This past June, in London, an unassuming conference-goer attended a UX workshop and days later became the first person to be UX Certified by the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). Sounds pretty cool, right? The lucky guy, Ian Thompson, responded “The courses give the knowledge to work with and challenge our delivery partners and the Certification will allow me to achieve credibility in these endeavors.” So who wouldn’t want a certification from one of the most respected User Experience, Research and Training groups? And could this be a bad thing?

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Apparently some people thought so, at least initially. Soon after the first certification was handed out, events like The UX Certification Debate popped up. Unfortunately I was unable to find any talking points or recap from this event so it got me wondering what complaints people could have. Honestly, I couldn’t come up with much and here it is:

It’s just a money grab by NNG

futurama_moneyThe argument here would be that NNG has created these certifications as a way to boost their Training attendance. While I can see the argument that it’s a pure business move, I just don’t think that was their goal. I think the goal of the certifications is to standardize our industry a bit more. I don’t think it’s a bad thing and I think NNG’s reputation will certainly give it some clout. While they wouldn’t be the first legitimate group to do this (Human Factors International has had their certifications for a few years already), I could see this developing more traction.

The UX field evolves so rapidly, today’s certification will be meaningless soon

NNG-CertsTo me, this has absolutely no validity. I’ve attended a number of events over the years and I don’t look back at any of that time and money invested as being useless now. First, it made me better at my job at the time. Whether it was new techniques I was learning or validation that I was already doing many things correctly, all of it helped me at the time. Second, it expanded my experience. On top of that, most events are a great place to network. A certification curriculum would be a great place to meet other like-minded peers that are passionate about what we do.

Certifications will automatically advance my career

I think the less experienced you are, the more the certification would actually help you. Like most conferences, I think they would be a great way for inexperienced people to dive in and very quickly vastly expand their knowledge. Still though, I think they could have value for even the most experienced. Anybody that goes to a conference and says they didn’t learn a single thing either didn’t pay attention or has a serious case of denial.

I can forego higher education and just get a certification

belushi-animal-houseEven though I think these courses could be very effective for beginners, I don’t think they could completely replace a degree in the field. I’m not saying that a degree is absolutely mandatory, but I think it builds a strong base. While the conference material may be more dynamic and fast-paced, you’re likely missing out on some key principles that couldn’t get covered in just a few days. You’re also not getting the repetition and depth of principles that a sustained curriculum offers. When I’m looking at resumes, a degree will almost always trump a certification. Now a certification on top of quality field experience is a different story. Could a certification tip the scale between two similar resumes? Sure, but it’s certainly no guarantee.

If nothing else, having a certification will show that you are dedicated to furthering your development. I’d like to make it to one of their UX Weeks soon so I can follow up on this article with my experience. Until then I’d love for someone that has been certified to provide their take on the process. Let us know what you thought!