Capping off the Laracon EU conference was an announcement of the Laravel Certification Program. To many, this is a good thing. There has been a lot of talk about it over the years, with people asking for some kind of official certification for Laravel in a similar way I suppose to Symfony and Zend.
As somebody who works at an organisation that has a training budget for its employees, this was a great announcement for me. We deal predominantly with Laravel on a daily basis, and having some certification for my skillset would be great. But I stopped a second and thought more about it; why now and why this specifically? I started, but never completed, a Computer Science degree and part of that was because I personally saw more value in getting out there and getting my hands dirty. This decision served me well until now.
I then started to think more specifically about the Laravel certification. I'll start by saying that there are no details of this program for now, so I'm making some assumptions based on what I feel are similar programs and revisit this opinion at a later time as it may be completely wrong. For now, this is what I think.
In the pitch video, Chris Keithlin talks about separating the top talent from the resumes they get at Vehikl and using the Laravel certification as a screening process to facilitate that. That's a great idea from a business perspective, because (and I've not been in the situation myself, but heard about it from others) it certainly helps to have some metric by which to filter applicants. Even if that filtering process is as simple as asking for a haiku about Scotch or a reference to a dog.
That raises an interesting question about the certification itself: does passing the certification mean that you know how to work with the framework, or does it simply mean you were able to read, memorise, and regurgitate the documentation in a similar way to the Zend or Symfony ones ask you to?
Another thing that I'm interested in, is why - when Laracasts exists and is thriving - is a separate certification being considered? Would it not make sense to somehow integrate the teachings with existing materials and offer certification based on an existing, established resource? I'm sure we can all agree that Jeffrey Way is a terrific teacher and is well established within the community. His way of teaching through theory and concrete, real-life examples has the potential to turn out developers that are more likely to build great things with Laravel than those who merely memorise the documentation.
Something I also notice is that Jeffrey and Shawn have butt heads in public on more than one occasion, so it will be interesting to see if there's some middle ground on what is being included in the certification. I feel like there are a philosophy and mindset that you need to follow if you're going to be successful with the framework.
Freek Van der Herten suggests that being a Laravel certified developer means you will be able to show comprehensive knowledge about building apps in Laravel, not that you can actually build apps in Laravel - and that's an important distinction. Will filtering out job applicants based on whether or not they have the certification (and I'm not suggesting this will be the only metric by any stretch) actually land you the best talent? This would be no different than filtering out applicants that don't have a CS degree, but have several years of experience.
Having read through the Laravel docs from time to time, I can certainly attest to the fact that you will fill gaps in your knowledge - even if you didn't know they existed - simply by reading through them all. Is it better to have a track record of implementing what you've learnt in the docs, or just that you have read them?
Of course, for somebody new to Laravel (or development entirely), certification may seem like a good way to get a foot through the door, but at that point, you'd be hiding your junior level by the fact you are certified. Does this discount you from being a good developer? Certainly not, but it's not the only metric and you'll get caught out. Again, I'm not suggesting that your experience wouldn't be accounted for on top of the certification.
The other issue with this, and this is not specific to Laravel certification, is that you're then placing a divide into the community between those that can afford to pay for their certification (or have their employer pay for it) and those that can't. The Laravel community thrives on its openness and collaboration, and I think it's a big part of what makes it so great. If businesses consider certification as a benchmark or filtering mechanism to hiring, does that then leave a lot of other great developers without an opportunity to prove themselves or get work?
Does "I've been working with Laravel for three years in production" become less valuable than "I memorised the docs and completed a multiple choice exam"?
This is all pitched at developers. What if it was pitched at businesses instead?
A business could pay Laravel LLC - or some other designated entity - a sum of money for the screening tool, which businesses could then use as a whiteboard test for candidates that make it to the interview stage. That would, in my opinion, be a much more valuable tool in finding suitable candidates. It means that you can see the thought process behind solving a problem, and know that the person has not just memorised the docs, but actually understands them and how to "make with Laravel".
Moving in this direction would then mean that businesses could work more closely with Laravel (the business) in developing questions that are more likely to uncover great candidates. It means that everybody has an equal chance to apply for the same great jobs that are available, including those that are not in a position to pay for the certification. Whether businesses choose a question or two for pre-screening, just as a whiteboard test, or sitting the candidate for the full test is entirely up to them at that point.
I wouldn't want to see this certification program go in a way where it becomes useless and just fractures the community, I can see value in it, but not necessarily the way it is pitched now. The whole announcement has been very low key and vague, which strikes me as odd given Taylor's history in marketing Laravel products (see: #SparkWatch).
That said, I'm still on the mailing list and eagerly awaiting more information.