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Re: Certification Available +Pronounce

From: Robert Cleary <robert(dot)cleary(at)ul(dot)ie>
To: pgsql-advocacy(at)postgresql(dot)org
Cc: David Fetter <david(at)fetter(dot)org>,Chris Travers <chris(at)travelamericas(dot)com>
Subject: Re: Certification Available +Pronounce
Date: 2005-10-05 10:43:09
Message-ID: 4343AE3D.5030304@ul.ie (view raw or flat)
Thread:
Lists: pgsql-advocacy
If certifications are seen in a bad-light, I believe it's directly 
because people sell-out their principles, or just plain set-out to make 
cash.

Now, if a pgsql certification was set-up, justified and qualified by a 
peer-reviewed examining process - rooted - in the quality/pride
principle that seems to be pgsql, I can't see how it would damage pgsql.

This might be a mad-idea, but if you can build an open-source DBMS,  why 
can't you build a certification by the same process?: open-source 
collaboration for its inception, elaboration, construction and deployment?
David Fetter wrote:

>On Wed, Aug 24, 2005 at 11:23:00PM -0700, Chris Travers wrote:
>
>  
>
>>As some one who holds many certifications (in order of value: MCSA,
>>MCSE, Inet+, A+, Server+, Network+, LPIC-2), I feel inclined to
>>chime in here...
>>    
>>
>
>The more, the merrier :)
>
>  
>
>>For the record, I passed the LPIC-2 and Server+ exams during their
>>beta testing stage.  At the end of the email I will share my
>>thoughts about PostgreSQL certification, but the rest is
>>certification experience in general.
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>>I am not aware of any area where the opinions are "mixed" on
>>>certifications, except in the sense that incompetent HR people like
>>>them and the people who have to work with (or worse yet, deal with
>>>the result from) certified incompetents do not.
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>This is a big point.  When I worked at Microsoft, I was required to
>>pass a certain number of Microsoft certifications per year.  I
>>passed the other ones to keep myself balanced and sane because I
>>didn't want to be trapped working with Windows the rest of my
>>life.....
>>    
>>
>
>  
>
>>>This is precisely where we *dis*agree.  Although I have met several
>>>competent people who hold certifications, my experience is that in
>>>the overwhelming majority of cases, a certificate tells you that
>>>the person is *not* competent.
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>With all due respect, it depends on the certification.  There can be
>>well designed certifications, but these usually have a hands-on lab
>>component.  I passed the IIS4 (and entirely based on my Apache and
>>IIS 5 experience, no less) exam without cracking a book and was
>>rather amused to see it rated as one of the hardest exams in the NT4
>>series.  I suppose this is because it was the only exam that
>>Microsoft designed that was ever worth anything.
>>    
>>
>
>In what ways was it "worth something?"  To me, that your relevant
>experience and lack of rote learning got you through the test where
>cracking open their book did not would be a good sign. :)
>
>  
>
>>Similarly the LPIC-1 exams were really good.  They were *really*
>>difficult (but with a low passing score).  But they really tested
>>one's sense of fluency with the command line among other things.  I
>>*learned* a lot taking these exams.
>>    
>>
>
>That's sounding like a criterion, too.
>
>  
>
>>But this is the problem:  People often see certifications as a quick
>>and easy substitute for learning the technology.  Of course, in the
>>long run, learning the technology is far less effort than bumbling
>>around a system you think you know how to use but don't really
>>understand how it works, but this is not the rational most people
>>have, both those who want to be technicians and those who want to
>>hire technicians but don't know what they do.
>>
>>Finally almost all certifications end at the "technician" level.  It
>>is very hard to test someone's deep understanding of a technology
>>without resorting to formuleic questions which are easily memorized.
>>    
>>
>
>I don't know that anything *cheap* can test this deep understanding at
>all, even to the level of a vague guess.  Writing a specification and
>a rationale for same given incomplete requirements and a few
>hard-to-schedule people would be one way, but it's not cheap to
>arrange nor to assess.
>
>  
>
>>As far as I am concerned the only "certified engineers" are those
>>with college degrees in engineering disciplines (including CS).
>>    
>>
>
>And even among them, there is a distressing percentage who either
>spent so much time on Proprietary Product(TM) that they have no idea
>what the underlying principles are, or on the other end, there are the
>math-turbatory cowboys (they're always boys, however old they are) who
>imagine that they can (and should) derive the entire thing from the
>principles of set theory, but can't in fact code their way out of a
>wet paper bag.
>
>A good certification must protect people from both ends of this.
>
>  
>
>>To call someone a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer is like
>>saying that someone holds a Masters in Electrical Engineering from a
>>Non-Accredited University (and just paid his $50 to get the
>>diploma).  To test this point, I had considered trying to see if I
>>could pass the VB MCSD certifications without actually learning any
>>real VB....
>>    
>>
>
>I have this awful feeling that you passed.
>
>  
>
>>The reason why I don't tout my certifications is simply that I know
>>my material reasonably well and I don't want to be associated with
>>those MCSE's who cannot figure out how to fix Microsoft Word when it
>>opens minimized.....
>>    
>>
>
>And that's *just* the kind of certification that could do PostgreSQL a
>lot of harm without doing it any good as a tradeoff.
>
>  
>
>>>>- experience is allways the telling-point someones ability; but
>>>>when you hear that some one is CISCO certified proffessional, or
>>>>Sun Certified Java programmer, or Red Hat Certified Engineer for
>>>>example - a certain air of respect carries with these titles.
>>>>        
>>>>
>>>What air of respect?  Among people competent to make hiring
>>>decisions, such a certificate conveys an air of disrespect.
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>Knowing what I know about the RHCE program, I would probably see it
>>as a positive step.  But again, all you know you are getting is
>>someone you hope will be a decent technician *not* a certified
>>engineer.
>>    
>>
>
>I know that this sounds corny, but I'd rather get somebody with that
>elusive quality called common sense and a liberal arts degree.
>They're likely to be able to do something that's hard to test, namely
>use their imagination on a really novel situation.
>
>  
>
>>>I am not denying the possibility of a certification that really
>>>means something, but that would mean that at a minimum:
>>>
>>>1.  There would be a significant, checkable prior work requirement
>>>for taking the certification exam, and
>>>
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>This is the real problem (chicken-or-egg).  Furthermore the
>>definitions of work in this case would prove problematic.  Where
>>exactly one draws a line here is pretty tough.
>>    
>>
>
>Too tough to be worth pursuing?  I'm thinking that an employer's
>signed recommendation would be one way.
>
>  
>
>>>2.  Some large percentage of those who take the exam fail it and
>>>would not immediately get another chance to re-take it.
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>No problem here.  But what do you do when vendor training is often
>>offered as a part of the certification problem (like the RHCE)?
>>    
>>
>
>Frankly, that is a conflict of interest, and should disqualify the
>certification.  It is simply too hard to avoid "teaching to the test."
>
>  
>
>>>3.  The exam would involve quite complicated hands-on use cases and
>>>would not contain any questions whose correct answer was a quote
>>>      
>>>
>>>from the documents.
>>    
>>
>>This is one of the things I have liked about the RHCE documentations
>>is that it emphasizes hands-on work.
>>    
>>
>
>:)
>
>  
>
>>>These criteria are anathema to the profit motive, which is why, to my
>>>knowlege, no such certification currently exists.
>>>
>>>      
>>>
>>Aside from criteria 1, it is more an issue of degree than substance.
>>    
>>
>
>Is it?
>
>  
>
>>Now for PostgreSQL certification.  A *real* PostgreSQL certification 
>>project would be extremely difficult and runs up against at least the 
>>following issues:
>>
>>1)  There is a lot of bad information out there about database design
>>    
>>
>
>True.
>
>  
>
>>2)  Unlike Oracle, administering the basic server is not that 
>>complicated.  I.e. the barrier to being a technician is pretty low.
>>    
>>
>
>Also true.  However, having a candidate be able to describe, or maybe
>even demonstrate, how they'd find the answer to a question that
>involves reference material would be instructive.  I've been known to
>ask people questions like, "what do you think of chapter 5 of book
>foo" and eliminate them as a candidate if they have a detailed opinion
>without consulting the book.  It tells me that they are much more
>likely lacking imagination and bad at setting priorities than that
>they have an eidetic memory.
>
>  
>
>>3)  Very few programmers want to know how to use an RDBMS properly
>>(part of why MySQL is so popular).
>>    
>>
>
>One perennial complaint is that programmers have a tendency to test
>things with one row.  Perhaps an exercise on putting together what the
>person presumes to be representative sample data sets including what
>assumptions were made could be a part of this.
>
>  
>
>>So you are stuck.
>>    
>>
>
>I think each of these things presents an opportunity :)
>
>  
>
>>Most vendor-sponsored certification programs are marketing programs
>>in disguise "Look at the Cool Stuff(tm) you can do with our
>>software."  In the case of the MCP exams, they often fail miserably.
>>In other words, they teach on features rather than substance which
>>is *why* you get people working well above their ability simply
>>because they have a certification (they didn't realize it but they
>>were being trained to sell the software rather than use it).  Do we
>>really want that image for PostgreSQL?
>>    
>>
>
>I'm pretty sure my opinion on this is clear ;)
>
>  
>
>>If I wanted to recommend existing certifications for someone who
>>wanted to get a cert that would help him be a safe DBA, I would
>>suggest that he/she start with the Server+, and then take the LPI
>>track.  As for database design, that is another matter.  Study,
>>Study, Study.  No certification required.
>>    
>>
>
>:)
>
>Cheers,
>D
>  
>

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