Are Developer Certifications Worthless?

Some developers disdain IT certifications, yet in a tight job market they can make all the difference. A veteran project manager talks about his experience with a team of developers.


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"That is a load of crap!"

"Tell me how you really feel," was my half-joking response to Jack, a developer on my team who was raising his point during a team meeting.

What brought on this passionate (if not eloquent) response was the new requirement that HR had established for certifications -- all software developers on our team now would be required to have a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certification.

Well, Jack wasn’t the only one up in arms. Almost the entire team was not happy. He was just leading the charge.

“Only one of us has an MCSD, so that means that we now must waste the company’s valuable time and money to get certified? Especially when we are all under pressure for this upcoming deliverable? Come on man!” That one certified person was Sandy. She piped up from the corner of the room in her quiet voice, sounding like she felt compelled to explain her certification.

“I didn’t have a choice. My last job required it.”

Jack jumped back in, “Yeah, I mean no self respecting developer would purposefully get a cert that says they know how to code. Any monkey can pass a certification exam with enough repetition. Doesn’t mean they can really think like a developer. Frankly, it’s demeaning. “

I like lively discussions like this, as long as people can back up their points. Not sure the monkey comment qualified, but I got the point. I also expect the opportunity to explain the company point of view.

“I see your point Jack. Let me explain the reasoning behind this decision,” I said.

Everyone sat there with folded arms – a clear sign of a defensive posture. So I took a deep breath and started to explain.

“First and foremost, it’s important to remember we work for a consulting firm. This means we have to win business in open competition. And the market is dictating that certifications help win contracts. We have seen more requirements for the MCSD certification in RFPs [requests for proposals], especially from government clients.

“If we expect to keep all of you off the bench and billable, then requiring relevant certifications makes good business sense.”

Jack interrupted, “But you’ll admit the cert requirement isn’t on every RFP. And they are always changing. We are just giving in. We need to push back on these prospective clients. And do we really want to work for customers like these?”

To me, this seemed like a pretty naïve response. But I wanted to finish my points.

“Please let me finish Jack,” I asked (very politely).

Jack harrumphed and I continued.

“Times are tight and there are a lot of resumes on the market. In a technical market saturated with resumes like this, it helps us to quickly identify talent to staff projects in a timely fashion.”

That led to interruption number two from Jack.

“Come on! That is just a cheap excuse to make it easier for the idiots in HR who think C# on a developers resume means they play the piano. Sure it helps screen through a hundred resumes, but that means they aren’t reading the more critical qualifications in their experience descriptions. It’s a lazy shortcut filter.”

I must admit that comment steamed me a bit because my wife has worked in HR for many years. I know that when you are trying to filter through a thousand people responding to a job posting (typically more than one hundred resumes), basic selection requirements help with the first pass.

Next Page: "We’ll be replaced if we don’t get certified, right?"

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Tags: developers, IT certifications, certification, Certifications, programmer salary

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