A few years ago, I was sharing a drink with a friend of mine. He was about to become a fully qualified architect. In the UK, one cannot call themselves an architect without having carried out the full, three part course, which takes at least seven years. Typically, as the course involves working in the industry, architects often took more than seven years to complete their ‘part three’ – my friend completing it in the minimum possible time made him one of the youngest qualified architects in the country. As he was about to be fully qualified, he was explaining the need to get indemnity insurance, as his opinion as a qualified architect made him liable for the quality of advice given, even advice given informally down at the pub.

There has been a short history of various individuals, companies and professional bodies within IT attempting to define and issue certification. By and large, they have not caught on. There is no belief that software delivered by ‘certified’ individuals is any better than that developed by uncertified individuals. Nor is there any evidence that in terms of getting jobs that certification counts for anything other than in specific, narrow (mostly vendor specific) technical domains – something that few serious software professional would consider worthwhile.

So, in general, why does certification exist? Societal pressure determines where certification is essential. It is important that key individuals in positions of power are properly vetted – and recognised – for the role they play in society. Which is why there are laws governing who can call themselves a lawyer, architect, engineer, surveyor. Which is why certified profesionals have responsibility placed upon them regarding the veracity of information and quality services they provide as a member of that profession.

In terms of architecture – in similar terms to medical doctors for example – society has deemed the roles they play as being important enough that certification carries with it legally enforceable expectations regarding their competency. With this responsibility, comes recognition – and a clear understanding as to how the profession is valued by society as a whole.

Certification in the land of IT is not being driven by a need for society to ensure that we are doing our jobs properly – to ensure that only competent individuals call themselves ‘programmers’, ‘sysadmins’ or whatever. Nor is it being driven by a societal desire to recognise our contribution to society as as a whole. It is being driven by IT itself – at best as a misguided attempt to recognise an ability in a certain set of skill, at worst as a way of generating money. As such, certification in the world of IT is a toothless concept, lacking in any sense of legitimacy, and distracts us from the more worthy goal of understanding how we contribute to the world around us, and how we grow competency to the point where we can even consider ourselves a profession at all.