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The Proverbial Train Has Left the Station.

Ron Jeffries has up a post titled “Opportunity to Advance the Craft” about the Certified Scrum Developer program. He says:

Here’s the good news: the camel has his nose well inside the tent. Here are some reasons why:


Whether we like it or not, the words “certified” and “developer” are going to be adjacent in the minds of 50 or 100 thousand CSMs and other followers of the Scrum approach. That train has left the station.

The train has left the station. But this is OK, see, because the Scrum Alliance paid for some wonderfully smart people to get together and talk about it, and this is our BIG OPPORTUNITY to finally influence the Scrum Alliance and the developers out there. And even if you vehemently disagree, well, it’s too late. It’s a done deal. Game over.

Before I start this, let me say that my stand on this blog post has certainly cost me business, and opportunities. When I first got invited to be CSD Trainer / SA-REP, I thought long and hard about abandoning my stance on this and falling in line. After all, I have a family, and I like to be able to put food on the table for them. And the CSD program is a way to put a *lot* of food on the table (see specific numbers in one of my earlier posts)

But instead, I rejected the invitation. Further, I requested (and received) a refund of my Certified Scrum Practitioner fees from the Scrum Alliance in protest of this whole movement, and the retitling of the CSP to “Certified Scrum Professional“. Meaning, I suppose, I’m neither a Scrum Practitioner nor Professional anymore. But I am still a Scrum Master!

But I digress.

When Wal-Mart comes into a small town, there is usually a cry from the mom and pop shops, the townsfolk, the community. They come out to county commission meetings. They organize protests at the store. They swear they won’t shop there.

And then the store opens. And they don’t. But everyone else does. The old adage that integrity is what you do when no one is looking applies to community as well. Community is who shops at Wal-Mart after its grand opening.

For many years, I was proud of our community, what I deemed the “agile community”. We rejected certifications as useless. We knew there was a better way, that it was way more important to network, and gain experience than to get some piece of paper. We had several discussions over the years, including one where I posted:

Personally, if there was going to be a certification, it should be as a Development Team Health Inspector. The practices of XP would just be part of the prescription. After all, one can’t be certified in Viagra, but you can be certified when to tell people they should use it.

And then, suddenly, the store opened and everyone went inside saying, “Well, heck. The store is open now. Maybe by working here we can influence them to change”

As I said in my hijack of Mark Levison’s tweet: “The world doesn’t need certifications. It needs people and organizations committed to improvement.”

We have a big opportunity as a community. Oh, let’s be realistic. We had a big opportunity as a community. We had the opportunity to kill the CSD program. And send a message that all certifications needed to be on notice. But there’s too much money to be made. Which is why I’ve gotten emails from Scrum Trainers asking me not to talk about this because it hurts their business.

Certification does not advance the craft. Pair programming, code retreats, craftsmanship swaps, book clubs, practice – those advance the craft. Phlip summed it up nicely way back in 2006:

One of the original validations of XP is it’s entirely community-supported. There is no big-budget Industry XP Consortium, no fierce corporate marketing, no sponsorship, no branding, etc.

If I sold you a certificate, and if a company picked you over another XP-oriented programmer, that company would be putting processes and paperwork above people and interactions. They would perform the same abdication of power as a company that requires "only BS degree or hire" for a programming gig. They want someone else to tell them if a candidate is qualified, because they don’t trust their own meritocracy to find out.

The train left the station because we all lined up at the ticket counter and happily handed over our money. Well, I’ve gotten my refund. Hope you all enjoy the ride.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gilbert March 31, 2010, 12:46 pm

    It may not mean much coming from me and certainly won’t put food on the table but just wanted to let you know that I think you are setting a great precedent. I can only hope that, if presented with the same situation, I would have enough integrity and conviction to make the same decision.

    Good luck!!!

  • Brian Marick March 31, 2010, 1:22 pm

    Not to get too elliptical, but this talk of mine may be relevant:


    Agile started as a monastic response to a dismaying world, but has now moved to Epicurianism or Stoicism.

  • Cory Foy March 31, 2010, 2:03 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the link to the fascinating article. I’m perhaps missing the broader message – are you saying that agile is moving away from community / reliance on others into Stoic, individualistic pursuits?

    I’m really going to have to just sit and ponder on that article.


  • Lisa Crispin March 31, 2010, 2:07 pm

    I still refuse to shop at Wal-Mart, I’m not even a CSM though I’ve worked as a SM, and I have yet to see any certification program that could tell me whether someone is a good tester. I can’t imagine the certification program that would prove to me that someone is a good coach or agile practitioner. (I can’t speak to programmer certifications except to say I work with a lot of great programmers and I don’t know if they are certified at anything or not).

    I only do training and coaching on the side, I like my full time job and I don’t see myself doing the independent consultant thing. So I doubt I’ll feel pain from not being certified at anything. I salute you, Cory, for having principles and sticking to them. Isn’t agile supposed to be all about identifying our values and principles, and then basing all our decisions and activities on those values and principles? I think some “agile professionals” are living by their principles, or maybe I just don’t like their principles.

  • Anne-Marie March 31, 2010, 6:02 pm

    I am not an agile ‘expert’ in any way. Some things I do complement the agile concepts, but I prefer to see myself as a software tester.

    One of my first intros to ‘agile’ was going to a talk on introducing agile into software testing. I was puzzled as to why all that was talked about was “process” and “tools”.

    I wrote about my thoughts in a post http://mavericktester.com/softtest-talk-on-automated-testing-in-agile-environment

    Its nice to hear that the original thoughts and concepts still stand.

    However, I think its time to move on. Yes, agile is now “AGILE”, but doesn’t that give us all an opportunity to think beyond agile?

    How do we create and test software that withstands the test of being absorbed into the mainstream?

    Or are the two concepts so different that the twain shall never meet. I believe that is where our energy needs to lie.

  • GeePawHill March 31, 2010, 7:29 pm

    I plan not to go to the Wal-Mart, but I still have love for those who do. It’s easy for me to not go along, but it’s a real challenge for a young developer wanting to become safely certified.

    Certification is useless. Counter-productive, in fact. I’ve steered clear of this one, and will continue to. Ron responded tensely when I offered my own metaphor, so that’ll stay under my hat.

    But helping people do a bad thing is not a secret way to not do it.


  • Uncle Bob March 31, 2010, 9:05 pm

    I say, live and let live. If some folks want to create another farcical certification, let ’em. It’s no skin off my nose. If they make money at it, good for them! Maybe they’ll even generate some interest in software craftsmanship, the way that CSM generated interest in Agile.

    But please don’t wave your CSD at me and expect me to be impressed. It’s not the C or the S that are at issue. The C is a matter of money, and the S is a few days of training. No, it’s the D that’s the issue. It takes one hell of a lot more than a course or two, or a dumb piece of paper, to give any credence to that D.

  • Christian Gruber March 31, 2010, 9:20 pm

    I agree – there’s no value to these farcical pieces of paper that people pay for. That’s why I’m happy I didn’t waste all that crazy time in college getting a degree, and started companies instead, trying over and over until I had enough experience under my belt to be picked up by a major company.

    I’m actually not being sarcastic here – that was my view of my lack of a degree, and tons of folk seemed like crazy ivory tower academics or paper-waving elitists when they talked about their education. On the other hand… how is one to evaluate?

    Certifications are not real. They are symbols. They symbolize a standard of training. They may imply a different standard than they actually mean, but such is the reality of symbols. Often organizations want a way to quickly filter for a category of people because they deal in larger numbers, so degrees, certifications, what-have-you provide easy filtration keywords for them. Yes, it’s not optimal, but they’re working at a level of statistics, not individuals… because there’s only so much time in the day. By the time you reach someone who has time to think of individuals, the list has been filtered down to a few.

    So, I’m still not a fan of certification, but I do recognize the value (both false and real) that it holds as a symbol for something. THAT train has left the station millennia ago. The big question is… what is the underlying reality of that symbol, and can you make the symbol mean what it’s face implies? When it comes to Scrum, I don’t know. But bitching and complaining about how lame-o certification is doesn’t actually fix the problem, though it does provide lots of counter-culture, anti-establishment cred for those complaining.

    That, in itself, is a different kind of certification. ;-)

  • James Peckham March 31, 2010, 9:22 pm

    I’m with Bob on this one… having never graduated college and having to work along side people with so called “Computer Science” degrees this is just “one more” thing that people will have on paper that I basically ignore.

    The benefit is that it may just create some visibility and enthusiasm in people that previously were not interested in being agile or using scrum… For example that guy who has his “Computer Science” degree who feels like the only thing worthwhile is his list of credentials and resume. Maybe _that_ guy will learn something about agile now, where previously he felt there was no incentive to do so.

  • Matt Swaffer April 1, 2010, 2:38 pm

    This discussion fascinates me. I don’t have any certificates (I do have a couple of degrees that no one cares about any more) but why the animosity towards them?

    When I go see my doctor, eye doctor or chiropractor, I like to read the certificates on the wall. Makes me feel better knowing that they at least did *something* to have the right to poke, prod and otherwise determine the fate of my health.

    But stop and think: when is the last time you chose your doctor because of what school he or she went to or what academic fraternity invited them to join?

    So why are managers hiring people because of some initials on their resume?

    It seems like the real problem is that the certificates we are handing out have little more meaning than the orange slices kids get at soccer games. Everyone gets them just for showing up. And yet we hire based on how many orange slices someone has. Why are hiring managers getting away with this amazing lack of due diligence?

    A lot of discussion has taken place about certification and should we call ourselves a “craft” or a “profession” or what?

    What matters though is what features got done yesterday and can we quickly do more today? Some hiring managers know how to get that done… some don’t. I suspect that the ones who do know how to get it done aren’t fooled by the certificates on the wall or the orange slices in your pocket. :)

  • Andy Brandt April 2, 2010, 5:13 pm

    I mostly agree with what you wrote – but the problem is what you wrote applies to ideal world, in our fallen world certificates are needed. Few appreciate people for what they are – normally decision makers don’t have time or opportunity to do this. This is nothing new – all the arguments against certificates do apply also to university degrees, yet everyone expects you to have one. Why? Because it increases the odds that you actually know something and thus reduces the risk for someone deciding to hire you or put you on a project.

    See also here: http://www.andybrandt.net/208/certificates

  • Peter Stevens April 3, 2010, 2:18 am

    Hi Cory,

    How unified was the Agile community before there were certifications?

    “…Alistair Cockburn’s initial concerns reflected the early thoughts of many participants. ‘I personally didn’t expect that this particular group of agilites to ever agree on anything substantive.’ http://agilemanifesto.org/history.

    Apparently the original signers of the Agile Manifesto were surprised that they agreed on anything at all.


  • Jack Jones April 6, 2010, 10:40 am

    Some definitions:

    Cult: A small religion.
    Religion: A large cult.

    What you are bearing witness to is the proliferation of a way of thinking, and the different sects that split off from that way of thinking. Besides a few wackos, nobody is usually “wrong” (or “right”). The best you can hope for is that the belief system as a whole benefits the general population instead of detracting from it.

    Remember, beliefs and opinions are like armpits; everybody has a couple and they often stink.