Why I Get Certifications

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Earlier today I was reviewing a bunch of notes I’d taken at Meetups, conferences and seminars throughout last year, and I saw a single line in my notes from a coaching seminar.

Certification is about stopping Impostor Syndrome.

Now, being the honest sort of person I am, I will freely admit that I don’t recall writing this note. I’ll also admit to having spent some time recently wondering what value I am getting from paying to sit a certification exam. So as I read this note it really connected with me.

Those of you who have been following my articles will know I wrote one about the Manifestations of Impostor Syndrome last year. Also, in the last year I’ve been trying to increase my visibility, branding and credibility; and I’ve also started actively seeking training opportunities. Throughout the year I’ve known that the training has helped me to quash some of the impostor syndrome, but I hadn’t realised that quashing the impostor syndrome was also a significant driver for me undertaking the certifications.

Every time I sign-up for a training course, I check to see if there is some sort of certification available. In many cases I find courses that are free, but the certification has a cost. I usually pay for the certification. If a digital badge is available I am far more likely to pay as well.

When I achieve the certification I will post it to my blog, and I’ll share it on LinkedIn, but I’ve always questioned why I do this. After reading my note (that was taken 4 months ago), it finally clicked for me; my primary driver for the certifications is self-confidence and being reassured that I do have skills that are comparable to others.

Having said that I prefer certifications that have digital badges, and that I post my certifications to my blog may lead people to believe that I like to show off about them. To some extent this is true. I post about them in the same way that I post about topics I have recently learnt about, I’m telling the rest of the world that I know something and if anyone is interested I’m happy to share my knowledge. I also post about them so I have a record of them, a reminder that I really do know about some topics.

When I look back to July last year when I gained my Professional Scrum Developer certification, I can clearly remember my thoughts and some of my actions at the time. I recall posting to LinkedIn that I had sat the online assessment and was quite confident with it, I recall mentioning that I was not studying for the exam and that I was doing it for verification of my knowledge, and I recall not wanting to tell anyone what it was for fear that if I failed it I would be demonstrating a lack of knowledge in an area I thought I understood. As it turns out I did quite well on that particular certification, and my marks significantly boosted my confidence. As I look back at the situation before I took this certification I realise that I was so nervous about it because I didn’t believe in my own abilities despite having significant knowledge on the topic.

Since completing that first certification I am actively seeking more learning opportunities so I can expand my knowledge. As I put my knowledge into practice, I try to recognise when I no longer look at reference material on a regular basis. When I recognise that I am not looking at the reference material I seek out some certification to prove to myself (and to the wider community) that I do have some skills in the particular topic.

I know there are many people out there who will do a course to gain a certification, but if we all do this, then the certification has little or no value. For me the certification is about proving to myself that the knowledge exists in my life, not just in my head for a short period.

I encourage everyone to go out and learn a new skill, expand your knowledge, push your boundaries; but keep the certification as a way to alleviate impostor syndrome. The certification is not the goal, the knowledge is.