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On certifications in the tech industry

cdvillard profile image Charles D. Villard ・3 min read

UPDATE:
While I think what the OpenJS Foundation is doing isn't a net negative and don't think certifications should be balked at completely, a friend and colleague of mine, Michael Schofield, made some excellent points regarding certification that I hadn't thought about.

It's challenged me to re-examine my biases here a bit. If certifications continue to normalize in the industry, it can lead to employers having control of who gets in, thus gate-keeping. Certifications can also serve to put a developer in debt if they don't pan out, much like with degrees. Though I will say, to that end, someone intimate with the initiative did let me know that a diversity and inclusion program is on the wishlist to make it more accessible to those who typically can't afford it.

I encourage you to read through Michael's Twitter thread in addition to my sentiments below.


NearForm published a blog post recently written by one of their principal architects, David Clements. The piece announced the launch of two new certification programs: the OpenJS Node Services Developer (JSNSD) and OpenJS Node Application Developer (JSNAD) certifications.

The reception on Twitter that I saw was luke-warm at best. Much of the criticism was terse, primarily wondering why the OpenJS Foundation would back such an initiative. Why charge $300 for something people have been working on for years? Why introduce more gate-keeping to the industry?

While I pride myself on being a self-taught developer, I have done certification coursework in the past for a couple of platforms. So, in light of the recent discussion including some I was involved in, I thought I'd at least put my thoughts on the matter out there.


Many software companies and third-party vendors offer vocational training and coursework for official and unofficial certifications. Popular opinion amongst developers is that certifications are often a sinkhole for money and time, and like I said, can be used as a gate-keeping mechanism.

That's a point I can agree with. There are many certification programs that are often prohibitive to independent developers and only serve to create a false scarcity of talent for that specific work. I had such an experience earlier this year in a previous role, in which I had a soft requirement to pass a certification exam to be able to work with a large-scale CMS platform.

Despite that, I feel that certification courses can also be a benefit and boon to developers in some ways. Pulling from my own experience, I was able to participate in a vocational training course offered to me by the local government while living on food stamps in 2016. While I didn't take the certification exam and have yet to, completing the coursework was training enough to progress my career and helped me land my first full-time web development role.

While my situation is definitely unique, I find that many of the statements levied against the OpenJS certifications seem to be knee-jerk reactions to something commonly, though understandably, lambasted. Certifications and their coursework, in general, offer a structured environment or platform from which new developers or those familiar with other stacks can learn. They can also provide validation of a developer's skillset to potential clients, often in the Enterprise realm where software development is often discussed outside the engineering department at a high, unnuanced level.

OpenJS' certifications, in my opinion, improve upon that by creating an opportunity for that validation at a more reasonable cost compared to others. It also helps continue to solidify JavaScript's place as a useful programming language in the enterprise space, one dominated by Java and C#.


None of this is to say this is a perfect solution to anything or that there is even a problem to be solved with one more certification. Many developers build careers while never taking an exam, even though many often pay for courses, whether or not a form of verification is offered. I only hope to bring forward what I feel to be several benefits to such programs existing and to hopefully open a dialogue. What have been your thoughts regarding certification programs in the tech industry? Do you feel the community will benefit from a Node certification or could this be its bane?

Discussion

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Felix Seifert

Even though certifications in the software development field have certain advantages, the time required to become certified could be used better by actual coding. Why not work in an own project which you could present? Participate in a project of others who could teach you their knowledge?

Software development certificates are a double-edged sword: Recruiters could be impressed by the knowledge needed for a certificate. On the other hand, recruiters could also think that this time could have been invested better. I'd say that having one or two certificates is okay. But bragging with a huge mass of certificates isn't a good idea. Therefore, one should consider if the OpenJS certificates are the right choice for the own career track.

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Charles D. Villard Author

You're definitely right in your analogy. Certifications can be a gamble, much like a college degree. I actually updated the article with some points from a peer of mine, but what I think OpenJS is doing is at least providing a model for easier and maybe more transparent access to these kinds of programs.

I don't agree as easily with your thoughts on the time investment, however. Studying for certification, at least an official one, offers a glimpse into suggested practices for a tool, which is something a developer not familiar with said tool might not glean from self-study.

In the end, I only hope that people won't look down on developers who do pursue certifications in the same way they do the certifications themselves. That would be ostracizing in itself.