I can has certification?

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?

GeePaw says…

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.

10 thoughts on “I can has certification?

  1. Michael Bolton

    “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.)

    To clarify:

    1) I’m willing to certify that someone is an expert tester (or a clever thinker, or a complete boob) in my opinion; that’s backed by me, a person, and not an anonymous institution. So the respect and trust is direct; if you respect me, you might transfer a portion of the person that I’m talking about.

    2) I’m willing to state that someone attended the Rapid Software Testing course.

    3) (1) and (2) are orthogonal.

    4) I do in fact offer a money-back guarantee.

    —Michael B.

    1. Angela Post author

      Oh, dear… See what happens when I try to be funny? I had no idea your course was three days! So embarrassed to realize it could look like I think you’re in the business of selling certifications. In fact, I was relaxed about the joke specifically because you’re exactly the kind of teacher I imagine would embrace this type of alternative.

      I wonder if I should edit that out of the post? Do you think?

      And, once you’ve forgiven me, maybe you’ll have some criticism of the model I laid out? ^_^


  2. Michael Bolton

    No offense taken; I took it as a joke. Anyone who doesn’t know me already will quickly find out that I’m opposed to the current silly certifications. In fact, the singer guy has become strongly identified with the anti-certificationist movement, which I’m sure confuses him. (See, I’m down with jokes.)

    Actually, the public version of the course is three days. But for in-house people, there’s an optional free fourth day, with the agenda set by the client. Plus, since we have about six days of material available for the three-day course, it’s never the same way twice.

    And I would be happy to endorse your certification scheme. It’s a lot like what I’d do: custom-made for the circumstance.

    —Michael B.

    1. Angela Post author

      Oh, hey! Does that mean the model is now Certified? :)

      P.S. Would have been funnier if I’d said “I, Michael Bolton, certify that _____ is an Expert Tester(TM). I base this…”

  3. Jeff Hoover

    Hi Angela, great questions!

    You asked whether mostly “noobs” are interested in certifications. Some HR departments are looking at certifications (like CSM, for example) to try to find members for agile teams. I’m skeptical of the usefulness of that approach.

    Would you consider joining us at the Agile Skills Project ( http://agileskillsproject.org )?

    I think you would have a lot to add on several topics that we’re working on:
    - alternatives to certifications (merit badges? quests? other types of vouching?)
    - what skills does an agile developer need?
    - how does a person get those skills?
    - how do I assess my level of proficiency at those skills?
    - what are some good books about agile?

  4. June Kim

    Hi Angela,

    First of all, I like your idea.

    While I think your idea is a sound, viable and better alternative to the current certification practice in many ways, I still think there are some more things we could do to improve it.

    The problem to solve is what is the job to be done for the certification(or recommendation). Basically, the recruiters want to reliably predict the candidates performance and competence in advance so that they can get the maximum benefit from their new employees. Then we’d expect to get some respect as an industry and practitioners might get guidance in improving their practice.

    So to summarize:

    * recruiter : want to predict the candidates performance
    * customer (payer): want to have confidence with their partners
    * practitioner : want to get guidance in improving their practice (in some objective way)

    I’ll talk about the first here. I do a professional consulting for the hiring process of IT organizations. There’s been a lot of research on the reliability and validity of selection methods in industrial psychology. There’s been also a lot of research on expertise and expertise acquisition, expertise assessment in cognitive psychology. I believe we have to learn a lot from them and start from there. We can help the recruiters.

    1. Angela Post author

      June, so it sounds like there are a lot of resources that touch on this. Is there someplace they’re gathered? A website?

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