Invest in Your Education, Not a Certification
The certification is only one of many road stops. Focus on the full journey.
In 50 years, someone will study the social phenomena of showcasing certifications on Linkedin, especially Agile ones. The standard post usually goes like this:
“Today, I am a Certified Scrum Master. I decided to take the exam to verify my understanding of Scrum and the Agile Framework. A Big Thank You to my colleagues, my teachers, my coaches, my family, my friends, my cat, my dog, the stranger I met at the supermarket, etc.…
“<put here your shinny youracclaim.com link>”
- “< hopeful quote e.g. #1> Long journey ahead…”
- “< hopeful quote e.g. #2> My path is only starting…”
- “< hopeful quote e.g. #3> This is the way…”
Author’s note: I really like the last quote. It reminds me of the Disney+ series — the Mandalorian… So prophetical.
Running across such posts daily, the following questions cross my mind:
- Question #1: Good to know the exam challenged your theoretical understanding… Are you now able to put it into practice in the real world?
- Question #2: Everyone you thanked is only a catalyst. You are the real driver of your progression. Do you have a roadmap to get there or you just stopped with the certification?
- Question #3: Do you think your Scrum Alliance or Scrum.org certificate would put you in different running shoes against someone backed by experience and with multiple success-case examples?
If you don’t know exactly how to answer these questions (or they made you think more than expected), please… stop the “Linkedin Certification Showoff” fever!
“Shame on you! Are you jealous of what they achieved?”
Not at all! Respectfully, I would say: Been There, Done That. I took my Scrum.org (PSM I) certification back in 2015 without having any background on the matter. Let me tell you a story: I decided on a Wednesday to invest in the certification, study the Scrum Guide deeply on a Thursday and did the exam on a Friday. I cope well with high-pressure & short-span goals, so the 3-day period worked just fine.
After passing the exam, my ego inflating: “I must be really good at this! Achieving such an accomplishment in such a short time period!”.The adrenaline was exhilarating… The hype took only 5min to fade. Quickly I remembered knowing the theoretical part does not make me a better professional. Without exposing myself to complex scenarios and knowing how to foster collaboration, I found myself in a position where I had the information but not the wisdom to apply it.
“So… you did the certification for the same reasons as the persons you criticize?”
Mea culpa. Indeed, I thought having the certification would give me any competitive advantage in getting a better job. Three months after passing the exam, I got the opportunity to work in an Agile team. Funny enough, the interview process focused 80% on my background, critical thinking, adaptative mindset, etc., rather than double-checking if I knew what were Sprint Plannings, e.g.… Rightfully, the interviewer understood such a “fresh” certification would prove less for the upcoming endeavor.
The outcome of the first 3 months in my new Agile team? Rocky start, Scrum Guide insights did not match the team’s reality and I was short on a proper skillset to manage such a complex ecosystem. Of course, you may say the problem lies in me, not with the certification… and you would be correct. But if you take a root-cause analysis to understand the issue and try to come up with a solution, it’s easy: you should invest in your education, not your certification. This is the only way for you to get data, establish information, acquire knowledge and cement your wisdom. It’s a frequent and consistent process in which a certification is only one of the many possible vehicles for you to acquire new competencies.
What you should focus instead
#1: Lifelong Learning is key
Lifelong learning is a form of self-initiated education focused on personal development. While there is no standardized definition of lifelong learning, it has generally been taken to refer to the learning that occurs outside of a formal educational institute, such as a school, university or corporate training.
Meaning you don’t need to rely only on such entities to provide you vehicles to learn; you should build a learning mindset to stay curious all the time and always looking for more. Without that, your brain only has external stimulation instead of the internal driver you should be.
#2: Long-term memory stimulation
Opposite to lifelong learnings, Western civilizations still promote fixed learning cycles, forcing them to acquire knowledge through memory dumps. Like a student doing the last push the day before the exam or you (grown-up professional) revisiting your appointments before the certification’s exam, both use the intermediate-term memory, usually responsible for keeping high volumes of information available for 2 to 3 hours.
It’s not about the volume but the timespan, to make it clear. An interesting reading of Scientific American states:
“The human brain consists of about one billion neurons. Each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, amounting to more than a trillion connections. If each neuron could only help store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might have only a few gigabytes of storage space, similar to the space in an iPod or a USB flash drive. Yet neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes). For comparison, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage.”
You see, you will not run out of space during your lifetime, no matter how much information you consume. But coming back to the knowledge value you can offer, you’d probably like to keep it available constantly, which is only possible through your long-term memory, where information is held indefinitely.
But like your car who needs a wash & polish from time-to-time to keep the original characteristics, you also need to stimulate your long-term memory. One way of doing this is through elaborative rehearsal, which consists:
of making an association between the new information you’re trying to learn and the information you already know. To successfully run the rehearsals you may:
- Translate information into your own words.
- Compose study questions and answer them.
- Use images to assist you.
- Grouping of terms.
- Space Out Your Learning.
Making this full circle with certifications: what was assessed by the exam needs to be rehearsed and improved frequently. If that doesn’t happen, the information will fade away from your brain like those algebra formulas you learned in high-school but never had the chance to apply so far. If you ‘lose’ your precious knowledge six months after certification, you’re not ‘certified’ anymore (at least on paper, you are… on peer appreciation probably not).
On top of, I really appreciate entities who have renewal cycles on their certifications since it’s a good way for our professionals to stay sharp on their knowledge (and yes, before someone mentions it, my Scrum.org certification is a lifelong one and I can’t entirely agree with it).
#3: Pay attention to what Employers want
Implicitly — and this just my feeling, not based on a study — I sense some professionals only engage on certifications to align with market standards, based on existing and future employers (misunderstood) expectations. Regardless if you just graduated or being a decade-long experienced professional, you may want to take a look into the following surveys to get some insights about what employers really want:
- Comfortable confidence
- Willingness to listen and learn
- Communication skills
- Eagerness to learn
- Work ethic
- Problem-solving skills
- Effective Communication
- Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
I made sure to highlight 2 studies 9 years apart to state these attributes are not important only today… They have been for the last decade. So, although some certifications are 100% technical, if the only skillset you can showcase is what you’ve been evaluated in the exam but you still lack all other attributes, you are in the line’s end for that job offer, my friend.
To finalize, I’m not against professionals who invest in their certifications. But I would like them to not only invest in those. If they keep such short-views, they will be missing the target on their own continuous improvement. Don’t forget: the certification is only one of many road stops. Focus on the full journey.
PS — Since I’m still very caustic about this topic, please also stop this nonsense:
No one cares about this never-ending-train in your name description…