Of course it’s a misnomer
On Twitter, my good friend Mike Sutton said, “CSD is a misnomer. The value of existing Certifications needs to be justified before new ones are released.”
Many of the terms we use are misnomers. For example, “acceptance testing” is a misnomer because it doesn’t indicate acceptance if the tests pasts–it indicates lack of acceptance if the tests fail.
What is the misnomer in the phrase “certified scrum developer?” I can’t really tell, because the phrase is so ambiguous. Developer, in this usage, means “software developer.” Scrum is referring to a particular “product or system development framework.” Certified means “received a certificate.” There’s not much overlap between these concepts, though, so the combination takes more explanation. The phrase itself does not communicate a clear concept from one person to another. The debate over the phrase has proved that point.
“Wait a minute,” you say, “Certified means more than ‘received a certificate!'”
Then what does “certified” mean to you? It seems to carry different connotations for different people.
Well, what’s the denotation? I looked it up in the dictionary:
1 : having earned certification <a certified gemologist>
2 : genuine, authentic <a certified big shot> <certified intellectuals>
Looking up certification takes us in a circle, leading right back to certified. I also looked at certify, certifying, and certificate. They all come from the Latin certificare which derives from the earlier certus which means “certain.” The general gist of all of these is
to attest authoritatively, usually in a written statement, and especially one carrying a signature or seal.
But what is being attested and by whom?
One example of certification that frequently comes to mind is that of doctors. Note that certification of doctors is different from a medical license, though the granting of a medical license may require certification. Graduating from medical school (or any school) is a certification and they generally give you a nice diploma (a certificate) as tangible evidence that you’ve met their requirements. There are other certificate programs that attest to education, practice, and testing beyond that of a medical license examination. Clearly some certificates are backed by years of study, supervised practice, rigorous examinations, and have the force of law requiring them.
But what about that “certified gemologist” in the dictionary definition? That’s a certificate offered by the American Gem Society, a non-profit trade association promoting competence and ethics in the jewelry industry. That’s good stuff, right? Membership in the American Gem Society also requires that “at least one full-time employee who has studied and completed an Accredited or Graduate Program from the [Gemological Institute of America] or Gemological Association of Great Britain.” Seems they’re open to charges similar to the Scrum Alliance, that it’s a grab for tuition dollars rather than a sincere desire for improving the marketplace for jewelry.
In truth, any attempt to create a program to differentiate practitioners of whom you approve from ones you consider unscrupulous charlatans is a blend of both altruism and self-interest.
And then there are “diploma mills” that skip faking competence at the practice, and go right to faking competence at teaching and evaluating. There are already organizations in the field of software development that I suspect might fall into this category, at least, by my standards. And I don’t know any way to prevent them from doing so. I would certainly hate for governments to start issuing licenses to write code and regulating whose certification was allowed.
Instead, I’d like for people to make their own judgments. Instead of blindly trusting someone to be competent because they hold a certification, I’d like them to consider who is behind that certification and what are they certifying. I’d also like them to consider that instead of blindly distrusting someone because they hold a certification. And since the number of available certifications cannot be held to zero, I think the best way to get people to give such consideration is by having the number of available certifications greater than one.
In any even, it’s not the certificate that matters. That’s just a tangible token. It’s what’s behind it. If what’s behind it is only that they attended a two or three day class with a reasonably good instructor, and that instructor thought they showed some understanding of the material, then that has some value to me. In fact, it has more value to me than certifications that someone has passed a test showing they’ve memorized a lot of detail about the Java library.
Like a story card, the certificate is an invitation for a conversation. “Where did you get that certificate? Who was the instructor? What was the course like? What did you get out of it?” In that regard, a course taught by Ron and Chet would carry some weight with me, because I know and respect Ron and Chet. A certification has no more value than the signature or seal making the assertion. I could look at the material the course covered and evaluate that coverage using the catalog of the Agile Skills Project. But most importantly, asking “What did you get out of it?” and listening to the response will tell me a lot about their engagement and what they consider important.
And isn’t that what’s important when evaluating an unknown developer?