Are Certifications Old News?

March 3, 2012

As people try to get recognized, certified, and prove their skills…it can still be difficult to convince your peers, potential employers, and fellow industry people that you can walk-the-walk.

One way to show that you are capable in a certain skill-set is to get a certification.  Of course, there are plenty of discussions already about the value of these certifications.  And besides, how do you *really *prove that you have this certification?

Well, Mozilla’s solution to this problem is similar to merit badges, but with a secure infrastructure around it.

Learning today happens everywhere. But it’s often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen online or out of school.  Mozilla Open Badges helps solve that problem, making it easy for any organization to issue, manage and display digital badges across the web.

However, will this catch on?  Can these badges be standardized?

It’s already happening
Of course they can, especially in an industry with a long history of standardizing certifications. We already see this in the knowledge industry…we have had certifications as long as I can remember.

So the idea of a standardized approach for recognition isn’t new.  However, what *is *new is that this type of infrastructure makes use of gamification to recognize, motivate, and award people.  Instead of simply rewarding you with a piece of paper, and sometimes adding some cool acronyms after your name, you can now display your badges wherever you want!

For the record…gamification isn’t new either.  [Joey Strawn]( has been talking about gamification for a while (and has lots of good articles about it, too).

Companies have been successfully using simple gamification techniques in order to motivate customers to return to their shop/restaurant.  Just think of all those loyalty cards, stamps, and contests that your favorite restaurants have!

Also, you may recognize a website where Joel and Jeff (from codinghoror) used gamification to innovate the industry back in 2008 as well. cough Stack Overflow cough
But let’s save gamification for a different blog post, at a different time, I have enough to talk about already here!

Certificates are already a big deal
You can get CompTIA A+ certified for PC support. IEEE offers Brainbench exams for its members to earn certificates in a number of areas, from design and media to databases and programming languages. Microsoft Certification is another huge one…I’m lucky to be sitting right next to a Microsoft Certified Professional Developer at work every day.

My point is…there are already plenty of examples of companies and organizations offering proof of knowledge, or a level of experience…and some of those certifications are pretty elite! (For the record, there aren’t many developers with the MCPD certification.)

So why Merit Badges?
Merit badges are a likely next step for standardization. Instead of having a formalized certificate that most people file away and never show (except for a line on a résumé), you’d have an iconic, graphical merit badge that’s simple to display and also better visually communicates what you’ve accomplished. Show them on a visual résumé, or display them on a personal website. Maybe even LinkedIn could let users start including badges on their personal profiles (similar to the group icons already).  And heck, maybe even motivate people to keep learning!

How cool would that be?

Admittedly, standardization will take work.  Especially as the knowledge industry grows and changes. New certifications are already added rapidly as technology changes, so creating and certifying badges can probably be part of the same process. The important thing is that the association responsible for administering the certifications/badges also offers some kind of guarantee that if someone uses it, they actually do have that badge.

We will just have to see how Mozilla handles the “guaranteed” part of it.

Differentiation is important
These badges could also help differentiate yourself from others.  Let’s face it, doesn’t everyone have Microsoft Office listed on their résumé?  Couldn’t we all join the same LinkedIn groups/associations?  These badges would be a way to differentiate.

I really like what Mozilla is doing with the badges.  I hope it catches on, and I really hope the badges can become the new standard.
I hope it goes above a standard, and encourages all of us to continue learning!

What are you waiting for?  Head over to Open Badges now, and earn some badges!