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My stance on certifications and exams

I don’t like tech certifications. At least not the easy to medium level ones. Maybe the really hard, top-level certs are worth something, but other than that, I find them close to useless. And expensive.

Technology exams and certifications are, unfortunately, still quite in demand. Job postings either mention it as a requirement or a plus, or consultancy and recruiting firms mention it to potential clients.

My guess is people who require certifications from candidates either have little technical knowledge of their own or have certifications themselves and refuse to acknowledge the time acquiring them was more or less wasted.

I have three (Microsoft) certifications myself and I learnt… close to nothing. If I know something about programming, it’s not because of Microsoft exams, but rather thanks to experience on the job, making mistakes, messing around in my free time, etc.

Valuing certifiations and exams is a silly thing to do, because you’re very likely to miss a better candidate. It requires more work to find the good candidate, because you can’t just count the acquired certifications. But do you want to hire a smart programmer, or someone who studied a brain dump in the evening?

But surely something will stick? Surely some knowledge will be retained? Perhaps. And all knowledge has value. But the time I (or you) could spend in getting a certification would be better spent following a Pluralsight course or (even better) doing some actual programming.

Doing actual programming and maybe even publishing/releasing a working product will teach you so much more. It will also cost you so much less (my three certifications must have cost about €450 in total).

And if you’re thinking it might increase your chances at a job, you’re highly likely to find a good job anyway, given the current state of our industry (dev shortage).

On the other side of the equation, people hiring developers would be better off asking other questions.

  • Have you ever shipped a (more or less) finished product?
  • Show me some of your code on GitHub
  • How active are you in the developer community (StackOverflow, Twitter)?
  • Show me problems you’ve solved, however dirty (GitHub, JSFiddle, CodePen,…)

Conversely, as a developer, it would be wise to build up a public profile as a CV. Instead of getting certifications, leave a trail of actual code on the internet (GitHub, StackOverflow, JSFiddle, CodePen, Code Katas,…).

Eventually, certifications only make sense for the companies that make a business out of them: the companies that issue them (i.e. Microsoft, etc), the companies that teach them, and the companies where you go to take the exam.

Other companies are unfortunately sucked in because of potential financial benefits they can get (cheaper licensing) from the likes of Microsoft. This tweet sums it up nicely:

As a developer, ask yourself what the benefit for you really is…

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