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New programming certs: Gold stars or false currency?

Eric Knorr | June 24, 2015
Abundant new options for learning programming have given rise to a new wave of 'microcertifications' for programming skills. How much are they worth?

Mozilla has developed a generalized, open source platform for microcertifications called Open Badges. So far, it appears that only a handful of online code schools are issuing microcredentials in the form of badges, but more may follow.

Last but not least are the online training firms that target enterprises, such as PluralSight or Lynda (the latter was recently acquired by LinkedIn). These companies offer a huge catalog of courses for a flat, per-employee subscription fee. PluralSight recently acquired the skills assessment startup Smarterer, which uses a "crowdsourcing and a proprietary dynamic assessment engine that can validate anyone's skill in as few as 10 questions and 120 seconds."

Whether it's a nanodgree, a badge, or an assessment engine, these new schemes beg a few questions. If you need a Python programmer, it's nice to see that a candidate has some sort of microcertification or has attended a reputable bootcamp, but it's hard to see the utility beyond shaking out the first round of candidates.

Ultimately, hiring managers need to give developers tests that reflect unique combination of skills they will need for a particular job. Third-party testing platforms such as those offered by Codility and ExpertRating can help ease the testing process, but they need to be tailored to the job at hand. Microcertifications or 10-question skills assessments are no replacement for deeper testing.

Another thing to watch for is that hurry-up programmer training has a tendency to breeze through basic computer science concepts developers need to understand. Also, because we're in boomtime, I can't help but think it's a great time for scammers to launch fly-by-night bootcamps that take people's money in exchange for the kind of low-grade instruction made infamous by fraudulent for-profit universities. Both employers and students should beware.

Then, of course, are the attributes beyond coding skills. In a recent InfoWorld developer survey, 48 percent of respondents said communication/collaboration was the most important skill for success, while only 37 percent said they felt confident in this area. Communications abilities are hugely important for any job, but particularly for developers who increasingly are called upon to communicate with business stakeholders.

There will never be enough developers, although the explosion of new online resources -- from Code Academy to Coursera to PluralSight -- is a welcome development that will produce more candidates to choose from. But software development is a creative field. What you really want are people who can leap ahead, create new stuff, and help move the organization forward.

I'm not sure whether any certification, micro or otherwise, can ultimately make it that much easier to find the right developer for the job.

Source: InfoWorld


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