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To Certify or Not to Certify?

“Which Agile certifications should I get?” I’m asked this question so frequently that I wrote up my answer and just answered by sending people the link. Here it is for your reading pleasure.

Should you get a professional Agile certification? Is it worth it? And if so, which ones are best?

First, let’s address whether or not it’s worth it. Learning is always worthwhile. If a class comes with a certification, then sure, go for it. What about the ones that require hours of studying and yearly fees?

Some factors to consider:

Are you willing to let yourself be judged by a piece of paper with a rubber stamp on it? I’m not. And quite frankly, it goes against all that is Agile to judge others based on a certification. Individuals and interactions over processes and tools? Working software over comprehensive documentation? I want to see what someone has done, not what documentation they have.

Will a certification open doors for you? If you have no experience and you are just starting out, a certification might be your way in. An alternative I recommend for newbies is to look for work pairing their current skills with the area they want to move into. For example, if you have a vast knowledge of trucking and want to be a Scrum Master, go look for a job on a tech team at a trucking company. Typically PMs can find work on an Agile team and transition to a Scrum Master or Product Owner role once they get there.

Who is the Certification serving? Many certifications are a way for thought leaders to monetize their ideas. I commend thought leaders for their contributions, but I’d rather buy their books than buy into a certification program. Just remember, certification is a business.

How can Certifications hurt you? When I see resumes chock full of certifications, I get suspicious. How did these people have time to get all these certifications if they were actually doing the work? Are they getting certifications because no one will hire them? Beware of certifications that are viewed negatively by the community. (Scrumstudy is one of these)

I am also careful to note if someone has a lot of certifications in one area because it tends to create dogmatic practitioners. I look for a balance of different ideas. Remember that most of the certifications are for a particular methodology, you need to build a foundation of understanding before giving yourself over to a single methodology.

Recruiters have told me that they are now advising hiring managers not to require certifications. Instead, we recommend they look for “scrum master or equivalent experience”.

Which Certifications? Here’s my take on some of the popular basic Agile certifications:

  • ICAgile Agile Practitioner. ICAgile seeks to educate instead of train, which means that they build a solid foundation of understanding. I have found that this to make a marked difference in the people who started in ICAgile over people who start with a Scrum Master Certification.

  • Certified Scrum Master: The CSM is the 800-pound gorilla. Most Agile people (myself excluded) have this certification. You take a 3-day class and a simple test, and boom! You’re certified. It’s table stakes, it won’t make you stand out. I find that people who have a CSM as their main credential can be very dogmatic, so look out for that.

  • SAFe Agilist/Practitioner: It’s a good training, and you can take a test to get the certification. SAFe is really popular right now, so this certification is hot. Please be aware that there are pitfalls and competing thoughts in the scaled agile space. (LeSS and Disciplined Agile) Go learn what they are so you don’t become a puppet for SAFe.

  • PMI-ACP: The only reason to choose this path is if you already have a PMP. You can double dip your PDUs (Professional development units) between the two certifications. The content is good, but most Agilists have moved away from PMI so it may seem old school to a prospective employer.

What Certifications do you have? How have they helped you? Let us know in the comments!

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