A story of employer perspectives on online credentials for front end web design

Screen Shot 2014-05-02 at 4.39.46 PMI like keeping one foot in the technology side of Open Badges practice, but I also like that I found my first great excuse to do work with badges on the research side.

This morning Sheryl Grant, Carla Casilli and I kicked off the Badge Alliance Research Working Group. Here’s a record of the call, where we set out the goals for the group and started to decide what problems and opportunities we aim to deliver on by September.

One of our key goals is to define a research agenda for Open badges, as well as improve connections between researchers and open opportunities between them around important questions.

In the spirit of the day, here’s a little ethnographic vignette on how employers evaluate nontraditional credentials among an potential collaborator’s qualifications in web design.

In other words, I listened to a podcast where potential employers talked about how they make hiring decisions based on credentials and the cultural connotations of using a skills certificate to demonstrate competence. I love considering the impact of credentials in web design, particularly because of the absolute ability to base judgements of another’s skills on real-world examples of their work where there’s direct assessment of evidence. Skilled web designers are so familiar with developments in technology that they can get a solid understanding of another’s skills with a quick inspection of a recent example from their portfolio. With front end web work, the evidence is particularly accessible because the assets in terms of documents’ HTML, CSS and JavaScript are open to users for inspection.

shoptalk_logoA recent episode of the “sound effects podcast all about web design and front end development,” Shop Talk Show, brought on as a guest Tim Murtaugh, partner in a two-person web shop. At the 40 minute mark of the episode, Tim and hosts Chris Coyier and Dave Rupert discuss how to judge a credential on Shop Talk Show start taking a question about whether or not credentials from online courses will help a candidate in employment in today’s web design market.

A listener pointed out a recent certification they had received and asked, “Is it worth finding and completing courses that verify the assorted skills that I have?”

Tim, who was self taught, said he thought HR departments would think they were useful but expressed a personal skepticism of the claims made by an unfamiliar certificate. He felt he would have to do research on the certification to avoid granting credence to an online diploma mill.

Chris set this out to Tim with a question: “If you were going to expand to three people and someone came in with a stack of these certificates, would your skepticism outweigh that?” Tim said that he might try to compare the claim made about learning by looking for evidence or information about the issuer’s reputation. That is exactly the sort of reaction open badges community members expect employers could have to being presented with a badge to support a job application. How much time Tim may or may not spend trying to answer that before giving up is another factor, but a technology ecosystem like Open Badges, which functions to connect claims about learning to appropriate evidence is exactly the sort of thing Tim could use to speed that process.

They concluded the thing to learn from the web community’s “Don’t get a BS certificate that noone’s ever heard of.” as opposed to respected organizations, like getting Google certifications for a Google technology or a Microsoft certificate for developing with Microsoft technology.

Dave offered some support for credentials if they could be trusted. Codecademy and Treehouse, which offer (non-open) digital badges for completing learning content around front end technologies. Dave asked, “If you know nothing about the person, well, how many Treehouse badges do they have?”

Chris suspected that overall, the industry would be “a little bit down on certificates. Certainly nobody’s going to be super stoked,” but they agreed that if you learned a lot from taking the course, that would be something that would be interesting to them. Seems like the selling point for badges is that they can help this happen. Of course, much of this “selling” is dependent on the badge earner as they present the badge to a potential employer, or whomever their audience ultimately is. It is the earner’s task to make it clear to employers that the badge is a symbol of a claim about their accomplishments and that it is backed up not only by the reputation of the issuer but also by evidence of the work that they did to earn it.


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