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The New Age of Credibility

A stupid joke I like to tell people is that I have enough letters behind my name to make alphabet soup jealous. I have an MAOL, BA, PMP, ChFC, CLU, CSM, CSPO, AWS CP, ITIL, and SSGB. (You can find out what all those letters mean on my LinkedIn profile.)

And it might surprise you to hear me say this.… I could truly care less about most of those.

Let me share with you a bit of my own story. I grew up in an average household in an average community and was always told that a college degree was what you NEEDED to get a good job, and just like most other American students, that’s exactly what I pursued right out of high school.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself struggling to become anything more in my career because, well, my undergraduate degree was lacking. That said, I sought the advice of some well intentioned people, and they suggested to me to pursue things like certifications and even a master’s degree. That would certainly add some extra padding to my resume, right?

Fast forward another couple years, and with things like my Project Management Professional (PMP) designation and master’s degree in organizational leadership in tow, I was surely leaps and bounds ahead of where I was just a few years ago, right? Not exactly. I found myself largely in the same position making roughly the same amount of money as folks who had just a baseline undergraduate education.

It was so… frustrating.

I quickly became disillusioned with the chase of this degree and that certification. I sought retrospectively what went “wrong” along the way. This introspection helped snap everything into perspective for me. From the people in my Certified Scrum Master class asking “Will this be on the test?” to my fellow master’s degree cohort of whom I wouldn’t hire MOST of, I found a common thread:

These people were only doing it for the paper, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

They could have cared less about actually absorbing the knowledge. They were fed this story that being able to put down this designation / degree on a resume was enough to get you a job in your field of choice. Like Naval Ravikant mentioned in a recent Periscope with Scott Adams, “When you create a process, it becomes a honeypot to be captured.” These degrees and certifications became nothing more than a honeypot to be captured for most of these people.

But truly, the story these people were missing is that that the paper they’re going after is supposed to represent competency / credibility in that specific field.

Like with everything else in human history, things like accreditation were formed with good intentions in mind. Before the Information Age, there wasn’t a good way to demonstrate your abilities to a prospective employer. It became easier for universities and other governing bodies to bear the brunt of accreditation through the formalization of degrees and designations, and that is largely the model we’ve held to through today.

But society has evolved since then. With the advent of the internet, we now have new means of establishing credibility without the need of a piece of paper dictating that. (I should have seen this coming when my alma mater was excited in 2009 to finally become accredited… but only because it enabled students to get more financial assistance from the government.)

And today (4/28/19), I finally got my first tangible confirmation of what I knew to be intuitively true.

I follow Austen Allred, CEO of Lambda School, on Twitter, and here’s a tweet he shared today:

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I have to say… I’m a little surprised to see this as I thought we were years off from this. I’ll go on record saying that we’re going to see more and more of this in the future across degrees, licenses, and certifications.

Why would this CEO be interested in tweeting out something like this?

If you’re unfamiliar with Lambda School, it is a newer company that seeks to educate students across various software skills (today) in a relatively short amount of time. (A full time student attends approximately 9 months.) The really cool thing about Lambda School is that a student pays NOTHING upfront to attend. Rather, once the student is employed after leaving the program, then an income share agreement (ISA) kicks into effect where a student pays Lambda a certain percentage of their income within a certain period of time, capped at a fixed rate.

(You can learn all about that here: https://lambdaschool.com/about/)

That’s awesome from a student perspective since attending a traditional school can cause mountains of student loan debt. But this isn’t necessarily why I love Lambda. In my opinion, the most interesting part of Lambda is this:

They’re not accredited.

Lambda School seeks to build credibility for its students by giving them skills they’ll need to thrive and helps students to build a portfolio that demonstrates this well. “But can’t a traditional school do this as well?” you might be asking. The answer is yes, but it’s NOT in the best interest of a traditional university. After all, they already have your money.

Rather, because Lambda’s business model is aligned with the success of the student, they HAVE to make sure their students are top notch or else they risk not making money. As you’ll hear Austen frequently quip in interviews, Lambda School has its incentives aligned with students whereas traditional schools simply don’t.

So this NCEES discontinued software engineer certification is an early stage proof that people are already starting to wake up to this idea that traditional accreditation just isn’t worth it anymore. Why pay the money to go through some lengthy process with some test at the end of it when a software engineer can demonstrate their competency through their projects on GitHub?

I didn’t necessarily mean to turn this into a glamorous article about Lambda School, even though I truly love their model. They’re simply the best example of something concrete I could reference when speaking to my own personal experiences.

And speaking of my personal experience, would you like to know what has been the most beneficial for me, by far?

Not my PMP, CSM, CSPO, ChFC, CLU, SSGB, ITIL, nor even my master’s degree.

Friends, we’re in the early stages of a new age of credibility. It might take a couple decades, but people are going to continuously move away from pursuing traditional means of accreditation because of how long and how expensive those methods can be. Transparently, I don’t even know how I should save for my daughters’ education when I just don’t see them attending a 4 year school like I did. I’m going to save for something… but I don’t think tying my money into a 529 plan is a prudent idea.

(Side note: I don’t necessarily believe we’ll move away from the normal accreditation model for all educational endeavors. For things with rigid structures that are heavily regulated, I still think we’ll need traditional accreditation. I’m talking about stuff like medicine, accounting, and actuarial science.)

I hope this gives some stuff for you all to think about, especially if you’re early in your career or have younger kids. As a parent, it’s not necessarily about getting away from trying to pay for schooling; it’s more that the traditional schooling probably won’t be worth it no matter the cost, especially if we see more business models like Lambda School cropping up.

Like anything in life, it’s best to be early to the party with this!

Written by

Machine learning engineer by day, spiritual explorer by night.

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