Warning: This is a bit of a rant, but there is a question at the end. I promise. With real curiosity.
Also, I’m in the no-cert camp. I won’t re-hash the reasons; if you need a brush-up, check out James Shore’s Why I Don’t Provide Agile Certification.
The discussion I’ve seen about Agile certification is about how existing coaches can be recognized. But certification is mostly appealing to total n00bs like me, isn’t it? People who want a way into this beautiful community? I’m a little grey at the temples, but for these purposes, you can think of me as a fresh young geek who wants to be part of this Agile thing.
Like a lot of the world-changing things I end up attached to, the Agile world seems to see itself as being about reform. It takes old-fashioned projects, people, attitudes, and provides a way to remodel them into something shiny and new. [I wish I didn't find myself wondering who'd stop reading because I didn't use the words "waterfall" and "refactor."]
It’s not unlearning
But agile is old enough now to begin realizing that there needs to be room for new people who are not unlearning the old stuff, but are coming in because Agile is inviting. That means finding a way to teach people Java with TDD right from the start, rather than convincing experienced coders to adopt it. Teaching pairing to young programmers, teaching mistake-making and codebase-sharing and all the stuff that makes Agile so sweet and collaborative. And it means figuring out how to welcome them (us!) into the fold.
The certification proponents have a way to do that. I’d like to ask for the non-cert people to come up with an alternative. And, as it happens, I have a proposal. :)
Apprenticeship and Mentorship
I’d love an online college for n00bs like me, but even without that, I have many avenues of learning. I find the Agile community to be open and conversational. I have books like Agile Java and The Art of Agile Development. (//TODO Construct a nice long booklist for this site.) I get to engage in conversations on twitter, and I have lots of mentors, and a Mentor. (Thanks, Mike.)
Certification is something else. The We Vouch For idea seems a little too watery for my taste. At the least, the people who would vouch for me might end up being beginners like me, and it could become a numbers game. More likely, people would begin forming spammy groups that would pass recommendations around or sell them.
What I’m imagining is something that mixes in aspects of the apprenticeship / mentorship models, with seasoning taken from the way a PhD program works (in the US). I envision something like this…
An Agile certification
Like the “We Vouch For” idea, I imagine real people making a statement in the form of “I, Ward Cunningham, certify that…” But I’d like to make those statements robust by forming relationships with the certifiers, in advance.
I’d ask trusted Agile elders (crafts-uh, people, experts) if they’d be willing to guide me. I’d make a plan with topics of study, and I’d ask those people, at the end, to offer a statement of certification.
If you’re a person who hires, how might you like to see this on a resume?
Education and Certifications
After eight months of self-study, including a six-week on-site internship, I received the following certifications (contact information on request):
Mike Hill, June 2011
“I, Mike Hill, certify that ______ has a clear and complete understanding of Agile philosophy and practice. I base this evaluation on her performance in seminars and her six weeks of on site work as my assistant, during which she accomplished this and such specific things.”
Michael Bolton, July 2011
“I, Michael Bolton, certify that ______ is an expert tester. I base this evaluation on her completion of my course, Become an Expert Tester in Three Days or Your Money Back”. (Sorry, MB. Just kiddin.)
Jeff Langr, May 2011
“I, Jeff Langr, certify that ______ is a competent junior Java developer. I base this evaluation on a cursory review of code she created while working through my book, Agile Java.”
Ok, maybe that’s a little strong. :) I actually imagine that the three people would include a local person or two, and someone with more prominent expertise in Agile. Perhaps one teacher in particular will have invested more time than the others.
The idea is that evaluations could be based on any criteria the mentor chooses, from personal correspondence, to essays, code, on-the-job performance, even standardized tests, if the apprentice and the mentor agree on that approach. Mentors could work pro-bono, or charge money, and they could offer as little or as much time as they like.
I promised a question
Actually, as usual, I have several.
- Does this approach work?
- Does it meet the needs of the n00bs who are the customers of certification programs? That is, does it provide learning, resume padding, and general cred?
- Does it meet the needs of recruiters? Hiring consultants? How about mentors?
What I’m reading about here isn’t an agile certification. Instead, it’s a letter of recommendation from an agile someone. It’s like the letters that graduates solicit from instructors so that they can be invited to fellowships or other post-graduate situations.
As such, I feel completely perky about it.
I will happily write letters of recommendation like that.
And you know what? That’s all I have to say right now.