Is the market ready for Drupal certification?

Yesterday, Indian firm Gloscon announced its intent to offer Drupal certification. It joins Acquia, which first discussed its forthcoming "Yellow Jersey" program last March. To the best of my knowledge, only U.K.-based NobleProg currently "certifies" Drupal developers, although other training companies (Lullabot large among them) provide course-completion certificates; as far as I can tell, these other course certificates hold at least as much weight as NobleProg's documents.

Which brings us to the point: Certification has only the value the market gives it. "Market" here refers not to the certified, but to their prospective employers and clients. That the market recognizes one certification over another isn't necessarily a reflection of quality: an MBA from Harvard will open more doors than one from Florida Tech, even if the latter has better teachers. So it goes.

Recognition comes from two sources: word of mouth and active promotion. I'd say that Lullabot is the leader in the former, but believe that Acquia, with its US$7,000,000 in initial funding, has tremendous potential to blow away all competition in the latter.

I don't know much about Gloscon or NobleProg, except that I hadn't heard of them until yesterday. That's my own ignorance... but it's also a data point. Both are outside the U.S., which gives them an extra barrier for gaining recognition. (My country has many faults, it does host the world's leading advertising and promotion machinery.)

One oft-raised issue with all these certifications is that they're led by commercial firms -- which some stakeholders fear will cause conflicts of interest. The obvious solution would be for a neutral, third-party nonprofit company to manage certification. Advantages:

  • Undivided focus. Such an organization could concentrate solely on certification and associated tasks (such as market promotion).
  • Ability to form "clean" partnerships (with, for example, Drupal Association)
  • Flexible structure. For example, it could certify the courses of Lullabot, NobleProg, etc. as being part of a bigger certification.
  • Market perception of neutrality.
  • Additional venues for distributed fundraising through corporate sponsorships, grants, etc.

The big disadvantage? It's still not evident that the market need for Drupal certification is big enough to support such an organization. Plus it has no obvious source of seed money, which I believe should be at least $200,000 for the first year to make a serious impact. (Remember, advertising and public relations are a major part of what would give such a program value. Those things cost money.)

On the other hand, it could quickly become self-supporting -- if the market is big enough. And just as a side effect, the boost it would give to Drupal's visibility in the business community would be incomparable.

Now, I founded and ran a high-tech nonprofit organization for about a year and a half -- here's its old Web site at its peak on archive.org, if you're curious. It was founded without money, gained (comparatively) huge public recognition, got its 501(c)(3) recognition from the U.S. government, and fell apart immediately after I handed off the reins. It was, frankly, a deeply traumatic experience.

But among the many things it taught me, one lesson stands out: Don't go it alone. Delegate; work with partners; follow the market. The emerging leader in Drupal certification will need to know this, regardless of whether it's a nonprofit or commercial organization.

There's a saying that goes something like: "Smart leaders don't try to get a crowd to follow them. They find a crowd and run to its front." The question: Is the need for Drupal certification a big enough "crowd" to coalesce a leader?

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Comments

Based on my personal experience with Gloscon, I would say they have about zero credibility. But that's just my personal opinion. I think this post from Gloscon's CEO will tell you a lot about what kind of company they're running: http://drupal.org/node/306624#comment-1016021

Hey, anon. I haven't had any experience with Gloscon (except for Roshan responding to a previous blog post), and obviously can't say anything about yours. Sorry to hear you've had a disagreement. FWIW, I didn't have any problem with his comment on the thread you indicated. I, too, had a hard time figuring out how to get something on Drupal.org's front page. How did I figure it out? Well, I had (sort of) inside information, just as Roshan suggests. I happened to be corresponding with Kieran about another matter via private email, and he pointed me at the "How to get your story on the front page" article, obscurely located at http://drupal.org/node/280488. Would he have allowed it on the front page if we hadn't already met me face-to-face? Probably. Would I have figured out how to navigate the maze? Probably not. In any case, the current drupal.org promotion system is suboptimal, and I don't blame Roshan (or anyone) for recognizing that. I do think he was too quick to jump to the conclusion that it's some kind of "old boys' network". But that's a minor sin IMHO. I think we'd all do well to remember Hanlon's Razor, which in this case should probably be rephrased as "Never assume malice when being overwhelmed with work will suffice." :)

In Drupal's defense, the "how to get on the front page" link has also been sticky at the top of the Drupal Showcase forum for months. http://drupal.org/forum/25 PS: "Smart leaders don't try to get a crowd to follow them. They find a crowd and run to its front." Great quote, you know the source?

Hey, um, "Somebody". I wish I knew the source of that quote: I tried looking it up before posting, but failed. I'd appreciate knowing if you (or any other reader) find out.

My main experience with Gloscon is the way they consistently spam the paid services forum with almost identical posts. There's a few companies that do this, but they're one of them. http://drupal.org/search/node/gloscon+type%3Aforum+category%3A51 http://drupal.org/search/node/bpocanada+type%3Aforum+category%3A51 NobleProg, as far as I can see, appears to be a generic IT company that happens to have some Drupal offerings because it's become popular. I'm based in London, but hadn't heard of them apart from seeing advertising for their courses on groups.drupal.org.

Hi Tom, My Company announced certification long back http://web.archive.org/web/20070110192614/http://www.drupaldesigns.com/. We were informed to take down that post and were given reasons that only Drupal Association can offer that and we accepted that since it was an independent body and made sense. Then came Acquia and everything changed! To other anonymous users ( I hope its okay Tom to share some facts here) : Here is the link of what we have been doing for last few years in Drupal - http://flickr.com/photos/bpocanada and here are some news http://www.gloscon.com/news http://drupal.org/user/101303 also lists some contributions at the bottom. and here is our presence at DrupalCon http://boston2008.drupalcon.org/gloscon-24x7-drupal-development-powerhouse. Kieran's post http://drupal.org/node/306784 states that we should not to post in Services forum and we are not doing it now. Roshan also had discussed this in team meeting. Don't know about the future on that too as how it will turn out( just like we took down the certification post on drupal designs and Acquia announced to offer it :-) ). So yes Roshan's comment on double standards has merit and we all believe that soon things will have to change for the momentum to continue. Coming out with Certifications is a huge effort and we are working hard to come out with quality certification curriculum. Rina

Rina: Many thanks for filling us in here. Now you've gotten me curious about why you were asked to take down your information about Drupal certification. Kieran? Anyone? Unfortunately, I can't see your original post, as archive.org immediately redirects me to a spam site (!). (I've notified archive.org to find out what's up with that. I've seen them infested with such problems before.) I should point out that, as owner of the Drupal trademark, Dries has the right to allow -- and disallow -- its use by anyone. But I think it would be a mark of extremely bad faith, and profoundly damaging to the if he did so arbitrarily. I'm hoping that's not the case.

Tom, I'll reply here to clarify on my few comments on consistent approach. I do know that Dries owns Drupal Trademark and do respect that. Our company was previously Drupal Designs Software Services Pvt Limited. We registered this name as a business just like many others who were using Drupal to do business. Certain people(no names) pointed that it is not right to use "Drupal" name for commercial business purpose or do any commercial business on a site that uses Drupal word in domain name. We had to take a HUGE expensive exercise to change our name to Gloscon. And is there consistency? Another example take a look at http://drupal.org/drupal-services, my company can't even get in there despite doing so much work http://www.gloscon.com/portfolio, lots of contributions, sponsorships, spreading drupal awareness to 1000's of students, doing every possible thing(within our corporate constraints) to be a good community player. I look at others in the list there and have started thinking that Drupal infrastructure is certainly a privilege of certain closed group of people who will toss a coin and decide on various moods on what to do. We could have worked on certification loooooong back but since I was told that it would be an offering of Drupal Association, I gladly withdrew the post only to to see later Acquia announcing its offering. Good for Drupal in general but again no consistency. If being in community means that doing what Drupal Association dictates, - "Yes" all for it and for consistency but if it means that "One Company" or its affiliates and circles control Drupal.org and use Dual Standards, I object to it. Roshan

Hey, Roshan! I appreciate getting your comments, since you're the "primary source". :) The good news is that the new Drupal trademark policy draft falls in your favor, as it promises to apply some consistency to the use of the term. Further, entities currently using it (including me!) will have to request permission anew. So at least you're going to be on a level playing field there. As for why Gloscon hasn't been listed at http://drupal.org/drupal-services... that's a very good question. Obviously I'm not privy to the details, but here's what I think's going on. I think some misunderstanding ruffled feathers on both sides, and now there's bad blood. Further, that page is probably updated by someone who's overworked and underpaid -- by which I mean UNpaid. :) So updates to the page probably aren't a priority. In other words, it might not be personal. If I were in your shoes, I'd make some more private inquiries before (as we say in the U.S.) airing your dirty laundry in public. If you don't get satisfaction after several weeks, make your own blog post that details the attempts you've made to be listed there, and the results. Be fair, understanding, honest, and polite (as I assume you have been so far :) ). Acknowledge your own errors, and make it clear that Gloscon is in this for the long run. That means both that you'll be there to continue to support Drupal -- but also that the issue won't go away. :) Ultimately you might have to agree to disagree. Make a plan to do that well, too. Good luck!

The service providers page is a list of people or their companies who contributed a lot (mainly Code) to the Drupal project over several years. Roshan/Gloscon/bpocanada does not fall in this category, that's why they don't get listed.

And this is actually well documented on the cited page as I just found out by reading it.

Hey Gerhard, When I last parsed through the list and did check on profiles of all the companies listed, I did not find ALL qualify under "lot" of code contribution category and some there even have less contributions then many other firms who have requested addition. I already had earlier also posted in webmaster queue request about our request to get added that I'm not going to push my company being added to that list anymore and as a matter of fact do not want it. The only reason I brought it up was in response to the first comment this post where I had commented about consistent standards http://drupal.org/node/306624#comment-1016021 and I certainly at individual level believe that even more with every passing day. Dries and Gerhard responding to this blog means a lot and I respect your viewpoints as much as I have my own viewpoints. Roshan

Here's the text of request I sent to Roshan because we have a relationship of working together and I have tried to support his efforts in the past. Hi Roshan, could you make sure the gloscon paid services forum are more substantial and helpful on topic. See: http://drupal.org/node/306784#comment-1006576 If you want to just advertise your services contact the person directly. But we have blocked two people in the paid services forum for constantly posting with nothing more than an advertisement. Your posts in the past have been good, but please talk to Rina. Also, if you keep having multiple users use the same account and those users do something that violates the community norms we will block your account whether it was you or not. Kieran Roshan agreed and the policy was fairly applied and managed by the new forum maintainers. Lately he's returned to spamming again. Roshan is not getting what he wants from the Drupal community. His belief is that he does not get what he wants due to a giant conspiracy against him. Since I actively try to work through issues of conflict that many of the maintainers on Drupal.org choose to ignore, I have become the target of choice. He can further draw attention to his cause by drawing a larger conspiracy because of my association with prominent organizations in the community. I'll let my record stand on it's own. I work directly with thousands of members of the Drupal community and my history of trying to open processes and provide more transparency is well known. It was inevitable that eventually I would run afoul of a critic who chooses to accuse first and check if it's true second. As Tom Geller has pointed out, the most obvious explanation is that someone who is working with hundreds of members of the community will ultimately fail to satisfy everyone. In some cases that failure will be taken as a personal slight. It never was. Kieran

Personally, I do think certification needs to happen. I think it is in the Drupal project's best interest if multiple companies can offer certification, and if they can compete on it. A year ago there were still many questions about how to deal with trademarks and people were really nervous about Drupal certification. Since then, we learned a lot, and along with the Drupal Association and Software Freedom Law Center, we spent a lot of effort working on a public Drupal trademark policy that can act as a guideline for how the name 'Drupal' is used. I just posted a draft at http://groups.drupal.org/node/15023 -- I'd love to get your feedback. Based on that policy, everyone would be allowed to offer Drupal certification, as long as you clearly separate your trademark from the Drupal trademark. For example, you can call your certification program "Gloscon Drupal Certification" but not "Drupal certification". By adding your mark, one can differentiate you from competing solutions. Using the name 'Drupal' in your company name is not allowed because it would complicate the above. I think it is really important to keep the playing ground fair and open; that is also why I called my companies "Acquia" and "Mollom", instead of "Drupal ABC", and why I've been working hard on creating a Drupal trademark policy.

Hey, Dries -- thanks for the clarifications. I've followed up about trademark issues in that thread. Back to the topic of certification. You write: I think it is in the Drupal project's best interest if multiple companies can offer certification, and if they can compete on it. I have to say I disagree with this -- UNLESS all such training leads to a unified certification "brand". That is, the existence of "John's Drupal Certification" and "Suzy's Drupal Certification" weakens both, and Drupal certification as a whole. Employers can't be bothered to figure out which of a dozen certification programs are worthwhile! That's especially true for a comparatively minor product like Drupal. Hey -- it ain't Windows. But if both Suzy and John could offer courses that lead to a unified "Official Drupal Certification"... *then* we're talking. I believe it would be a mistake to just throw this to the market and say, "fight amongst yourselves until one of you is at the top of the heap". That would result in a lot of wasted energy, time, work, and money. The trademark policy makes clear that only you and/or Drupal Association can make such certification "official". This comment is probably true for a lot of people: "I'm not willing to invest time and money marketing a product that makes use of the Drupal trademark at the risk of my license being revoked at anytime for no reason." If Drupal certification is a worthwhile project, perhaps the trademark policy gives greater urgency to the need for you/DA to create a framework for "official" certs. Having said that, it's still not clear whether the market believes that certification is worthwhile or necessary at this time. Perhaps it's time for a survey of companies listed on the paid services page, among others. The big question: How much will you pay. Without that, the other questions are frankly irrelevant. (One more thing I learned from running that nonprofit. :) )

Hi Tom, The way to treat "official" in my opinion is either to wait for an "acquia" or a "lullabot" to come in and to use their weight and momentum sweeping the market and creating a standard because of the critical mass that use that certfication or to take the initiative and create our (as us the drupal community) official certification. Because of the same concerns we started to promote an idea half ago which we (the community) would try to find the common "golden ciriculum" and that will be used as the base for any drupal certification. The intial idea started here - http://groups.drupal.org/node/10278 and evolved in to a session in drupalcon szeged with many of the leading drupal companies which do drupal training - http://szeged2008.drupalcon.org/program/sessions/drupal-training-and-certification We have lost some momentum after szeged (diving back in to work) but I think it would be great if you join the discussion in gdo and help transfer this from an idea to a solid, shared and open (gfdl/cc) base for certification. One of the great things in the drupal community comes from it's ability not to splinter and to consolidate as a community. I hope we can do the same thing here.

Hey, Lior. While Acquia and Lullabot have considerable "weight" in the Drupal community, you have to remember that the community is only one part of the audience for Drupal certification. I'd even argue that it's not the main audience -- hiring managers comprise the main audience. For them, the certification would have more weight if it was from, say, an established certification authority. Even Microsoft. I watched a bit of the training & certification session from Szeged. The presenter was right to recognize that certification is (a) separate from training and (b) a big topic. In fact, he said right at the beginning that he wasn't going to talk about it, because it was too big a topic for the presentation. It's great that the training part is evolving; but that doesn't naturally lead to a certification program. And that's the piece that's missing IMHO.

Were *you* the presenter I just referenced? :)

Zohar my partner led the round table foum in szeged. He leads the training and certification part of Linnovate's activities. I missed Szeged because my eldest started gradeschool, see you next drupalcon :) . Lior

I would love to eventually become certified in Drupal, but how do you guys stay up on things? What sources do you use most consistently to learn Drupal and all of the ins and outs? Do these places that have certification have study docs like the MS certs?

Follow the core issue queue, hang out on irc, books like the Drupal Pro Development book are useful too.

I think certifications are vastly overrated anyway. Let me tell you how I evaluate a Drupal person if I am asked to do so. (Yes, this sometimes actually happens.) My first and actually only strategy is to look for that person's profile on drupal.org. This profile will let me check the kind of forum posts the person makes, the projects he or she is involved in, the documentation that was written, the cvs commits, etc. pp.. Everything relevant to a Drupal coder can be seen there. If your profile is empty or your contributions are mostly advertising your services you'll never make it to my list of "people I'd work with".

Hey, Gerhard -- thanks for your comments. I, too, would refer to a candidate's drupal.org profile as one part of the qualifying process. But there are several problems with that: 1. You know that the drupal.org profile *exists*. That's not true for the vast majority (95%+?) of those who have to hire someone for a Drupal position. 2. Those profiles can be misleading, and don't tell the whole story. From my profile, you don't know whether I'm good at theming, or programming, or documentation. You only know that I'm fairly active on the drupal.org site. I could be an outstanding programmer who's never written public code, for example.

ad 1) These 95% can contact me to do Drupal headhunting for them.;) ad 2) My point is that in order to be a good Drupal resource you need to be part of the Drupal community (and show it). Sure, your level of PHP expertise could easily surpass mine, but would you know about the quirks of comment.module or which authors of contributed modules to avoid at all cost?

I'm with Gerhard. Over the nearly 30 years I've been in the software business, I've interviewed a lot of people for various jobs. Not once have the applicants with certification been better than the applicants without it. Usually the "certified" folks had a narrow view of things and were unable to function or think outside their very specific certified boxes. I want software developers who are great problem solvers first, flexible in their thinking and solution creation, and engineers in their attention to all the details and completeness. Having the ability to learn quickly and refine the result is more important than demonstrating you know the obscure, optional 4th argument to some random function, which is the sort of knowledge certification usually produces. Certification for software development skills is vastly over-rated. Its primary purpose in the marketplace is to provide a way for a number of companies to make money by selling training.

Cherie, There was an interesting thread on this - http://www.nabble.com/Drupal-Certification-and-Requirements-td14370112.html It may help you. Roshan

I would rather see a Drupal Association approved certification course by a reputable organization rather than a course by company of a shady nature which contributes nothing more than project management skills. Just one member seems to have above average skill in Gloscon/BPO Canada/Drupal Designs and that skill is project management not training, not code building nor design.

Look at the work Gloscon has done : http://www.gloscon.com/portfolio and maybe "Anonymous" will get some light. If Project Managers can build sites like these and come out with technical certification plan, material, etc they must be hell of a project manager. Whenever someone does good, others do leg pulling. Dries has also got something against him http://communitythugs.wordpress.com/2008/08/28/drupal-dries-acquia-and-community-contributions/#comments. So you may then say Acquia is Shady, then 3 months down the road you will pick a 3rd company and find issues. Measuring on contributions is subjective. If you have skills and manpower, you are free to come out with certification program too "Jack Drupal Certification" Rina

Yeah, a truly remarkable portfolio. So remarkable that a couple of people didn't agree to have their site listed there because Gloscon allegedly didn't build them... Also remarkable is that many of the sites are or used to be vulnerable to the most basic security exploits. Truly a company you should learn from... Or maybe not?

O.K., this has officially gone off-topic. Carry it on in your own blogs.

Makes sense. I'll be writing up a blog post on this soon.

Interesting that you mentioned here about vulnerable sites. Isn't Drupal.org Vulnerable at all? FYI - We do work for hire to build sites on a certain version and don't have contracts to fix issues. Would you fix the sites for customers all the time if you don't have a contract to do so not getting paid for it? This is a certification thread and lets keep it to it. We will be coming out with certification and there is no doubt about it. What value we bring compared to others is yet to be seen because there is nothing out there for now. I believe in simplicity, free economy that is not confined and privilege of handful of people as well telling truth and only the truth. I know what is in my control(hard work) and only work on things in my control. Others can write whatever they want and it doesn't bother me at all. On our portfolio - whatever work has been done by my team for our clients, we have contracts with them along with publicity clause agreed to by client. Roshan

[NOTE: Somebody posted negative assertions about Gloscon here. They were posted anonymously, which I think is unfair. If this was you, please repost with at least your name and email address so that I can confirm its authorship. Thanks! --Tom Geller]