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Archive for April, 2015

That is the question…
 
In an industry as technical as mine, the question often comes up on whether or not technical certifications are worth their cost and effort. Unfortunately, the answer is not so black and white.
 
A brief history of a certification exam
 
Before I give a quick history on one of the most popular technical certification exams in my world, let me begin by saying that my information comes from several folks who used to be employed directly by that software firm, and may not represent the reality of certifications in all types of industries.
 
Back in the “good ‘ole days”, one of the (no-longer) prestigious certification exams was written by a combination of the software employees and partner consultants. The team worked together to create true tests of a person’s knowledge and skills. Real questions from real-life scenarios were posed. The required passing score was higher than what is required today (but to be fair…there were also fewer features available in the technology than what you see today). In addition, the exam was not always computer based, nor was it entirely multiple choice. (Imagine that – a testing world where technology was not the vehicle for administering a technology exam!) It was challenging back then. It was also free. And…you had to be a software partner to take the exam. Having a certification meant something. It was a status symbol and it actually carried weight. At that time only a fraction of the folks (compared to today’s world) were in the industry, so those who were both in the industry and certified meant something.
 
Fast forward about a decade…we saw huge changes in the certification exams. Suddenly, multiple technologies were granted certifications. Anyone could take them – no prerequisites necessary. The test became completely computer-based, which means that it also became multiple-choice. Fees were charged for them in order to compensate for the overhead required (proctors, computers, etc.). Certifications were becoming commercialized. They were being put out at breakneck speed so that it became increasingly hard to synchronize the certification version with the latest software version. They were seen as a means for generating extra revenue for the software vendor. The weight of a certification’s importance began to shift.
 
Looking at the past decade…we now have homogenized exams that are “easy to pass”. You go to a proctored site hosted by a third party. You sign into a computer and answer basic questions about your technology of choice. If you’re lucky, the answer bank is actually based on the real product guides. Before you leave, you have a print out of your exam scores. You can even buy the answers off the internet (yes, I’ve looked). There are “banks of questions” that folks secretly capture…and share. Some people even try to garner friendships by posting answers on public forums. We’ve seen it numerous times. All you need to do is memorize a list of 100 questions and answers, pay a fee and then take the exam. The once precious certification became bastardized and can now be bought. No experience necessary!
 
So…what is the value of a certification exam?
 
Based on this history (which more than likely sounds jaded at this point), you might be able to discern why the answer to this question is not so simple. For clients…yes, sometimes a certification matters. Clients who may not be aware of the standards of certification offered today may easily read two bios and pick the one that has the certification, not realizing that it means very little to us consultants in the field. I’ve actually sat in an interview process at a past client and witnessed this selection process.
 
For those in my industry who are considering the certification path – I would say that this is not a valid test of technical ability. The challenging exams from way back when were meaningful, but those versions are now nonexistent so even they have little value in today’s world.
 
It is for the above reasons that my firm (and many others) no longer value certifications. Some may argue that it is also a reason why software companies like the one my company is partnered with, no longer put as much weight on certifications for partner status.
 
Then…what is a worthwhile alternative in this industry?
 
If you’re in the wonderful world of EPM, there is a honor bestowed upon a select group that I feel is worth all of the blood, sweat, and tears paid. It is hard-earned and carries a lot of weight. In my world this is called the Oracle Ace status. It comes with 3 levels: Director, Ace, and Ace Associate (the latter was just added in the past 2 years). Because the program requirements are a bit vague, have evolved quite a bit over the years, and are not publicly outlined (and I have no personal experience to comment upon, myself), it’s hard to give all the specific reasons why I hold this distinction in high regard. However, I am fortunate to count several of my friends amongst those in the Oracle Ace program. I have interrogated a few of them (and received a few blank stares – the program can even be elusive to those in it) and have a good idea of how hard they work, the effort they put in, how closely they work with Oracle to make our EPM technologies better, and the value proposition that this program recognizes and rewards. Now I understand why the prerequisites are not posted. As one of my Oracle Ace friends commented, “It’s vague for a reason. If you give a checklist of requirements then people just do the checklist. This way is more qualitative”.
 
To all of my friends out there who have achieved Oracle Ace status, I applaud you. I’m sure it was a long and challenging road to get where you are, and I have a clue about what it takes to keep the your status each year. Thank you for all that you do for the Oracle community.
 
One final set of comments…
 
Let me attempt to soften the blow to those of you who got certified the “right way”. If you actually worked hard and really studied for a certification and did not buy the answers from the internet…good on you! It is unfortunate that your efforts are being cheapened by the money-making schemes of today’s world. You may not even be aware of the reality that I pose in this blog post…and I’m sorry that you had to find out this way.
 
For those of you who took the easy road…there may be many reasons why you chose to do this, and it would be unfair of me to stand in judgment of all of you. However, you at least ought to know that there is a stigma that exists out there and people have caught onto what has been a reality for far too long.
 
Cheers,
TTC

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