Episode #13 – Agile Certifications

Featured speakers:

Clayton Lengel-Zigich Clayton Jade Meskill Jade

Jade Meskill, Alan Dayley, Mike Vizdos and Clayton Lengel-Zigich are in the studio talking about Agile Certifications.

  • Should we certify people?
  • The WOW factor
  • When does it jump the shark?
  • Broken hiring practices
  • HR vs real community
  • Who is doing the certification?
  • There is a demand…
  • Scalability
  • Certification mill problems
  • Why not in universities/schools
  • Certifications will evolve


Jade Meskill:  Hello and welcome to another episode of the “Scrumcast.” I’m Jade Meskill.

Clayton Lingel‑Zigich:  I’m Clayton Lingel‑Zigich.

Alan Dayley:  I’m Alan Dayley.

Mike Vizdos:  And, I’m Mike Vizdos.

Jade:  All right. We got a couple guests with us today and we are going to talk about the exciting topic of certification. Hold your breath. Let’s start out with a softball. Should we be certifying people? Go.

Alan:  A softball?


Jade:  It’s fast pitch softball.


Alan:  I debate this in my own mind. Certification is valuable, evidently, to HR people. Therefore, perhaps, valuable to people who hold the certification. Where it’s not valuable is when the certification doesn’t have meat to it or it’s too easy to get. And so that’s where it gets called into question. So, personally, I wish the whole world didn’t need certification. That somehow there was a way that you could demonstrate capability without a piece of paper or someone else signing a piece of paper. But maybe that’s too hard to do in the business world. I don’t know.

Jade:  Right. When you’re screening thousands of candidates, how do you deal with that?

Clayton:  I think we should certify people if the certification…When you say, “I am ‘X‑Y‑Z’ certified”, and people say, “Wow. Really?”, and you say, “Yep!”, and they think that’s really cool. I think that’s when we should be certifying people but when it gets beyond that, I start to call into question if it’s worthwhile.

Alan:  So if I say, “I’m a certified scrum master”, and somebody says, “Wow, that’s really cool” then that’s good?

Clayton:  I think that…Well, that depends on who’s saying that. I think that if you can…If the certification elicits that kind of response from the, maybe you could say top of the industry or people that may be important…not like total newbies. Then I think maybe that would be…maybe there’s some value in having the certification when it’s hard to obtain and it’s awe‑inspiring. But when it’s something that is very easy to get or, kinda like you were saying, just a matter of someone signing a piece of paper

Jade:  So if I come in telling you I got my A‑plus certification, you’re not going to be impressed?

Clayton:  CompUSA is out of business, I’m sorry.


Clayton:  Where are you going to find a job?

Jade:  But was that valuable at some point in time to somebody?

Clayton:  Yeah

Jade:  So how do you know when you’ve crossed the threshold of it’s no longer awe inspiring and cool?

Alan:  I don’t know how to cross…well, it takes a little bit of research, I would hope. In other words, you hope that managers, HR’s, hiring people that look at a resume and say, “Oh, look. There’s a certification here.” That somehow, they would either know or research a little bit what that certification actually means.

Jade:  Do you think that really happens, though?

Alan:  No.

Jade:  They’re told to look for keywords.

Alan:  In general, it doesn’t happen. I don’t know.

Clayton:  I think certifications will probably always be valuable in the HR community.

I think where they start getting frowned upon in the actual community of the people that are using them are when people start thinking that it’s less about learning something and showing that you’re qualified in some certain skill and more about money making or prestige.

Or just something that is not directly related to how much you know about a certain topic or how qualified you are in that certain area.

Alan:  There needs to be, perhaps, a meta something. I don’t know what it is.

Some of the higher certifications, most of my experiences with the Scrum Alliance and their further certifications beyond ScrumMaster tend to have a little bit of meat behind them. They have some peer review and things like that. Somehow, if you could do that more, then it has more meaning.

Jade:  So what do you think, Mike? You’ve been awfully quiet so far.

Mike:  I’m a good listener. It really does depend, I think, on who is doing the certification. The actual certification.

I do think people have to do a lot of research before they jump in and take a class to do whatever. If anybody’s really in the market to just “take a class to take a class” to be able to get certified, does that really mean anything?

Alan:  Yeah. It’s a tough conundrum, because I’ve met bad doctors in my life. Medical doctors. They’ve been certified many, many times in different ways, and yet I find them unacceptable.

You can have all kinds of structure around a certification and still have bad people, as it were, get through. It’s a hard problem.

Mike:  There is a demand for it, still.

Jade:  Yep. Do you think that will always be the case?

Mike:  There will be a demand, yes.

Clayton:  Do you think that demand is driven from the more, like what Alan mentioned, the HR side, where people are saying, “We just need people that have this buzzword,” or is it driven by people saying, “There’s a lot of value in this for what I’m doing, so I want to go seek out that certification”?

Mike:  I see a percentage of both of those types.

Jade:  My personal fear is, with certifications like the Certified Scrum Developer, we were just talking about people who are going and taking those certification classes that aren’t actually programmers. Are they going to look better on paper than someone like myself who doesn’t have that certification but has been doing this professionally for 12 years? What are the pros and cons of that type of a world?

Clayton:  There’s always something to be said for, if you’re a company and you’re hiring people just because of their certifications, then, obviously, there’s going to be some downsides to that.

As much as I think some people would want to say, “We can’t certify,” and, “Certifications are meaningless,” and all that stuff, at the same time, if they really want to go down that road, they know that the stuff that really is important ‑‑ if they think that that stuff is really important, then they’ll maximize that. I think they’ll stand out even if they’re not certified.

I think people usually just like to complain about a certification. They want to say it’s totally not important, but they love to talk about it. If it’s not important, then you’re fine.

Alan:  Your question and your statement segues into the content. If I’m not a programmer and I take the Certified Scrum Developer class, is there a way to bridge concepts like pair programming and continuous integration or other such practices that are part of that course?

Can they be bridged into other fields? Can I do pair programming on marketing design? Can I do continuous integration on whatever job I do? Can I come up with a way to do that sort of concept in my field?

Jade:  I think that’s a really hard analog, especially compared to the Certified ScrumMaster training, where it is fairly generic and is a framework that can be applied to everything else. Once you start getting into engineering practices, I think that becomes a lot harder to translate or make generic.

Alan:  I agree.

Jade:  This leads to the question of, how do we scale this? If Scrum’s the new hotness for certification, what happens when we need to certify 10 million developers? What does that world look like if…? A hundred trainers can’t do that.

Or we’re going to do Scrum in India or China, and there’s millions of developers ready and eager to embrace these certifications. How do we do that? How do we scale it up?

Alan:  I don’t have a full answer for that. Obviously, I’m not trying to solve that problem in my own life or in my world. The danger, of course, is, it becomes some kind of mill, a certification mill, if you want to really pump the numbers through.

I’ve always been curious about the academic side of things. In other words, why aren’t there Scrum classes at universities? Why aren’t there Scrum classes more often in engineering schools, or other types of Agile certifications or classes? That has always perplexed me. I haven’t understood why they don’t pick that up.

Then, it could even, perhaps, turn into a college degree or part of your degree. Since you already have millions of people going to schools, there would be a place and a venue to scale it, but I don’t know how that would work.

Jade:  Isn’t that a function of, it’s not being demanded of them by employers, by people who are working with these universities? If they’re not saying that, “We need Scrum‑certified people coming out of this university,” why would they go teach that class? That’s what drove a lot of Java‑ and .NET‑type classes into the university system, was the demand from employers to have those type of skills.

Alan:  Go ahead if you want to say something. I think there’s a disconnect that I don’t understand. Maybe you do, Mike.

Mike:  And, actually, I’ve seen a lot. I speak a lot at universities around the world and one of the strange things about academia is they’re almost a generation behind. They’re still being taught stuff that was taught 20 years ago. And they’re coming out of university today thinking that they don’t have to work as team members.

They don’t have the skills to be able to communicate effectively and they think that they can go and get a job and just do one thing for the rest of their life. And they’re actually being told that communicating with a customer is a bad thing. [scoffs] This is the stuff that I hear as I go around the world taking to universities.

Jade:  Great. So, you know that, but that leads back into my question of if we want to build a good workforce for the future and these are valuable skills that we’re training people in these certification classes, how do we get them involved? How do we get them into the system while keeping it meaningful, relevant and worthwhile?

Alan:  There has to be the right person, the right bridge. In the Scrum email list and so on, there’s a few people that work at different universities or work with universities who have successfully integrated some of these types of topics into the universities that they work with.

But these are individual efforts in single engineering schools or programming schools and I haven’t seen it spread at all. I suspect there’s going to be somebody somewhere that’s going to write the right Ph.D thesis or be a teacher of Ph.Ds who will suddenly launch on this and become a focal of it and maybe create it and get it in. Maybe the way Java and .net did, I don’t know.

Academia is not my world, so, it puzzles me.

Mike:  And with the whole scalability thing, somebody will eventually jump on it and drive down the cost and the value of any kind of certification.

Jade:  So, then what happens at that point? Does a new breed of certifications come out on top of that and rise to the top?

Mike:  Absolutely. Absolutely. But if you look at something like Scrum, it was purely a marketing ploy, at the beginning, to get HR dollars, to spend money. And it did help create an entire new industry and bring Agile into the forefront, like it or not.

Clayton:  I think that’s an interesting thing to keep in mind that maybe you’re upset with the fact or maybe you have the world view that certification is a money maker and that’s all that it is. But there is something to be said for the fact that a lot of that maybe did help bring it to the forefront.

The fact that you can use it in your company today is you benefited from that, too, one way or the other.

Mike:  And nobody is forcing anybody to do any of these type of classes. But if you’re anti‑certification, continue doing what you’re doing and do some research on whatever class. If you’re interested in getting certified, do some research into who you’re going to get taught or facilitated with.

Jade:  Yeah, and that world’s always existed, right? There’s always been companies who preferred to have, let’s say, an MCSE, right?

Mike:  Mm‑hmm.

Jade:  But if you could prove that you’ve had the experience, you didn’t necessarily have to have that particular certification, but it makes it harder to get your foot in the door with certain organizations. And I think that we just have to accept that as a reality, right? If you choose to not participate in the certification world, great.

That doesn’t mean you’re not worthwhile, but expect to have a little bit harder time dealing with, especially larger organizations who are filtering that way.

Mike:  And I can see, really, the validation of the whole certified Scrum Master kind of path with the PMI jumping on the board now and rolling out Agile certification. So, it’s going to be, it is mainstream. Like it or not, it is. And something will come next.

Jade:  I look forward to seeing what the new hotness will be. Alright, we are out of time. [background music] Thank you everybody for your opinions and we will catch you next time on another Agile’s Scrum Cast.

Clayton:  Thank you.

Mike:  Thanks.

Alan:  Thanks.