Do we need a professional organisation that tests and certifies web developers? This question is suddenly very much in the picture, with Mark Boulton, Richard Rutter, D. Keith Robinson, and Eric Meyer discussing it at length. I decided to throw in a few of my own thoughts and offer a field-tested rough-and-ready method that is quite reliable for separating the chaff from the wheat: the 2 minutes CSS test.
As far as I'm concerned there are several interrelated questions:
Let's start with the second and third questions; the conclusions we'll arrive at will eventually answer the first one.
The main problem with any kind of Web development certification (as well as Web education) is that the industry is moving too fast for official institutions (with their unavoidable bureaucracy) to keep up. Suppose that today we'd set up certification criteria that all experts would agree to be good; before they're actually implemented by an official body they'd already be outdated. Even if the official body would somehow move with lightning speed, our certification criteria would still be outdated within a year or so.
Besides, everybody's list of desirable criteria for certification would be slightly different, and although discussing and ironing out the differences would certainly be interesting and instructive, it could easily take a year or so; too long for our present problems.
That's not to say we shouldn't start up such a discussion. However, while this discussion is going on we need a quick tool that we can start using immediately, even if the results are not 100% accurate.
Therefore I propose to use a tool that I developed two years ago, that is extremely simple to perform, and that offers a 90% reliable outcome: the 2 minutes CSS test.
I created it for use in my recruitment work. Back in September 2004 I started to recruit client side programmers for my clients, after I heard three complaints in one week that competent CSS wizards were so hard to find. My plan was to test applicants, and send those that made the test on to my clients.
All applicants filled out a form, the most important part of which were three input fields where they could enter URLs of three table-free, pure CSS sites they created. The form was mailed to me, and I performed the 2 minutes CSS test. It consists of the following steps:
That's it. Any competent Web designer/developer can perform this test in 2 minutes, and the outcome is surprisingly reliable; about 90% of the developers that passed the test were actually fit for a job in the industry.
Why does this test work? The most important reason is that CSS is the figurehead and symbol of the standards-aware revolution that has swept the Web in the past six years.
When people got fed up with the bloatware that passed for Web sites at the end of the previous milennium, they turned to CSS for salvation. It had (and has) that shiny new quality that promises a true break with the past, both because the best minds in Web development land eagerly took up the challenge it constituted, and because it wasn't yet weighed down by millions of bad implementations.
That being so, those Web developers that are serious about their professional development will have made the step to CSS; and conversely anyone who hasn't made that step has been asleep for the past six years and cannot be called a professional.
This state of affairs will not continue indefinitely. As CSS becomes more and more popular, more and more people that are otherwise mediocre Web developers will learn it, and the value of the 2 minutes CSS test will slowly diminish. Nonetheless, it's an excellent way of making the first step towards certification (official or otherwise) right now.
In order to give a rough idea of what a certification body ought to do, I'll give an overview of the rest of my recruitment process. Agree or disagree with the details—and the rather happy-go-lucky way I implement this process—but an official body would have to take similar steps.
When an applicant passes the 2 minutes CSS test, I invite him (rarely her, unfortunately) for a face-to-face meeting. In addition to measuring up the applicant in general, I further test his CSS knowledge in the following ways:
margin-tops for the rounded border.
In addition to finding out if the applicants actually know the answers, I also want to see how quickly they come up with them, and how sure they are of themselves. If we'd do these tests remotely, applicants could simply search for the answer, and take hours to do it. We won't be able to test whether such things come naturally to them.
Therefore any official certification would, I feel, involve face-to-face meetings with applicants. Is this also true in the design or chemical engineering world?
Do we need an official body at all? It's not strictly necessary for the simple set of tests I described. Keith Robinson doesn't think so, either:
I’d rather something that's free, open to anyone who obeys the rules, and uses peer moderation to weed out the people that aren't supposed to be there.
Agree or disagree with Keith's point that an official body is not necessary; the points he makes are important and should be implemented, officially or otherwise.
Eric wonders whether we need a new body and points to the already existing World Organization of Webmasters and HTML Writers Guild. I've never heard of the WOW, but I do (or rather, did) know HWG intimately and long ago decided it's a bad joke.
I was an HWG member from 1998 to about 2002; and I finally quit in disgust when one of the HWG board of directors (or whatever they're called) eagerly joined a flame war about some monumentally unimportant topic, instead of quelling the flames and going on with serious knowledge sharing and other important stuff.
Later on I read a description by Kynn Bartlett about the back-stabbing that was going on within HWG's bowels. (Unfortunately Kynn's original article has been removed, but Ian Hickson has preserved a complete copy.) I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this story, but it fits my experience as an HWG member all too well.
Besides, even if HWG had mended its ways and were now led by sober professionals, the fact remains that thought leadership in the Web development community has shifted to high-profile bloggers. Has HWG (or WOW, for that matter) contributed anything of note to the web development world in the past four years? They could have, but they haven't.
If someone's going to certify me, I want it to be someone I know and respect; and not an organisation with a nice name but an invisible profile. I assume other web developers feel the same.
In conclusion, right now there exists no body that can take on the difficult job of certification. If we feel that such a body is a must, we have to create it for ourselves.
Such a body would have to consist of well-known and respected web developers (ie. bloggers), and as far as I'm concerned it should be international in scope. That last requirement comes from my basic laziness: if the American, British, Australian, German, etc. web developers would set up national certification bodies, I'd feel required to set up a Dutch one, but I just don't have sufficient time to do it. For me, it's far better to take part in an international effort than veering off on my own.
All in all, I favour a two-pronged approach:
This approach combines the best of both worlds: it will allow us to get started relatively quickly, do what web developers expect of us right now, while slowly and carefully preparing the way for an official body.
I’m around at the following conferences:
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