On Certifications

When I share with others what training I’ve had, I get questions like “Aren’t you just feeding the certification machine?” or “What do you think all those certifications will get you?” and “Aren’t all of certifications just a racket to take your money?” I guess I could maybe answer yes to two of those questions. As for what I think these certifications will get me… I think they get me a better seat at the table. The reality is this: these certifications mean something to SOMEONE, and many job listings require you to have at least one of them. If you want to advance – like I do – to become a trainer or an agile coach, then these certifications are necessary. However, the other very real benefit to me is maybe a little less tangible to others: I get a rush from learning with like-minded individuals. That rush then translates to real action when I get back to work, so I find these courses – certification or otherwise – valuable.

Still, there’s a cost.

As of the writing of this post, you can get certified as a scrum master through several entities: Scrum Alliance, Scrum.org, Agile Alliance, Project Management Institute (though the certification has a different name), and Scrum Study, just to name a few. Each entity also has a plethora of other certifications you can get to advance beyond CSM. They all mean similar things, and they all cost a considerable bundle for the initial course. Afterward, you need to pay a fee each year (or every two years depending on the entity) to maintain your certifications. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that if you hold multiple certifications then you’ll be paying a LOT over the years to keep them current.

In the last two years, I’ve gained three certifications: A-CSM, CSPO, and CS@SP. I intend to go for a few more in the near future. Why would I do this, you ask? I do it to further my career, even if the courses haven’t taught me much more than my nearly 15 years of experience has. These certification courses have reminded me of some values and principles and have given me a new perspective on others, but they were not life-altering. I can say, though, that they did breathe new life into my resolve and my passion for Scrum and all things Agile. For those reasons, the certifications were worth it to me, but I was curious as to what others thought.

I asked folks within my network how many certifications they held and whether or not they felt the certifications were worth it. Most of them agreed that these certifications were indeed worth it, but some were hesitant to continue renewing them. Manny Segarra, Agile Coach at Kaiser Permanente, said, “This may be the last year I renew my certs … I have been an Agile Coach for 10+ years now … If I can’t convince someone in 5 minutes that I am the real deal, that is on me … Not sure I need someone else to validate me, aren’t we supposed to validate ourselves?!” Wendell Bickford, Sr. ScrumMaster at Integral Ad Science, had this to say, “I have CSM, CSP, CAL, SPC4. I think they are important but I believe being selective is worth it. But getting the certificate is one thing, but immersing yourself in an environment and practicing daily the Agile framework and scrum process is key.” Chris Wistrom, Sr. Scrum Master at Billtrust, said she thinks certifications feed her “psychological conditioning of ‘leveling up.'” She also feels that “learning is worth the effort” but “one doesn’t need the cert for the learning.” She has seven certifications.

So, where did I go for my most recent certifications? I took the A-CSM class in May of 2018 with Angela Johnson. I’d seen her speak at the Global Scrum Gathering in San Diego, and I’d joined a few of her webinars. I liked her no-nonsense approach to what it means to be a ScrumMaster, so I signed up. I wasn’t disappointed. In December of 2018 my boss told me he had leftover training budget so I jumped on the opportunity to get my CSPO. I loved the perspective this gave and I enjoyed the interaction in the class. Brad Swanson gave very organized training and encouraged very interesting discussion. It drew me to the conclusion that if you have only your CSM or your CSPO, you should get certified in the OTHER one. Six months later, I took the Scrum@Scale class with Rob Frohman & Melanie St. James from CO8 Group. I really wanted to learn how to scale scrum without doing SAFe. I’d say I learned more in this class than I did in the previous two combined, and I brought a lot back to my teams.

As with most things, becoming a Certified Scrum Master – or Certified Anything, for that matter – is a personal choice. Renewing those certifications year after year is also a choice. I’m fortunate enough to work for an employer that reimburses me for those fees, but not everyone has that luxury. Overall, I think getting and maintaining certifications helps my career and keeps me current. I love the learning that comes with these endeavors, but I can learn on my own, as well. Isn’t learning what this is all about anyway?