1. 12

Where I live, certifications are the bread and butter of secondment agencies. Since their customers typically have little knowledge of IT, they need proof that the human beings they provide are, in fact, programmers, so they push their employees through yearly (and expensive) courses to get their paperwork up-to-date.

As a result, I’ve always looked down on certifications. I worked through the Java Certified Developer coursework early in my career, and decided it was a good source of information if you had the ambition to become a compiler, but offered little extra to someone with a degree in software engineering.

There are many strong opinions I developed in my twenties that are worthy of re-evaluation, and maybe this is one of them.

  1. 9

    Depending on what you do, I highly recommend the aws certifications. At the very least the associate developer or solution architect. They’ll force you to understand the many services, the rationale behind and many other complexities. Other cloud services are always compared to aws too, so even if you end up on azure, it’s worth it. There’s a big paradigm shift with cloud computing, and imho learning about it it’s really worth it.

    1. 1

      I just wanted to add few things, as I hear your point dearly and I did and somehow still do share the same opinion.

      • Recruiters really like certs. So it helps having some.
      • I like studying, but I get sidetracked too easily. Having an exam set really motivates me. I work this way.. go figure.
      • I’d like to get a Kafka and a kube certifications too, But I really can’t say if those are worth it. I am very curious to hear what people here who have them think.
      1. 2

        I should clarify, in the current market, I am absolutely indifferent to what recruiters want. In an ideal world career growth is linked to value delivery to one’s current employer, not on your sales pitch to the next one. Recruiters exist because the world is not ideal :)

        Thanks for your recommendations!

        1. 4

          Some of the worst people I’ve hired and managed had lots of certifications, both industry and academic certifications. I think the worst thing that can happen is for folks to start feeling as if the certs have some sort of magic power on their own. I’m with you as far as looking on them generally in a bad light.

          One weird thing worth noting: many times having certs/experience in one super-complex area can lead to work in non-related areas. I have no idea why. I got more gigs doing VB, C#, and Java work with my C++ experience than I would have guessed. Perhaps folks feel if you can do this one really hard thing you can do others? I don’t know.

    2. 7

      Certificates are completely useless until they aren’t.

      Here’s a few things I experienced:

      • Because there were a few people who wasted days on configuring or destroying their local linux installs the company decreed you need to have the LPIC-1 in order to have Linux on your machine. So I was in the fascinating position of being a sysadmin keeping the company infra (Linux) running but wasn’t allowed to run Linux on my laptop until I had that cert. I think I was actually studying already when this was overturned. LPIC-1 wasn’t bad (at that time) but a little old, so of course I had already long forgotten how to configure ISA cards in ~2010. I think the curriculum was revamped not long after.
      • As it was a consultancy/software development company creating bespoke PHP applications for customers, a plethora of Zend Framework/MySQL/later Symfony certs were done to be able to write something like “all our developers are X certified”. So even as someone being able to commit to php-src directly you still were highly encouraged to get the certs, but as they were paid I don’t see a problem there, still funny.
      1. 4

        I would strongly suggest that any place that cares about a cerification over the quality of your work is not a place you should allow to employ you.

        1. 3

          I see where you are coming from, honestly. But sometimes it is not black and white. For the little I know, for consultancies, the company has to satisfy some parameters. Example: For people to know about you, you have to rely on word of mouth, or get promoted by some big fish. Most of the times this has some threshold, like “myHipShop is a gold partner if it has at least X certificates”.

          People attention span lately is very shallow, what bucket your company name ends up in might often be critical for the business.

          1. 2

            Yeah, Amazon will promote your consultancy if you have a certain number of staff with AWS certs. Good lead generation for some spaces.

            1. 2

              I have a friend at a consulting company. He has ~20 years experience in information security, several papers published, numerous conference appearances, a long working relationship with DARPA, and a massive and great reputation.

              He had to go get his Certified Ethical Hacker cert the other day because, well, that was a checkbox on the customer’s requirement list. What’re ya gonna do, y’know?

              1. 1

                As a manager in InfoSec, I’d highly recommend OSCP over CEH. CEH is not really seen as a deep understanding or even good education in my corner of cyberspace.

                1. 1

                  What you’re saying is not contradicting what the grandparent said in any way, the customer probably wanted exactly that one and not a different one.

                  1. 2

                    It’s just useful info.

              2. 2

                Also, even if you do get hired without certifications, having them may influence how much you’ll get paid.

              3. 2

                This is exactly the way I used to feel. And I’m still not convinced that collecting certifications like Pokemon is a worthwhile activity. There are two things that made me question this assumption.

                First of all, there’s increasing skepticism about the effectiveness of job interviews and whiteboard exercises. I think we’d all agree that an independently assessed exam, that gives the candidate time to prepare, would give a better estimation of their abilities.

                Secondly, other fields require their practicioners to study and keep their skills up-to-date. Programming has no formal requirement, but arguably it should. Again, this is a void that could be filled by certification.

                Our professional space has two certification-shaped holes in it. I’m not sure that the current practice of certification fills these holes in an adequate manner, but maybe that’s just my unfamiliarity with certification programs.

                1. 1

                  Job interviews are mostly smoke and mirrors in every profession. Either the applicant has a portfolio or you’re just gambling. If they’ve wasted some of their life on a degree or a cert that’s less usefuk experience or portfoio building time they could have had.

                  Exams are equally bad to interviews, they also do not test what you want to know. As someone hiring you’re looking for skills, exams only tell you about exam-taking skills and one-time short term memory contents.

                  Programming doesn’t change much since Turing. Every new job will have a different tech stack no cert could prepare you for. You need candidates who can learn on the job.

                  Finally, even if degrees and certs had value, you can (easily) get work without them, so anyone who asks you for one should be a strike against them.

                  1. 1

                    When hiring, a portfolio would be delightful. But it takes an order of magnitude less work to get a certification than to build a meaningful portfolio, so I’d take that as a good second. If you’ve been involved in the hiring process, you’ll know that getting an applicant with meaningful and relevant portfolio work is rare.

                    And you’ve sort of ignored my question about personal professional development.

                    1. 1

                      I guess it depends how many people you’re hiring. For really big teams, I guess you might run out of applicants with meaningful project work, and then you’re just going on gut feel. For a 20 person consultancy we manged to hire most with at least somethin we could see.

                      My third para was intended to sddress PD. I don’t think it’s a good fit for our field, since most learning relevant to the job has to happen on the job.

              4. 4

                I friend of mine is both an economics major, computer wonk, and successful independent businessperson (in a field not related to computers). I asked him once the purpose of certifications. “Certifications are a marketing tool, most useful in a crowded field where customers can’t distinguish options easily”

                I liked this definition. It explains one thing that seems clear: if you’re in a crowded field, certs might help. This might be a good idea for folks just getting started or changing careers/focus areas. When you do these things, you start becoming just another member of a faceless mob, and certs can help cut through that.

                Having said that, as bigdeddu points out, AWS might be different. Getting certified there might be a good way to learn all of the stuff they’re doing (and continue to do). The cloud is one of the top 2-3 paradigm changes our business is going through. You should at leas be a familiar the concepts, capabilities, and terms. I actually started down that road. The only reason I stopped was that I wasn’t sure I wanted to end up in an AWS bucket professionally. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s great money, but there’s a lot of other really cool stuff going on too, and after kicking around a bit in AWS I was comfortable that I could figure out whatever I needed to as we went along. I’d make a completely different decision if I were looking for work (instead of looking for teaching/exploration areas)

                1. 3

                  I recently studied and passed RHCSA (Red Hat Certified Sys Admin) and i think it can give you good overview of basic networking, filesystem, SELinux, troubleshooting, etc. (and Linux in general) which is useful even if you are not actually SysAdmin. So, in case your employer is willing to pay for it (and maybe if you can get Red Hat courses, which are really expesive), then it’s worth the time IMO.

                  1. 1

                    It’s a nice idea, since Red Hat seems to be rewriting the way Linux System administration works, without writing a book about it :) But the price places it well outside the realm of the possible. It’s good to hear that it’s worth it, though.

                  2. 3

                    For me the best (and only?) advantage of doing AWS certificate was that it forced me to study services I hadn’t any experience before. That knowledge has proven to be very valuable to me in later projects where I’ve needed those services.

                    1. 3

                      None at all. Let your work speak for you.

                      1. 2

                        An undergraduate degree. A masters degree. A PhD.

                        1. 1

                          IME masters/PhD are excellent tools to filter candidates out.

                          I know some people with higher degrees who can actually get stuff done, so it’s not a hard and fast rule.

                        2. 1

                          it was a good source of information if you had the ambition to become a compiler

                          1. 1

                            IEEE CS does these, aimed at general/enterprisey development. I guess they might look good to business people who have heard something about IEEE at some point.