Certifications and Unnecessary Complexity

Every now and then I'll do a double-take when reading the tons of near-SPAM that shows up in my inbox.

First, I'll give credit to Altova and the XMLSPY suite. They have some great software. But for those who know me, I'm skeptical of certifications in general; I always will be unless somebody develops a certification program that is able to reflect experience, analytical skills, and retained knowledge.

As an example, just to show I'm not ranting on Altova alone, I recently read a few questions on an MCP exam asking about using a DataSet, XML Text Reader, and navigating the XML DOM using .NET. Of these three methods, the question asked, which is the fastest at reading the XML data?

I know the answer they are looking for. But frankly, this type of question is superficial to understanding. The "fastest" can be measured differently, too: sure, a forward-only text reader is the fastest to execute, but what about the fastest or most convient to code and maintain? What about the business requirements?

When I was in college I remember the exams where you had to actually write code (literally write it, pencil and paper). Some of those were insanely hard. There's no intellisense or context help. Certifcations need multiple choice questions for a lot of reasons we all understand: consistency in grading for one, but more importantly, resources. Multiple choice questions allow this at the sacrifice of accuracy or meaning (in my opinion, and that of many ... just google the term "paper MCSEs").

So, back to Altova. I just received a newsletter from them in my mailbox. This part made me do a double-take:

3) Altova Officially Launches XMLSPY Certification Exam
- Prove your expertise and value; become an Altova Certified XMLSPY Engineer (ACXE).

Are they serious? I wouldn't be as opposed to this if it were strictly XML related questions. But here's a real question:

What is visually displayed by default immediately upon opening an XML Schema file in xmlspy® 2004?

Clearly, a critical question. If Altova wanted to get this right, they should focus on the technology and leave the tool out of exam. Anyone can learn a tool; in fact, I'm impressed when I see people coding C# in notepad or other text editor, I personally could care less if someone knows how to use a particular tool. The important thing is to have the skills -- the tool is supposed to help us exploit those skills, not be part of the measurment that defines that skill.

I don't think certifications are completely useless -- but I'd much rather spend the time developing a personal project (after all, the list is endless) than studying for an exam. In my search for other views on this topic I came across a few other posts:


Comments (2) -

Michael K. Campbell
Michael K. Campbell
8/17/2004 9:11:43 AM #

Good call on the personal projects. If I were a boss/hiring manager I'd probably be MUCH more interested in a potential hire's personal projects than their certs. Somebody who can do a personal project is demonstrating that they can learn/think/retain.

James Byrd
James Byrd
9/5/2004 2:13:21 PM #

I'm with you both on this one. I'd rather see a nicely done application that demonstrates an understanding of the applied technology than some certification. Having met some of the bozos who were able to pass the certification test, I have no faith in the tests whatsoever.

Instead, show me an original and useful application, then I'll be impressed with your abilities. Heck, it doesn't even have to be original, just as long as it demonstrates a firm grasp of the technologies you used to implement it.

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