Vendor Exams - Do They have any Value?

My own experiences... If you work in IT, in any form of technical capacity, it’s guaranteed that there will be certifications provided by the vendor of the tech you work with. When I started my career (in the glamorous world of ERP) I was encouraged to chase certifications from Oracle - largely related to Forms development and SQL DBA admin work.

They weren’t what one would call "riveting", and I questioned at the time the value of memorising SQL syntax. In the "real world", I’d just look it up if I hadn’t gotten the syntax exactly right in Toad. Nevertheless, I persevered in some dusty and slightly sticky-keyboarded testing centres in Reading and emerged clutching my paper certificate (yay!).

Certification = competence

Since then, and notably at Cloudreach, I’ve read many hundreds (probably thousands) of CVs, and there’s nothing more certain to put me off an inbound application than a CV which arrives with lots of vendor certification logos at the top. This is especially true for vendors where I know there are freely available 'braindumps' online which give the exact answers to current questions.

It’s less the formatting vulgarity I detest, but the mistaken belief that putting them at the top of your CV is the best place for them. If you believe in personal development, and I do, then great: show your certifications, but don’t make them the most important thing about you. Stress your experience first. Certification != competence.

Cloudreach - we love certs

If you’ve ever spoken to me about my work at Cloudreach, you’ll probably have heard me brag about our culture of promoting personal growth - one of our 4 key values which (really, really do) drive everything we do. I presented on the topic at AWS Re:Invent in Las Vegas last year, in fact. We zealously pursue the certification paths from the partners we work with, and almost everyone who works for our company has some (including me).

Not a week goes by without one of the team passing an exam, notably in the AWS space, but we also have a large mountain of Google and SFDC certifications - and with Microsoft a growing area for 2015. With my bragging hat on for a moment I’m proud to say that one of the cloudy team - Howard Glynn - became our first Cloud Architect to hold all five of the available AWS certifications this month. Spectacular work which shows Howard’s clear commitment to continual learning (this is on top of his MBA, his CITP status, and much more importantly his years of work experience and progression).


But, given what I said in the opening paragraphs, why do I care?

Well, I believe it:

  • Gives us, as partners, an opportunity to distinguish ourselves from the pack. If I can demonstrate in a competitive market that we have a fully certified team, it provides a sense of comfort to our clients and potential clients.
  • Is great for the team to develop their own careers. The top tiers in the exams tend to be hard to achieve (kudos to anyone who passes the SFDC Architect exam for instance). Equally, the bottom tiers can still be useful, especially as induction exercises for new starters, or perhaps for non-technical staff to gain a basic grounding in a given platform.
  • Provides a real level of competition for learning as the team strives to complete the certifications. Howard’s achievement is already being hunted down by his peers.
  • Helps build the skills of the team and improves their CVs (as the certifications are very much in demand). If you believe in retention and development, this is important.

That’s what I think, what about someone interesting?

Doing some basic research, one can find there’s some dislike in the market for certification of DevOps - something I’m full agreement with. Don’t apply for a role with us with a statement that you’re a "certified DevOps" please. Do apply and tell me you’re a passionate believer in the principles, and explain your experiences (which may include courses alongside the much more important practical work).

 As with many things, if you want a sensible opinion, you could do a lot worse than read Martin Fowler’s take on things. Martin notes that software certification schemes are notoriously bad ways to judge a proper developer, which I hope everyone would agree with.

So, what’s the summary?

It’s as simple as this: some certifications in the marketplace do add value (especially properly thought out programmes with multiple tiers), but only when combined with some serious work experience.