This a chapter of the book Get a Better Developer Job. It’s best to start at the beginning.
Disclaimer: look, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad. I’m just telling the truth here. But the one person who unsubscribed when this was an email course did it when this chapter arrived. And they marked it as spam. Spam?! Nobody ever got spammed by me. She didn’t even read the chapter. But when I peaked at her resume, guess what I saw? Lots of certs. No matter what I say here, if you got a cert, you exercised your brain. Good on you.
Lot of opinions on certifications, and most of those opinions are negative. This stems primarily from Microsoft. In the dot com boom days, they created the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). They had a number of different certifications for their many products, and you earned them in this two-step process:
- Read the certification book (from Sybex).
- Take the exam.
Notice there was no step where you used what you learned. And there was certainly no requirement to retain it. So people were hiring “certified” experts who performed very poorly on the job – if they could even get past the interview. This tainted all certifications. The only exceptions were Cisco’s Certified Network Associate/Professional/Expert, the last being the famed CCIE. This was at the other end of the spectrum and required years of experience and knowledge to pass the 2-day, on-site exam. Most failed, and it was colloquially known as a “PhD in networking.”
Fast forward to today and vendors have worked hard to remove the stigma. Tests are aimed at working professionals and are difficult. I’ll give you an example. I was telling a friend about a bit of Java trivia, where the instances of Integer classes are cached for the values -127 to 128. This almost never comes up in day to day programming, but can cause lead to unexpected results, especially if you’re not using best practices. Many are surprised to learn about it (myself included), but his response: “Yeah, I know. It’s in the Java certification exam.” He gave more examples, which increased my respect for those who passed it. I understand the Java cert has always been thorough, but I’m not immune to biases.
So after that, do I recommend getting a Java or other language certification? Not to get a job. First of all, rule #1 for all certifications is:
A certification without relevant experience is worthless.
A lot of people hope to use certifications to switch stacks, but you know by now that people only care about your production experience.
However, you could follow my friend’s footsteps and study the certification exam in order to do well on interviews. He’s now confident he can answer any Java interview question. Data structures and algorithms are a different story, but this can help with remembering the syntax on the whiteboard.
Where certifications have the most value is in enterprise software. Most enterprise software is “consultingware,” meaning that although the license fee seems high at six figures (plus 18%/year for support and maintenance), the cost for installation, configuration, and customization can be an order of magnitude larger. A few factors raise the value of such certifications:
- By definition it’s a specialty, which has all the benefits we’ve previously discussed.
- Most enterprise software customers are not software companies and not skilled at hiring developers. Having a certification lowers the risk in hiring you. This is common for lower cost software for SMBs like CRM, ecommerce, marketing automation, etc.
- Most enterprise software companies have a network of system integrator partners. Partnership usually comes at multiple levels (“We are an Expensivesoft Gold Partner!”), and the higher the level, the more certified developers you must employ. This is because the vendor charges for both the certification exam and the training required to pass it. Already having certification makes you more valuable to vendor partners.
- In order to fulfill those lucrative professional services contracts, the vendor and integrator need developers. Many vendors even allow individual contractors to register as partners, so if an integrator or customer needs help, they have a pool to draw from.
Again, this is not valuable without production experience. But if you have that, spending a few hundred on certifications may be a good investment. Do some research via job ads to see if those hiring for your specialty ask for certs.