≡ Menu

Developer Certification (ala “Certified Scrum Developer”)

Earlier this week the Scrum Alliance accidently posted some documents related to the Certified Scrum Developer program being released this week. While the documents were apparently an earlier draft, and not the finished product, there were two important points that have been confirmed (or at least reinforced) – the existence of the Scrum Developer Certification (by taking three days of technical training) and the Scrum Alliance Registered Education Provider – the only people allowed to teach the technical training.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been calling for more technical support for software teams from the Scrum Alliance, and should be jumping around. You’ll also know that when I was the Community Liaison for the Scrum Alliance I supported the Certified Scrum Developer program at the time. But there are some big differences between then and now, and some important misconceptions out there.


CTISTAC – Certified That I Sat Through A Class

First off, the current CSD program looks very similar to what we had drafted earlier last year. A CSM just has to take 3-days of technical training and can then be stamped as a Certified Scrum Developer. Non-CSMs have to take a one-day Scrum training class, the 3 days of technical training, and a 1-day “elective”. To be a trainer, you either need to be a CST, Microsoft MVP in Application Lifecycle Management, or a Microsoft “Inner Circle” partner. If you are any of those, you just submit your content, get it reviewed by the Scrum Alliance, and off you go. If you aren’t one of those, you just need to apply and give credentials, and then submit your materials and off you go.

When I was at the Scrum Alliance, this was seen as a big farce. Jim Cundiff and I had many discussions about it, and there were several reasons why the Scrum Alliance ended up with a program like that. But, since there wasn’t much we could do about the CSD itself, we made two important distinctions to offset the impact:

  1. To be a CSD trainer (or SAREP) you had to co-teach with a specially designated trainer. In short, the Scrum Alliance was going to identify a short list of people who had the Scrum knowledge, technical knowledge, XP knowledge and passion for the role. Then anyone wishing to offer the course had to have one of these handpicked people come in and co-teach with them for one or two classes. At that point, the trainer would be signed-off and free to go about teaching. It may sound a bit like a “good ol’ boys club” but I was very comfortable with the initial people because I felt they were being held accountable by the community. Further, it was designed as a short-term designation to seed the community, at which point the existing trainers could co-teach.
  2. The entire CSD program was going to be deemphasized. The CSD is a joke. I haven’t found one person who hasn’t said it is a joke. The training, however, is not a joke, and important as a starting point. So the term bandied about was a “Certified Scrum Developer Practitioner” which was going to be a much more in-depth certification, involving hands-on practices, experience levels and other aspects which weren’t just about sitting in a class. So, since we couldn’t stop the CSD, we’d make it like a high-school diploma – fine to have, but outside of that, basically worthless.

In Ron Jeffries’ latest blog post he shows several examples of how the Scrum Alliance is committed to developer quality. And, in fact, I think the Registered Education Provider isn’t a bad step by itself. After all, it makes sense to have a list of the things that are important and make sure that they are covered. The rub is this – if you become an SA REP, and you teach the technical content, you are explicitly supporting the CSD program. There is no way around that. If you are against the CSD, but you become an SA-REP, then saying the CSD is a joke counters your actions.

Ron and Chet are great examples of the conundrum at play here. I think the course they offer will be fine and dandy, and that people will learn a tremendous amount from it. But imagine the power that would have happened, and the message they could have sent, by saying they would only become SA-REPs if there wasn’t a CSD program.  I understand Ron’s point about influence, and I believe him. But for many others, it’s about money.


It’s All About the Benjamins (with respect to Puff Daddy)

Let’s do some quick math. The CSM class currently sells for $1000-$1500 USD a seat for a 2-day class. If you sell 20 seats in the class, your income is ((20*$1500)-(20*$50)-$1000) = $28,000. The $50 is the fee you have to pay the Scrum Alliance for each student, and the $1000 covers facility cost and catering. Even if you bump the costs up to $4000 USD, you are still clearing $20,000 USD for a 2-day class.

Since the CSD is going to be longer, more intensive, and rarer to begin with, let’s imagine you can charge between $1500-$2000 a seat. There is no fee to the Scrum Alliance, so you end up $35,000-$38,000. Teach 5 of those a year (15 days of work) and you have cleared $175,000 USD of income.

And it’s no surprise that the certification sells. As Ron says in his blog post:

And still, it sells better. We do our best to sell and teach without deceit, and as an insider I am certain that the Scrum Alliance and the Scrum Trainers that I know do the same. There’s certainly a conflict of interest that I feel: on the one hand, I’m the same delightful guy with or without the certificate. On the other, I get more students, and thus more income, when I offer the CSM. On the gripping hand, I also get to influence more people.

Now, Uncle Bob in his latest blog post asks the question of what problem developer certification is trying to solve. And I think I know.

Purse strings.

Many very good coaches and trainers offer training classes all over the country. But they can’t get people to go to them. But suddenly tack on a 3-letter acronym and employers everywhere are willing to jump on it. So why is that a bad thing?


No-CSM (with respect to Eric Evans)

Because the Scrum Alliance didn’t need to do it.

Let’s go back to why the Certified Scrum Developer, and its separated-at-birth twin the Professional Scrum Developer were created. Teams were implementing Scrum but not getting good results because they didn’t have the skills necessary to ship software that frequently. Companies were begging (to hear the story) Ken Schwaber and the Scrum Alliance for help. Imagine if the response had been for the Scrum Alliance to just offer the SA-REP program and show people where they could get more information, more experience, more training. Theoretically people would have jumped all over it. But for some awful reason they still had to stick a meaningless certification in front of it.

And so it comes to this. Either we stand for our principles against certification and let this CSD program die on the doorstep, or we explicitly support it with the thought that we can influence it later on. You know, after I’ve paid off my house and car and socked away a nice chunk of change. From my perspective, I know that Uncle Bob called for Craftsmanship over Crap. And I view the notion of certification in the same vein as a do the idea of writing tests after the code, or pretending we can adopt agile principles without changing our organizations –as crap.

To me, it’s about integrity. I signed the Agile Manifesto and the Software Craftsmanship Manifesto because I truly believe we need serious change in how we build software. And I’m beginning to think that people are OK with that – when not being waved large sums of money in their face (at least judged by the number of “Certification sucks, but I’m going to apply to be an REP anyway” statements I’ve heard). And, call me a softie, but that truly and utterly breaks my heart. Because this community is who I’ve always turned to when I needed to know that taking a stand was the right thing to do. And, without that, I honestly feel that perhaps I should just stop standing up for this stuff and effectively just look for what will make the most money. I have a strong SharePoint background, and I know how to do .NET and Software Architecture, and there are always offers being waved in front of me to go do that.

But I know if I do that, if I let this go, then I may as well not be involved at all. Because I couldn’t take it. And that’s not what I want. But if this is the integrity we have, if this is how we respond to something we all agree is bad – then what’s the point?

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that we see a lot of things changing. But I was on the inside. I pushed and yelled and screamed for things to be changed. And look what came out. I don’t see how those who are making hand-over-fist amounts of money would be able to have any more impact.

So, we could wait and see. Or we, as a community, could recognize this as a serious problem and offer an alternative – not a certification, or an organization – but a path to technical excellence. I just haven’t found anyone up to actually doing something like that. And so it goes, the CSD comes in to play, developers jump all over it, and now I get to work with teams who say they are doing Scrum AND XP, and still not shipping software.

Hmm, wonder if that SharePoint contract is still open…

(Addendum: I want to make it explicitly clear that the integrity issues of having money waved in front of you I in no way think affect Ron and Chet. I have the utmost respect for their integrity, and while I wish they didn’t support the CSD, I believe in their statement that they are trying to influence the community by being on the inside. Besides, I’ve seen the pictures of Ron’s car.)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Scott Bellware March 9, 2010, 2:28 am

    There’s no such thing as integrity that allows itself to make exceptions for things like having influence from the inside, etc. There’s either integrity, or there isn’t. Qualified integrity isn’t integrity.

    I think it’s reasonable to see that Ron, Chet, and a host of other people can have compartmentalized integrity in some areas of their lives and not have it in others, like supporting the CSD program, for example.

    I haven’t seen one single person who went into the inside to have influence on that inside actually end up having influence. Not one. Not once. Maybe Ron and Chet will redefine expectations, but my money’s on the established trend.

    It’s OK for anyone who wants to support the CSD to do so. We can respect them for making money in a commercial society, but we really don’t have to credit them with more than that.

    The need to continue to celebrate qualified integrity comes from our own fear of seeing our idols for the flawed humans that they are. Let’s just be OK with that and start to put an end to all this need for comfortable dishonesty.

    Inevitably, many XP’ers got screwed out of a better living by the misdirected attention taken by Scrum and the efforts of the Scrum Alliance. Those XP guys deserved better for having had a more complete and compelling story, and society deserved a more productive solution than mere Scrum, and this is an opportunity for some long-overdue equity. Unfortunately, it’s also yet another in a long line of exercises that generate more mindless orthodoxy. And for that, it’s unforgivable.

  • Robert Dempsey March 9, 2010, 7:33 am

    Thank you for keeping us all up to date on this Cory. It is greatly appreciated.

    The CSD certification, in principle, appears to be a good thing. We have too many companies attempting to implement Scrum without addressing the engineering side of software development. Project management is great, but alone it does not ensure quality. My hope is that the CSD would be a step in that direction.

    Having said that, XP has already been there, and doesn’t support one technology over another (i.e. Microsoft, Java, etc.). As a Rails guy I’m left out in the dark on these certs. Would that impact my job as I can’t get a certification that an employer might value? Perhaps.

    Regardless, it appears that the SA is trying to play both sides – address concerns with Scrum and make money doing so ala the certifications. I know many people on the development and management sides that see these certifications as a money making opportunity for the trainers, and therefore they put no real value in the certification.

    For now, the Scrum Alliance has a louder voice to management than the development community, though I hope this will change. As long as that is the case companies will continue to trust their word as a certification body (i.e. the center of influence) over other voices, and companies will pay out the money to “get agile.”

  • Cory Foy March 9, 2010, 8:43 am


    Thanks. I agree about XP’ers – imagine further had Ken and the SA simply said, “Well, if you are doing Scrum to build software, then you really need to be doing XP. Let’s get you some resources to help with that.” And they almost did – just never officially.

    Regarding integrity: Yes, Ron and Chet were some of the first people I followed back in the day. And it baffled me when they became CSTs, and even more so with they announced support for the CSD. I admit that was difficult for me. I do believe that they, at least consciously, believe they are doing it to attempt to influence the Scrum community into better practices. It’s perhaps more about me trusting them (or wanting to trust them) rather than a simple discussion of integrity, so thanks for your point on that.

    Ultimately Scrum is the flashier of the two because it is targeted at the “white collar” workers of IT, while the “blue collar” developers get the shaft by being considered replaceable commodities. That’s why I think the CSD will do so well – you can now put your blue collar trainees through a 3-day class and say, “But we trained you”.

  • Cory Foy March 9, 2010, 8:44 am


    I strongly disagree. I do think the SA-REP appears to be a good thing, but I don’t see how the CSD adds any value at all, save opening purse strings. How do you see the certification adds value over providing resources?

  • Carlton Nettleton March 11, 2010, 4:42 pm

    I think we found something to agree on with this whole certification thing wrt to the Scrum Alliance. This CSD sounds like a how technical people might solve a business problem of how do we find quality software developers.

    It also feels like a way to help CST make money now that all the potential (?) training candidates have CSM. I have a fear we will have a bunch of CST who don’t actually do Scrum, just teach about it. There is big difference about teaching this stuff and doing it.

  • Doug March 12, 2010, 11:12 am

    Opening purse strings? That cannot be avoided in a market driven economy. I see little choice but to have an economic driver somewhere so that people pay attention. The fact is your blog supports your economic motives. As does my comments right now! That is the world we live in.

    Our broader community: there is very little cohesive focused thought that is being generated in other parts of the community. I encounter too much diffusion to be helpful because of the strong drive by people to say it differently and then be recognized. Mostly just isolated blog voices (thought leaders like your voice Cory) hopefully we will continue to find better ways to represent and participate in building better teams that make better products. The ideas for agile software development have been around for 40 years to forever depending on how you dice the philosophy. Despite the efforts of the past we continue to see large amounts of horrible practice. From my view the Scrum Alliance community has improved focus on practices that work and shifted things for the better. It remains my hope the CSD will do the same.
    I believe the CSD program is a good thing and has the right focus for now. I am not sure where the CSD program will wobble through time so it needs to be watched.

  • Peter Stevens March 14, 2010, 11:10 am

    Hi Cory,

    Scrum training is valuable because it introduces a radically better approach to organizing work to solve complex problems.

    If the training were not valuable, people would not attend the courses, with or without the certification.

    Unfortunately it is possible to offer valuable trainings which people do not attend. Why? One reason is lack of brand recognition. Even small children prefer to get their French Fries from McDonalds rather than the local diner.

    Without branding, everybody has to build their own reputation. But each individual is too small, so even thought leaders like Alistair Cockburn and Ron Jefferies discover that they need the help of a recognized brand to market their courses effectively.

    If we are going to talk about integrity: I think the Scrum Alliance had a big problem because it was not living its values. This is where the controversy really lies. For example, you can’t say, ‘We are transforming the world of work’ while you hire and fire your contract workers on a monthly basis. And that was least of their problems.

    My hope is that Alliance has recognized its integrity deficit and take the steps necessary to correct it. The signs at the Orlando gathering were pretty positive, but I think it will be another 6 months or a year before we really know. I’m optimistic.