Are Technology Certification Programs Useful?

Why I’m not a big fan of technology certification programs as an indicator of software craftsmanship. Real world experience is better.

I’m not a big fan of technology certification programs as an indicator of software craftsmanship because they aren’t as useful or effective as real-world experience. Mastering a course outline doesn’t contribute much to the daily practice of software engineering.

These programs are popular because they’re easy for companies to purchase and schedule, look good on your résumé or the yearly report to investors, and fit everyone in nice boxes. “I’m .NET certified, so you know what I know.” Side note: at least it’s a third-party achievement and not as egregious as self-assigning expert, guru, or ninja status.

Unfortunately, a one-time classroom session can only start you in the right direction. Mastering the knowledge of one platform or technology isn’t enough. You still need goals, feedback, and a deliberate approach to succeed.

You need context, too: a team, a project, a deadline. Clients and customers asking for something specific. The training you receive won’t be the most important part of your professional development. That’ll come instead from doing. Making things!

I came across the perfect metaphor for how I feel about certifications in reading Pragmatic Thinking & Learning, something called “sheep dipping” (p. 147-149). Farmers dunk an animal in the protective coating to ward off disease, but it wears off in a year, at which time it needs another dip. It’s intrusive, alien, toxic, and temporary.

Pragmatic Thinking author Andy Hunt describes why these programs aren’t as effective as experience.

Mastering knowledge alone, without experience, isn’t effective. A random approach, without goals and feedback, tends to give random results.

The model you build in your mind, the questions you ask to build that model, and your experiences and practices you’ve built along the way are far more relevant to your performance.

Certification programs are exactly like being dipped into a technological pool, where learning is done to you rather than you doing it. You’ll need to come back because it won’t stick for long.

Alex King

I’m sad and mourning along with the community the loss of Alex King, who died from cancer after a battle of over two years.

Matt Mullenweg and Alex King, WordCamp Utah 2008 (by Sheri Bigelow).

Alex was one of my web heroes! I followed his blog closely during my formative years, used his task software and WordPress plugins, and once upon a time reached out to apply for a job in his company, at a time when I was just beginning to develop WordPress sites full-time. (It didn’t work out since the position was Denver-based and I lived in an RV, and wanted a remote position).

He inspired me in person as well; I met him first at WordCamp Utah in 2008 where he gave a talk about new tools from Crowd Favorite, including the Carrington theme and framework. Ran into him again in 2010 at WordCamp Boulder—and enjoyed talking shop with him then, and over the years at other WordCamps.

I admired Alex’s pragmatism, friendly writing, and open speaking style—and his technically savvy blog posts inspired me to do better work, to think more clearly. He contributed an enormous amount to WordPress, the open source community, and to the web. He’ll be missed.

Photo credit: Sheri Bigelow.

Other remembrances:

Meet Twenty Sixteen

I won’t be involved in the new WordPress default theme this time around — excited to see Twenty Sixteen! (Recap by David Kennedy.)

ThemeShaper: Theming With the REST API – Meet Picard

Theming With the REST API – Meet Picard

The future of WordPress theming may dramatically shift with the official adoption of the REST API but you don’t have to wait for the future to take advantage of it now. Clone Picard and Tango. Experiment and see what you can do. These are exciting times for themes!

The time is now. or

An in-depth answer to a common question about using WordPress to build your website: The $64,000 Question: or

New Theme: Twenty Fifteen

The Blog

It’s that time of year again. The snow has started falling in northern countries, friends are gathering together to exchange presents, and it’s time to launch a beautiful new annual theme for WordPress.

Hello World, Twenty Fifteen is here.


Twenty Fifteen is all about the details. Everything you publish is elegantly set in Noto Sans and Noto Serif, keeping the design harmonious and balanced in multiple languages around the globe. That polylingual pixel perfection is matched by its responsive design. From device to device, Twenty Fifteen will look smart and polished.


The attention to detail is reflected in the menu design. Check out the descriptions under the links in the demo and the screenshots above. Learn how to add menu descriptions on the theme showcase page.

The fine details and strong structure make Twenty Fifteen look even better with a bit of customization. We have five featured color…

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Beep Boop Goes The Wheel

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