Does Java certification matter?

by Eric M. Burke

Related link: http://suned.sun.com/US/certification/java/



A few years ago, back in the good ol' days of Java, Sun really promoted their certification programs. At the time, this was a hot issue so I took the first two exams.


Two issues discouraged me from continuing with additional Java certifications. First, Sun would not let me put any statement like "Certified Java Developer" on my business card without a verbose legal disclaimer that probably would not fit on the business card. This really is not a big problem, it is just annoying.


The second annoyance was the way my programming assignment was graded (or not). Before I took my test, a co-worker with a LOT of experience took his test. He received a very poor score, barely passing. He speculated that maybe they gave him a "rubber stamp" approval rather than really studying his solution. I then took the Developer certification exam and received the exact same lousy score. What are the odds of that? I did not receive any feedback as to what I did wrong. Why were our scores so low? I know damn well that my solution was correct and well written. Was it mere coincidence that my coworker got the exact same score, or did we get a rubber stamp approval?


So I quit pursuing additional certifications. Now, several years later, a client actually asked for a Java instructor who has some sort of Sun certification. This surprised me because I have not heard much about certifications in recent years. People don't seem to care as much as they used to.


Should we care? I can think of a few limited reasons why certifications matter:


  • There is a remote possibility that some companies prefer certified programmers over non-certified programmers. Regardless of whether this means anything, being certified might help you get your foot in the door.

  • Given two otherwise identical programmers, would you hire the one who is certified or the one who is not? Perhaps the certification gives one a slight edge. This is a weak argument, though. I'm a "hard" technical interviewer, and I find it pretty easy to distinguish between someone who really knows Java versus someone with limited knowledge.

  • The mere act of studying for certification helps you learn more about Java. This is particularly important for people new to Java, such as those switching from some other language.



Looking back at these points, I'm coming to the conclusion that certifications are most important for beginners. Studying for the tests give you something concrete to focus on, and being certified gives you one extra bullet point on a resume.


11 Comments

johnwatts1
2004-06-22 12:32:48
Individual Development Plan
I have been developing in Java since 1998. My first certification for JDK 1.1 came in June of 1999, because the company I was working for offered a bonus for getting certified. I too didn't pursue any other certifications until recently. My current company has the concept of Individual Development Plans (IDP). Everyone has to identify areas of needed improvement and what steps they will take to make those improvements. I figured that getting updated certifications for JDK 1.4 and the J2EE Enterprise Architect Certification was an easily identifiable way of showing progress towards my personal development goals. I agree that having to study for these exams really helped emphasize those parts of the API which I no longer have day to day interaction with. I suggest that if your place of employment will pay for the exam, you might as well get certified to help focus your own IDP.
jimothy
2004-06-22 13:13:43
Individual Development Plan
After getting the certification, the question is: Should you include the certification on your resume (if/when, ironically, you decide to leave the company that paid for the certification).


I'm also of the opinion that, career-wise, certifications are more important for beginners than to experienced developers (not to discount the benefits you mention above). I'm not sure how widespread that perception is, but I can see how listing a certification might unfairly brand one as a "beginner" or that the certification might be viewed as crutch for lack of experience. Not that I agree that is the case; I'm merely playing devil's advocate.


My instinct says, on your general audience resume (the one you post to Dice, Monster, etc.), leave certications off. When providing a resume to a specific company, get a feel for how the prospective employer values certifications (either through a recruiter, contacts, or the employer itself), then make the decision of whether to include it or not. When in doubt, leave it off, and mention it in an interview if it feels right.

ChrisWelsh
2004-06-22 23:07:42
Individual Development Plan
That's a bizarre opinion. By that logic, you should leave your degree off your resume, as some places might see you as "too academic"


Although the certification isn't terribly difficult, there's no way you can pass without putting in some effort.


All relevant qualifications should be on a resume.


As an aside, as someone who wrote and passed the programmer certification after 4 years of java experience, I was surprised to discover that there was more to the language than I knew about. It also gave me a lot more confidence doing technical interviews, as I knew there was no way an interviewer was going to catch me out with some obscure language trick.

funkattack
2004-06-23 02:43:54
would I hire you?
Hi Eric,
how does that go together, how can you distinguish between "two otherwise identical programmers" in an interview, other than by the fact that one of'em is certified and the other is not?


And that is a strong argument. The certification always gives me advantage over the "otherwise identical programmer".


The question that can be argumented about is, how big of an advantage does the certification gives you?

jimclark1
2004-06-23 06:14:09
Does Java certification matter?
I've been pondering the same question lately. I became certified in 1998 (too incented by a bonus), but other than a WebLogic certification ('01), I haven't bothered with any of the new certifications. I believe that the certifications are useful for junior or inexperienced programmers. However, when I'm interviewing a senior developer, I do look for a certification on the resume to see if they, at some point, made the effort to pass an exam. But more importantly I look at their experience and whether they would fit in the organization.


BTW, I would never exclude my certifications from my resume. Regardless of who paid for it, it was my accomplishment. That's business.


As for an IDP, certifications are definitely a useful benchmark. We suggest completing certifications to meet professional development goals.


Jim

cynic783
2004-06-23 06:44:13
The mere act of studying for certification...
I like this argument the best. After programming Java professionally for over six years I definitely benefited from studying for the SCJP (Sun Certified Java Programmer 1.4).


Does that mean I think that certification is a substitute for experience? No. But given two otherwise equal candidates I would probably take the one with the SCJP certification.

BillSiggelkow
2004-06-23 06:58:20
Dime a dozen ...
Back in the dot-boom days (pre-bomb/911) I was doing a lot of interviewing of junior to mid-level Java developers. An overwhelming majority of these candidates, particularly the H1B candidates, were Java Programmer certifications. It was so common that I found it to be useless. I didn't consider it a negative point; just a point that I disregarded.
jimothy
2004-06-23 13:48:40
Individual Development Plan
"All relevant qualifications should be on a resume."


Agreed. But, as this blog asks, is a certification relevant?


All that I meant by suggesting leaving certifications off is to be cautious. There may (or may not) be recruiters/employers/interviewers who view certifications with suspicion. Know your interview.


If I were going to have an interview with someone I knew was a rabid Georgia Bulldogs fan, maybe I would leave of where I went to school. I'd wait 'till deeper in the interview about how they always get beat by the Gators. ;-)

archangel
2004-06-24 06:38:57
What it proves and doesn't
Although the following aren't all necessarily true for everyone, I would say that if you've got certification it proves a few things:


1. You're willing to sacrifice your time and money to get something which will formally indicate a level of ability.


2. You are self-disiplined unenough to do an exam you're not forced into doing.


3. You have a certain level of commitment Java (I have lots of languages on my CV which I've just hacked around in).


4. You know the nitty-gritty detail of Java.


These, of course, depend on whether your work pays etc., but I think the general points are valid.


However, as with all certification exams, there's lots of stuff it doesn't prove. Despite the goals of the Developer's exam, your ability to
design sound systems is never entirely proved.


Certification is very much like having your driver's licence. It doesn't prove that you're a great driver, just that you know the rules.


I thought the comment about not including your certification on your CV very bizarre! Would you ever be interviewed by someone who would think of you negatively for having certification? Even if your interviewer doesn't think much of certification it'll be a talking point in the interview and you can amaze your interviewer with your reasoning and eloquance...


I'm a relatively new developer (out of university for two years). I took certification after I graduated to push myself a bit above everyone else who had got a good degree from a good university.


It's already been brought up, but I'd like to agree that certification forces you to know the language (and some core libraries) through and through. This means you encounter some parts of the language that you might have never met at (say) university or even after a few years in industry. I found that after doing the certification (or should I say "studying for the certification"?) I had tremendous confidence at the couple of interviews I had afterwards, confident that I wouldn't be caught out by any sneaky little code snippets.


Professionally, I'm now looking at moving away from client-side Java into server-side Java. Certification gives my a nice study guide and together with some server-side open-source projects, provides my future employer with some indication of my ability.

tlaurenzo1
2004-06-24 08:37:24
Individual Development Plan
Having screened resumes before, let me offer my 2 cents... One or two well placed certifications on a resume was a plus (showing commitment, minimum understanding, etc). On the other hand, though, we usually rejected resumes that contained a lot of certifications. It was our knee-jerk reaction on such things that the excessive certifications listed on the resume were being used to make up for other things which were lacking.
DrCore911
2004-06-25 06:52:58
Individual Development Plan
Im 16 years old. Many of you may not be familiar with it, but I have just completed AP computer science in my high school. After reviewing the material for the sun programmer exam, i found it to be much easier than the AP exam I took. I think this certification will be a great benefit to my resume. I also plan on getting certified as a developer and architect.