A Modest Proposal for Perl Certification

by John Adams

Today's OSCON session on Perl certification--I so regret missing it. But I do have a possibly useful idea for Perl ceritification in the state of California and, should it prove workable, possibly beyond.

As you know, many Perl programmers object to certification on a variety of grounds.

Some are absolutist arguments against certification itself. There is little one can say to change that position.

Others accept certification as an idea, but object to proposals for putting it into practice.

The details of these objections are many, but these two are most prominent:

  • No standardized test can measure competence. Only interviews and live coding exercises can do so.

  • Who certifies the certifiers? Worthless certification is bad in the long run, even if it gives advantages today.

These are intelligent and thoughtful objections.

I can meet them with a proposal inspired by a fact I learned from the perl.org jobs-discuss list: In the state of California, an indepedent contractor must be represented by some sort of body shop to be hired.

The path forward is clear: Some institution, possibly The Perl Foundation, should operate as a combined body shop and certification authority for the state of California. If it works there, the model can scale up.

How would this work?

The official position of this group toward certification would be carefully neutral, noting the objections to certification by Perl programmers and explicitly stating that there are many equally competent Perl programmers who do not work throught this institution.

It would not certify Perl programmers per se, but it would verify, through a process of personal interview by experienced Perl programmers and demonstrated ability to code (demonstrated, one would hope, as part of building the necessary infrastructure for this and other TPF ventures), two things: That the person in question is, at some basic level, a competent Perl programmer, and that the person in question is competent for the designated job.

What to do with the money?

I'm thinking the bulk of the "profits" should be held in reserve for the programmer and paid out at a rate similar to the rate at which the job paid. It's to the mutual benefit of all job-seekers not to have members of the community hungry enough to take any pay rate that comes in. By reserving money (normally taken as profit by commercial job agencies) for a payout similar to unemployment insurance, everyone benefits.

The money could be held in short-term notes and the interest could be used by the group for operating expenses.

Two main objections to certification are thus removed: We have a valid certification process and an acceptable certification authority. Best of all, we achieve it without ever issuing a single certification!

Okay, everyone loves that last sentence--but what else do you say?


2004-01-10 11:38:17
Talk to laywers
When I ran Perl Mongers, a non-profit incorporated in the state of New York, I talked to some attorneys about such a scheme. It would be a commercial endeavour that would have endangered the non-profit status. The laws in the state of Michigan (for the Perl Foundation) may be different, but I doubt it.

Remember, you do not have to lose a legal battle to lose your money, your mind, and everything else that is truly important. Perl Mongers, and I am guessing the Perl Foundation, never had the capital to back up such a risk, and even if it did, there are much better uses and pressing needs for that.

Any time you think you have a business idea, hold your excitement until your attorney has a chance to take the wind out of your sails. If, after that, you are merely scared to death rather than curled up on the floor in the fetal position crying for mommy, it might be a worthy idea.