Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why Certify ?

Certifications at times play a good role when hiring an employee. A developer can be weighed by the certifications that he/she holds. But of what good are certifications ? Do they really help your career grow ? Let us dissect the good and bad of certifications and we can then address the crux of the problem

  • You know the boundaries of the technology / area which you want to learn.
  • Your have theoretical mastery, and some certifications give you practical mastery as well.
  • Your prospective employer is probably going to be impressed.
  • That "Certified" logo is sure going to look great on your resume.
  • Brain dumps, real exam questions kill the value of a certificate.
  • The certification process might expect you to learn things that are not practical to your work environment
I have been interviewing candidates for quite a while now, and I must say that the brain dump problem is a very serious one. Of all the candidates that said they were SCJP (Beginner Java programmer certification) certified, only 2 actually deserved the certificate. Two ! This is from a sample space of around 100 - 200 candidates. What is more shocking is that some of these candidates actually think that they can pass off their fake certificates in an interview. Here is a conversation transcript from a recent interview. The candidate had passed SCJP with a score of 93%.

Interviewer: What is println() in System.out.println() ? Is it a method, an abstract class, an interface ?
Candidate: I dont know.
Interviewer: Explain an object oriented concept / principle and its implementation in java.
Candidate: Security is one of them. Java's internal application firewall will secure the application. The byte code is also compiled quite strongly. Which helps with the security.

My brain died and my java IQ dropped by 100 points after that 6 minute interview. This was an exceptionally bad case however. It did put a smile on my face though :).

I give certifications zero importance during interviews. The irony is that I have 8 technical certifications under my belt and I earned each and every one of them. The frustration I feel when I encounter people who cheat is just unexplainable. Cheating to earn a certificate is comparable to buying a fake engineering degree. If you didn't earn it, don't bother putting it on your resume. Some pointers that cheaters simply do not understand
  • Those who cheat to get their certificates look really stupid in an interview. Asking as little as 2 questions would suffice to separate the fakers.
  • Why would I want to hire someone that lies in their resume ? How do I know that other data in the resume like projects / experience / roles are not fake. Most cheaters dont survive the interview and the job.
  • Not only do you hurt yourself, you also hurt people who have read books night and day in order to pass these exams.
  • The only people that win in this scenario are the ones that sell the dumps.
So who is to blame ?

Candidates themselves:
Some people are just lazy. They want to take the easy way out and earn the certificate without breaking sweat. Why "earn" a certificate when you can cheat ?

There are employers that want you to take 2 certifications per year whether you like it or not. Most employers do not have any way of verifying if the certificate was earned or bought. They need to understand that providing such targets to employees can hurt them. Some employers reimburse certifications, and this will burn a hole in the their pocket. Pushing employees to certify themselves can promote an environment where everyone cheats.

Dump providers:
When there is someone to provide the temptation to cheat, cheaters will always be there.

What can we do to stop it ?

  • It is not financially viable for some certification vendors to pursue dump providers / cheaters. I do not expect a solution from vendors anytime soon.
  • It is not possible to convince cheaters not to cheat. Once a cheater, always a cheater.
  • The onus is on the interviewer. Weigh your candidates carefully. If the candidate provides top notch answers during an interview, it is likely they deserve their certificate and a hire.
As for certificate takers themselves, should fakers prevent them from taking certifications all together ? No. You get certified because you want to. Anyone that has truly earned a certificate will realize that a certificate is more than just a piece of paper. It is the journey of the certification that matters more than the certificate itself. If a candidate did cheat on a certification, he/she better be prepared for a rough road ahead.