Wednesday, April 18, 2012

If everyone decides to throw their moral out of the window, won’t we all be certified idiots?

The first year I worked as a developer, I passed my first two Microsoft certifications. I studied for months, reading the Self-paced training kit books from cover to cover and doing the exercises over and over again. I spent a lot of time studying and and I was nervous as hell. I was fresh out of university and I wanted to show my employer that I could get a great score.

Did I get a great score? Yes, on one of them, but the other one I barely passed. I was proud of myself, damn proud! That was until I got the question: “Which brain-dump did you use?”. Say what? I didn’t know what a brain-dump was, but soon enough the person asking me the question explained it to me. I was shocked, he had assumed I cheated on my certifications! A while later I realized that he hadn’t made this assumption on the basis of “the unlikely event” of me passing the certifications, he made them because “everyone uses brain-dumps”. That shocked me even more. If everyone decides to throw their moral out of the window, won’t we all be certified idiots? If we all could call ourselves “Queen of England”, wouldn’t the title lose its value?

Yes, it would. And this is exactly what has happened with the Microsoft certifications. NetworkWorld did an analysis in 2008 where they found that Microsoft was the Most Braindumped Certification Vendor. And all this despite Microsofts strict exam policy stating that a candidate may be banned if he/she is “Using unauthorized material in attempting to satisfy certification requirements (this includes using "brain-dump" material and/or unauthorized publication of exam questions with or without answers)” (Source:

But who’s responsibility is it to make sure the candidates are not using brain dumps?

It’s my responsibility
I will never throw my moral out of the window and become a certified idiot. I respect myself and my job too much to resort to brain-dumps. I expect my colleagues and fellow developers to do the same.

It’s my employers responsibility
My employer should be critical to the score I present them with. If I am able to complete four certifications in a month, all with a 100% score, I expect to be questioned.

It’s the customers responsibility
The customer should be critical to the number of certified developers their supplier presents to them. Unfortunately some companies encourage their employees to use brain-dumps, it apparently saves them time and money.

It’s Microsofts responsibility
Microsoft should continue to sue the brain-dump vendors, but this will probably not be sufficient enough. They should also continue to do statistical analysis of the certifications so that the cheaters can be identified and banned. Last, but not least: They need to keep their certifications up to speed, constantly improving them and making them more difficult to spread.

If you’re interested in some more blog posts about this topic, I’d recommend having a look at these:


  1. A few years ago I was shocked with the same. I did all my Microsoft exams MCSE, and studied really hard, read the entire books. Later a friend as explained me about these tools and I soon realised why exams and certifications do not matter to much when you applying for a job. Is more important you know the stuff and can prove during an interview.

    Microsoft could only fight back rotating the exams but these tools would still be around. I don't know how they could prove someone used these tools though even if you get 100%.

    The real world is that the certifications get you the interview but will not get you the job.

  2. Harald Schult UlriksenApril 18, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    I think that RedHat is on to something when you have to complete an actual task on a live system. This might be easier to administer for infrastructure exams rather than a development exam, but it should be possible. It all comes down to the cost and uniqueness of the exams and I think that Microsoft is on to something with their MCM and MCA exams, unfortunatly only available on infrastructure topics. Question is when we will see something similar for the developer role.

  3. Hehe. I got a 700 on an exam once. I still have yet to fail one though. :)