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Looking at Esriís New Technical Certification

Wednesday, December 15th 2010
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Summary:

Esri’s new Technical Certification will open for registration on January 17. The announcement was expected, but it prompted a variety of responses from the GIS community. Executive Editor Adena Schutzberg reviews the program and some responses and offers her own take on the value of GIS certification.

On Tuesday, Dec. 9 Esri announced its certification for software users had opened. The registration for exams opens Jan 17. Esri has been discussing such a program for several years and based on some tweets and press releases, several individuals took tests at the User Conference and are now certified.

The program is run through Esri's Educational Services group and is officially called Technical Certification. "The Esri Technical Certification Program recognizes qualified individuals who are proficient in best practices for using Esri software. Esri Technical Certifications are awarded in different areas of expertise at both an Associate and Professional level." Certification is offered for desktop, developer and enterprise users.

The process is straightforward: "Obtaining an Esri Technical Certification is a simple process of preparing and registering for, then taking an examination. Exams are offered at over 5,000 locations around the world through Pearson VUE, our testing partner.” Apparently you cannot take the test online and the test is only available in English. There are provisions for those with disabilities to use different forms or to have more time. If you pass, you get the credential, if not, you can retake the test twice before Esri will want to discuss the matter with you. You must sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before taking the exam.

As an example, the Associate Certification for ArcGIS Desktop is described as appropriate for someone with 2.5 years experience. The Professional Certification requires that level plus "more.” The tests run from 2 to 2.5 hours and have roughly 100 questions. It's not clear if they are multiple choice questions, but I'd suspect they are. For now, only a few Associate Certification tests are available; the rest are in development.

Responses to Esri's Certification Program
Reactions began appearing almost immediately after the website went live.

One All Points Blog (APB) commenter suggested this will replace the GISP Certification and that Esri simply sat back and had that group do a "trial run.” Esri then, per the author, dropped the price $25 on its certification to delegitimize the GISP. That is, of course, quite a stretch as the GISP is portfolio-based and the Esri certification is exam based, and they try to measure different skills.
Esri Software Use Certification Program Opens Today

A GIS manager who also commented on APB explained he would probably hire those with a GISP over the Esri certification. He would want broader geospatial knowledge, though he acknowledged Esri software skills would be a great "plus."

Another poster on APB again cited the certifications (both GISP and Esri's) as money makers and confirmed his employer is not interested in such credentials. "My employer is more interested in my college degrees and my 25+ years of experience to help direct my project analysis and management. The degrees, the experience along with personal interaction skills and being profitable and productive are what gets me recognized and paid….NOT a GISP, nor a Certification…. My employer doesn't recognize them or value them."

On the Esri-hosted highered-L there were other concerns.

One commenter felt practice tests were key and noted the bottom line implications for Esri: "All in all I think this is a great marketing strategy to promote ESRI training courses, books, etc and kudos to the brains behind this idea for boosting ESRI profits."

Another noted the certifications were past due and saw lots of opportunity in them for all parties. "There is opportunity everywhere within software certification. Opportunity for the vendor, opportunity for the badge holder, opportunity for the training provider and, significantly, opportunity for the employer who can exercise business process improvement premised on the tactical technology efficiencies of staff."

My Take
I think the wisest words on GIS certification came from Jeff Thurston (and I'm sorry I can't put my finger on the exact article). He basically made the point that GISP certification (and I'll extend it to Esri Technical Certification and other tech vendor certifications) has value specifically for hiring managers who don't have the expertise to evaluate either broad experience and training (as GISP does) or specific technical skills (as the Esri certifications do). In essence, certification passes that evaluation to another body, one that ideally knows more about the matter than the manager. I certainly understand and appreciate that argument.

The choice, then, for the job seeker is whether or not to pursue certification. Many people simply like to have the stamp alongside their name, and that's a good reason to do it. Others looking at it purely in terms of getting a first or better job must ask: Will the organizations to which I hope to apply require certification either to simply weed out applicants or because they know little about the field or for some other reason? It's hard to know as things change so quickly!

Remember that certifications (a body confirming you have expertise or experience) are different from licenses (which are designed to protect the public from incompetence). I think many people simply do not need GIS certification. If you are confident enough in your abilities and confident enough in your ability to communicate those skills to potential employers, you should not need the credentials. You can always let the employer know that you will pursue the required certification once employed (on your or the company's dime - negotiate that!). The one thing I've learned (with some pain, I admit) over the years is that everything related to employment is negotiable. I think these certifications will be negotiable for some time.


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