increasing one’s billable rate, you have to consider the Return on investment. Unless your employer ponies up for the associated classes, workbooks, and exams, that’s cash coming out of your pocket – and more to maintain it over time, with continuing education requirements and renewal fees.

Certification happy people focus on credentials, not skills. You need skills, not merit badges. If you think there’s something to be gained, then definitely get a few more certs. Feed the beast, for it hungers.

Subject Matter Expertise: I am not crazy, I have been tested! 

I hate the phrase Subject Matter Expert. Are you saying there is nothing more to learn on a subject, or no one can question your opinion? If you are a consultant then all you need to know is more than your clients. If you think the certification will help you on your path to professional enlightenment, or is just the thing to enhance your professional reputation, then go ahead and get a few.

Programming didn’t require a college degree before. Now it is almost mandatory. Soon, a host of certs will be required for the right to work in IT. So what’s going on here? Are we experiencing certification inflation, or does it represent a shift from working-class skills to “professional credentialing”? It is not that credentials are a bad thing. Like a degree, getting certifications may be useful. No, not for the skills, but for the exposure to different concepts and maybe a few critical thinking skills.

Of course, you COULD always try reading. Or developing a visceral understanding through experience and solving problems. You can try to use certifications as a productive way to learn, but it only demonstrates a minimal degree of comprehension of the targeted material. If you prefer a structured learning environment, then go for it, but remember like a formal education it is only a start. Though, maybe more importantly a certification badge in the email signature indicates that you are trainable. Wait for it, you are certifiable.

Status: R-E-S-P-E-C-T – Sock it to me, baby. 

Certifications satisfy a deep need for respect. It is a visible sign of accomplishment, a gate if you will, to be checked off. Is there a cool factor to all this? Well, let’s face it, you are in IT. You’ve been a geek all your life. You’re never going to be rock star cool. But racking up degrees and certifications can satisfy that yearning for recognition. Certification gives your resume or business card a bit of oomph. Once started it is best to finish. Saying you have an ABD (All But a Dissertation) means you don’t have that Ph.D.

However, if your primary motivation is the status boost from those cool letters behind your name, then why are you encouraging others to get certified? The more folks who have these things, the less special they are. Wait a minute, is this all about your ego wall? Yes, it is. Welcome to the dark side, for we have chocolate. I always wanted to get a Certified Internal Auditor cert. That way when terrorists hijack my flight, we would have something interesting to talk about.

That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh I like it

At this point, it may sound like I am not in favor of gaining certifications. That is not the case. If your current job supports you by providing training, or reimbursement, then definitely consider it as a soft benefit. If you think it makes you more marketable then consider it. If you feel it will increase your earning potential, then do it, better sooner than later. If you learn better this way or it is simply a personal goal then go for it. I was an Eagle Scout. I loved getting merit badges. They look so cool on your sash. They have great motivational power.

Here is a thought. Is it enough to list all the certifications on your business card or do you need something more? Consider Agile Certification body art. Just imagine your next interview. “Yo baby, check out these cool certs, my agile is scaled up and ready for action. Then rip off your shirt and show them how agile you are. Don’t laugh. I met a guy who had his favorite game company logo tattooed on his arm. I had to admire his dedication.

Now that you got all those certifications, how about something a bit extra to become a major player? Tell your company you need a cool title like the Director of Silly Walks. Wait, sorry – you need an MBA from an Ivy League school to really screw up a Fortune 500 company.

About the Author

I am a renaissance man trapped in a specialist’s body. I started as a biologist and that is why I became an IT guy. I love science, but it doesn’t pay the bills. I have been an IT professional for many years. I used to be a software developer with an elegant language for a more civilized age. I became a Quality Assurance guy because it is better to give than receive. I have been a process improvement specialist because it is easier to negotiate with a terrorist than a Methodologist. But lately, I’ve been working as a Scrum Master and Agile Coach. I have drunk the Kool-Aid and it tastes good. Agile is a philosophy, not a methodology. In interviews, people often ask how long you’ve been Agile. My answer is always. I just didn’t know what it was called before.

2 Comments on I am Certifiable! – Honest Mom All The Agile Kids Are Doing It!

  1. Wonderful observations! I pursued my certs for all the reasons you’ve listed! I would have gotten the tatoos but I hate pain so I settled for the the cluttered email signature and crowded printing on my business cards! Good job, looking forward to the next installment!

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