Does UX Certification Make Sense?


We discuss a bit about Imposter Syndrome and UX certification; how we’re both SUPER on the fence about it. And by on the fence, we mean the Fence of Againstness. But in what circumstances does it make sense?


Matthew: Bifocals.

Matt: Oh. One focal wasn't enough.

Matthew: A friend of mine has a friend who teaches a class at the University of Portland and it's a elective class on UX for the computer science major. And there's about 17 kids in the class. And they wanted a guest speaker. He was describing--

Matt: They couldn't find one.

Matthew: Huh?

Matt: And they couldn't find one.

Matthew: And they couldn't find one. And so I was like, hi, I heard you were trying to find a UX speaker, I can do it please. Gimme a chance, coach. He was telling me about the story of less then 48 hours before class, he was scrambling to find someone. And he finished telling me this story, I was like, oh, I get it, so I'm like the higher ed version of, class, we're watching a movie today.

Matt: Was it just Q and A or did you go in with a talk?

Matthew: I went in with a talk. But did sort of a mix Q and A slash talk, like, talk for a bit, and. The first question was really interesting. There's a point in the talk where I kind of go through a brief history of my career, highlighting the mistakes that I made. Things that I felt were big mistakes, not like, oh, I moved the button to the wrong place, but like I didn't challenge the CEO because he was wrong. Or each beat is a year, so like, 2006, 2008, '12, '16, and then the last slide is now, like, literally right now, this second. And I say, "Now I'm at a point where I don't give a shit". And then people laugh a bit and I say, "It's not that I don't care, I do care, a lot. "It's just I don't give a shit anymore "about being embarrassed or about being wrong." And there's two other things that just blanking right now, but I also say about imposter syndrome. And then I just move on a bit and then after that section finishes, one of the kids in the back goes, "Can you explain what you mean "about dealing with imposter syndrome?" And so I talked about that for a bit and then the guy teaching the class said, "Can you define what imposter syndrome means?" And that's when I was like, oh, that's what that question was. Imposter syndrome. And then I said, "So, all right, "here's my definition of imposter syndrome. "All of you are looking at me, "this is my narrative in my head. "All of you are looking at me right now, "and you're thinking he doesn't deserve to be here. "He doesn't know what he's talking about. "And I can see it in your eyes, right now, "as you're looking at me right now, "I can tell you don't want me here." And I said, "That is imposter syndrome. "Because I do know what I'm talking about, "and I do belong here." And that seemed to actually resonate with people. For me, it was a weird thing to cue in on, because it didn't seem related to what I was talking about. But it was, so.

Matt: Yeah, I had a little, Stan and I touched on that a little bit last week. How like, we saw something like I've moved in my career, where I go to these meet-ups now and I'm like an elder statesman. All these people, kids I'll call them, but they're not kids, but younger than me, they come to me and they ask me these questions and they like, not look up to me, but they see me as some sort of authority 'cause A, I'm old, and B, I'm running the meet-up.

Matthew: Right, right.

Matt: And I'm like, why are you asking me? And then I'm like, oh yeah, I kinda have more experience than most of the people in this room. But I still don't see myself that way.

Matthew: You look out at the room and you say, you all have a combined 20 years experience. Me too.

Matt: Like, now I hang out, I go to lunch or coffee with friends who I've grown up with in the industry, and they're all now like, VPs and directors, and they've slowly risen to these levels of influence, instead of just being grunt, like we all were back in the day. It's like, wow, you make decisions and you're important. I'm not, but that's okay, because I don't wanna be. Did I see something on LinkedIn about someone was bragging about they got a certification and I rolled my eyes? I think that's what happened. Like, you poor bastard, you just blew $1,000 or whatever it costs.

Matthew: Yeah, I've seen recently a couple things, and I'll start at the beginning by saying I feel a couple of different ways about this. So one, there's a guy who I'm connected with on LinkedIn who does training for people. And how I found out about it was someone posted their certificate on LinkedIn for completing usability testing course, or something like that. And he liked and commented, hey, great job, whatever. Initially I was like, I don't know how I feel about that. I feel kind of against it, but I'm quite sure why. And then I saw another post and it was one of those looping gifs where people were cheering. There are like, 18 newly minted UX, we're UX designers now.

Matt: Minted, I like the way you put that. You've been crowned.

Matthew: You've been crowned, you've been adorned with powers.

Matt: Anointed with the magic spell, yeah.

Matthew: And I was just like, oh, crap. Because the marketplace is being flooded with people who are coming out of things like General Assembly with UX credentials. They're snapping up jobs and doing them for $40 an hour. I remember back when I first started doing my work, and I think about my design capabilities then, when I had training from the people who wrote the books, thank you very much. It wasn't good. It sufficed, but it wasn't good. So that's what's flooding the market right now. I think back to there was a guy who used to comment on my blog, when I used to blog, named Ron Zeno. He would often comment of who accredited the people doing the training. Who said that they were good enough to train people? And that the training those people are receiving is good enough to do the work. And that's why I'm concerned about certification, because it comes from, what's that company? H, Human Factors International?

Matt: HFCI.

Matthew: Used to do a CUA certification.

Matt: Yeah, certificate of usability analysts, or something.

Matthew: Yeah, and on the one hand, I'm not saying that that company does poor work. But on the other hand, who are they to be the ones to offer certification to everyone?

Matt: That's kinda where I fall. I think, I have nothing against General Assembly per se. I think any training is better than no training. And at least they're getting some basic knowledge, I'll say. The people I've talked to who have gone through General Assembly classes seem more knowledgeable than other people who don't. My problem with them is the cost of the program versus the value that people get. 'Cause I've talked to people who spent, and I forget the numbers, but they spent a lot of money to go through that GA course, and they come out of it with some knowledge, but I don't know if it's much more knowledge than they would get from an internship or just an associate level, entry level job. The flip side is they might say, well, we can't even get those entry level jobs because market's getting flooded, like you said, with people jumping into UX design. That might be part of the problem. But I just feel bad for these people that are trying to get into the industry with noble intentions, I have no problem with people trying to do what we do. I just don't want to get taken advantage of, by either taking a class that's not gonna fully equip them, or not get the value for the money that they're spending. So that's where I fall on the certifications. I don't put much weight into the certification itself, because, yeah, you're right, who are these people, what makes them the rulers of the certification? But I'm gonna assume they're at least getting some training that's better than they had before they did it. I just don't want them to have a false sense of entitlement, maybe that's the word? Of now I have this certification, I'm gonna rule the world, I'm gonna get any job I want. When they're really not much more meaningful than just getting started and doing a year's worth of work in an actual place and learning on the job.

Matthew :Yeah, I think that's, I don't know the level to which, and I get we're picking on General Assembly, just 'cause, for me, that's the one I know about the most, or hear about the most.

Matt: Same here. Same here, they're big in Atlanta. I see a lot of people at my meet-ups that go through it and they're bright people. They're doing good work for going through that class. So I can't knock them for that.

Matthew :What I wonder if the extent to which General Assembly is helping each of those people find a job. And I wonder with more and more people going through those programs, there are a lot of jobs out there, but I'm not sure exactly how that works with the marketplace being flooded with people. At least conceptually, because I haven't seen it actually play out of the model that Leslie Jensen-Inman and Jared Spool have with the Center Centre, where from, relatively speaking, day one, they're working on real projects with real companies, and making connections and networking. It doesn't necessarily mean they're gonna get a job with that company, but they have real work on their resume.

Matt: And I think the two business models, from an education standpoint, are very different. Or at least different enough that the Center Centre warrants a little more prestige and money. 'Cause you're right, it's more work work. And it's longer, I forget the length of their program.

Matthew: It's a two-year program.

Matt: Yeah, so it's definitely, obviously different than a six or eight week after-school, oh, not after-school, evening class. Evening class thing, so, yeah, it's very different. You're gonna get a lot more depth of training. And I think you get a laptop.

Matthew: Oh, wow. Even better. 

Matt: That's kinda my take on the certifications. Not bad, but I want people to understand what they're getting and what they're not getting with that certification. It doesn't hold as much prestige as people might think, or the people selling them want you to think.

Matthew: Yeah, I agree. And it's not who are these people to train? Because we train people. Most of the time when I'm training people it's in a project and I'm teaching the people I'm working with how to do that stuff. To me, it's that word, it's certification, right? Who says that these people know what they're doing, right? I look at Leslie and she has a PhD, she is an educator, she is well-steeped in the knowledge of what we do, and I think that makes sense. Look at some other people, and I'm like, oh, you're an independent person who uses certification as a way for income, using training as a way for income. Totally fine, but it's that certification part. Gary says that Melissa is a certified usability test practitioner. So what?

Matt: Right, I'm with you. Yeah, 'cause when I do my training, I've had, thinking specifically one guy ask if it resulted in a certification. I'm like, well, no. But you can read my credentials, and I've been doing this for 20 years and you're getting my knowledge. I'm not selling a certification, I'm just selling training. Because I know certifications in isolation are not worth anything. You can go, I got the Matt Wallens 80 Watts certification. That's not gonna get you a job, I don't think. If it does, then I'd be onto something.

Matthew: Now, all of that said, the recent workshop we held last week, someone needed a certificate for their company. Their company's like, we want proof that you attended.

Matt: Oh, wow.

Mathew: And I signed it and I was like, you've completed this workshop.

Matt: Nice, did you go to Staples and get those printed certificate of certifications?

Mattew: No, no, no, we designed it from scratch and everything.

Matt: Oh, excellent.

Matthew :It matched the branding of the posters that we put up, and it was pretty nice.

Matt: Above and beyond.

Matthew:  It used two different fonts, I mean, come on.

Matt: Did it have a seal on it?

Matthew: Oh, shit.

Matt: All right, good show, people, good show.

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