Is it Worth it to Become a Certified Scrum Master?

Many are facing the fact that their career progress is stalling in many professions. In my line of work, I get a lot of questions related to the process for switching careers. I've been there too. From 1994-2003, I worked as an operations leadership professional at FedEx Express. To this day I bleed purple and orange and owe a lot to the company that built the foundation of what I am today.

I received my degree in Computer Science, but was not using it at all. While I loved computers and the thought of programming software for a living, I wasn't sure how to simply switch careers from a logistics professional to software. I did realize that my degree had a shelf-life (meaning if I don't use it, I will start to loose it because technology changes too rapidly). I had to demonstrate to organizations that my degree was fresh because I didn't have any experience. The more time that passed, the harder it would be to get that job.

I made the decision to leave FedEx and join a start-up technology company in Feb 2004. I haven't looked back yet. I took a 50% pay cut, had my first baby on the way in 4 mos, and was working in an environment with all new terms, and had no idea what I was doing. The company took a chance on me and my foundational skills propelled me. My point to this is don't be afraid to switch careers, but do take the time to find ways to shorten the learning curve any way you can.

So how can you shorten the gap? Today we will explore certifications, in particular the Scrum Master certification. I hear of many career professionals looking to change careers like I did and are gravitating toward the Scrum Master role. Likely not blindly, I wrote back in 2020 that the Scrum Master role might be experiencing a gold-rush year. In addition, people are inundated with the various types of Scrum Master certifications, so they question which one they should pursue. I have answered in previous posts how difficult it might be or what it means to be a Certified Scrum Master. Check out some of those posts for more details, here we are going to discuss the worth of pursuing the certification of a Scrum Master (whether you are changing careers or have been practicing Scrum for some time).

Considerations for Certification

  1. Career Objectives: If you aspire to take on a leadership role in Agile or Scrum teams, or if you want to pursue a career in project management, then a Scrum Master Certification can be very beneficial. The certification is a clear indication to employers that you have a standardized level of understanding and capability even though you lack experience (which you can do a few more things to help if you don't have experience).
  2. Job Market & Demand: In many parts of the world, Scrum Master roles are in high demand, especially in the IT and software development sectors. Companies often look for certified professionals to ensure they have someone with the foundational knowledge of Scrum.
  3. Credibility & Recognition: Having a certification adds to your professional credibility. It can help you stand out in job applications, promotions, or when being considered for leadership roles on projects.
  4. Networking: Training programs often provide an opportunity to network with professionals in the field. These connections can be invaluable for learning, mentorship, and job opportunities.
  5. Knowledge & Skills: Even if you have practical experience with Scrum, formal training can fill in gaps in your knowledge, introduce you to best practices, and provide a standardized approach that's recognized across the industry.
  6. Cost & Time: Training and certification can be expensive and time-consuming. It's important to consider if you're in a position to invest the required time and money, and if you'll see a return on that investment in terms of career advancement and increased earning potential.
  7. Recertification & Continuing Education: Some certifications require periodic recertification or continuing education. This can be both a pro and a con. On the one hand, it ensures that certified professionals stay up-to-date. On the other, it's an ongoing commitment of time and potentially money.
  8. Employer's Perspective: Some companies place a high value on certifications, while others prioritize hands-on experience. Research companies you're interested in to see how much emphasis they place on Scrum Master Certification.
  9. Alternative Certifications: There are several organizations that offer Scrum and Agile certifications. The Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) from the Scrum Alliance is one of the most recognized, but there are others like the Professional Scrum Master (PSM) from Scrum.org. Each has its own curriculum, philosophy, and recognition in the industry. You might want to explore which is more suitable or recognized in your region or industry. This one is tricky, because there are plenty of certifications out there simply based on you going through 3 hrs of material on video. While these help in learning, they don't help with applicable experience.

While there are reputable Scrum and Agile certification organizations like the Scrum Alliance (which offers the Certified ScrumMaster or CSM) and Scrum.org (offering the Professional Scrum Master or PSM), the increasing demand for Scrum professionals has led to the emergence of several other organizations and training programs. Some of these might not have the same level of industry recognition, rigorous standards, or quality of training.

Guidelines for Evaluation of Certification Bodies

  1. Lack of Rigor: Be cautious of programs that promise certification with minimal effort, little to no examination, or a 100% pass guarantee. These are often indicators that the certification might not be taken seriously in the industry.
  2. Unclear Curriculum: If the organization doesn't provide clear details about the curriculum, learning outcomes, or the credentials of the trainers, it's a red flag.
  3. No Community or Network: Established organizations usually have a community of professionals, events, and ongoing learning resources. If an organization doesn't have an active community or support beyond the initial training, you might want to reconsider.
  4. Overly Aggressive Marketing: Be cautious if an organization uses high-pressure sales tactics, unsolicited communications, or promises of unrealistic outcomes (like substantial salary increases immediately after certification).
  5. Feedback and Reviews: Look for reviews and feedback from past participants. If there's a pattern of negative reviews or, conversely, only overly positive reviews that seem scripted, be skeptical.
  6. Recognition in the Industry: Before committing to a certification, ask professionals in the field or potential employers how they view that specific certification. Some organizations might have little to no recognition in the industry.
  7. Hidden Costs: Ensure that you understand all costs involved. Some organizations might advertise a low upfront fee but have hidden costs for examinations, materials, or recertification.
  8. Exclusivity or Denigration: If a certification body claims to be the "only" valid certification or consistently denigrates other well-established organizations, this can be a warning sign.
  9. Lack of Continued Learning: Reputable organizations often emphasize continued learning, recertification, or ways to further enhance your skills. If a certification organization doesn't have pathways for ongoing development, it might not be the best choice.

Obtaining a Scrum certification provides individuals with a formal acknowledgment of their understanding of Scrum principles, roles, and practices. This certification not only enhances one's credibility in the agile community but also underscores a commitment to continuous professional development.

For employers, hiring certified Scrum professionals means tapping into a pool of individuals who have demonstrated a foundational grasp of Scrum, potentially accelerating delivery and ensuring adherence to Scrum values. Certified individuals often find themselves better positioned for career advancement, benefiting from a competitive edge in the job market and, in many cases, commanding higher salaries.

It's essential to evaluate it in the context of your personal career goals, the job market in your region, and the investment required. If you're unsure, speaking with current Scrum Masters, attending agile or Scrum meetups, or seeking advice from career counselors might provide additional insights. We believe our courses have some of the best fees for value in the industry for entry-level certifications. You will receive knowledge from an experienced agile professional, be able to network with others in the industry, have access video content that you can refer to later as you grow and face difficult situations, and an always available coach to help answer a few questions along the way.

I always say when hiring people, as long as someone has attitude, aptitude, a drive, we can teach them anything. Don't be afraid because you don't know the industry. That can be taught. What can't be taught is your approach and attitude towards people. You can succeed in any career change if you possess those skills.

Good luck!


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