My good friend Stretch wrote an interesting article about the usability of certifications in the hiring process. I can’t agree more with everything he wrote about certifications, it nicely summarizes the various topics Greg Ferro and myself wrote about during the last year (please note: I’m not claiming Stretch was in any way influenced by our thoughts, anyone seriously considering the current certification processes has to come to the same conclusions).
Regrettably, I have to disagree with most of his alternative approach (although some of the ideas are great). It would work in an ideal world, but faces too many real-life obstacles in this one.
Certifications are a much-needed filter. If you’re forced to hire from the market (which is the worst thing you can do, good engineers are never on the market), you’ll get tons of (mostly lousy) responses and you have to have an initial filter to reduce the clutter to a manageable size. Joel (not surprisingly) has a few more interesting ideas.
Participation in forums and mailing lists. The idea looks promising: candidates that participate in public exchanges of ideas are more passionate about their work. Unfortunately that’s not the case. If you’ve ever followed a mailing list (for example, the generic Cisco mailing list), you know that you get bored and drop out after a few weeks or months due to highly repetitive questions from people who tend to use the mailing list before Google. Forums are not much better (worst example: /.). One also has to wonder what the over-commitment to forums means for the daily workload (and the amount of work getting done). I would rather have an engineer who focuses exclusively on the problems in his work than someone who has time to reply to every post in a public mailing list.
Blogging. There are millions of engineers working in Cisco’s ecosystem (what a wonderful marketing term), but less than hundred blogs worth mentioning (the ratio is similar in the CCIE world). Engineers are usually introverted people who rarely feel the urge to express themselves around the blogosphere.
What’s left? Hands-on tests are considered discriminatory in some environments (this is a hearsay; I can do them in Slovenia. If you have more details, please let me know), certifications are not a reliable indicator, so what’s left? There’s plenty you can do, starting with growing your own people, keeping in touch with great engineers, building your social network and (if at all possible) not hiring through the market. Luckily I don’t have to write about these things; Joel Spolsky was doing that for the last 10 years … and he should know what he’s writing about; he’s been running his company (and hiring people) since September 2000.