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Are certifications worth it?

I respond to some feedback I received on a recent Ask Leo! article on the value of certification.

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This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

Last week I posted an article, “Are certifications important?” on Ask Leo. I received the following comment:

“I disagree with your evaluation of certifications. They matter. If you are not certified then you’re a hack.”

The commenter went on to compare software certification to an automobile mechanic’s certification, a doctor’s accreditation, and even some kind of certificate that my dry cleaner supposedly has posted on their wall. He continued:

“They have invested the blood, sweat and tears required to be something. That something is a certified professional.”

Now, I have a lot of respect for the folks who’ve invested all that blood sweat and tears, but we’re comparing apples and oranges here. In most of those professions, certification implies an immense amount of work and education, often involving long apprenticeships working under a practicing professional out in what we call “the real world”.

Most software certification comes nowhere close to that rigor. There is no software apprenticeship program that leads to some form of accreditation … I wish there were. The closest I know of are internship programs that many companies have that result not in a certificate, but in school credit, or even a job. Most software certification programs involve passing a test of knowledge, and not much more.

Now, I don’t mean to devalue knowledge. It’s critical. And I don’t mean to devalue the effort people are putting into their certification programs. But realize what it is, and what it is not. It’s knowledge, and knowledge itself is different than ability.

My experience has been that the best engineers are hired based on ability. If I’m making a long-term investment in an employee, I want to know that they can achieve results. I want them to be able to think clearly, to solve challenging problems and to learn.

That’s why certification doesn’t rank high on my list of criteria. It’s way more important for me to hire a smart person who can learn and achieve, than a person who has a certificate for knowledge but has no evidence of being able to actually get results.

Visit the shownotes at by entering 7353 in the go to article number box on the home page. There’s a link there to the original article, as well as the comments I’ve only excerpted here. Add your own comments, I’d love to hear from you.

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