Gifts Instead of Certs
"When a primarily gift-based economy is turned into a commodity-based economy, the social fabric of the group is invariably destroyed." - Lewis Hyde

There's been talk of late of once again resurrecting the idea of an Agile certification. Setting aside for a moment my feelings about where Agile has gone in the last six years, and repressing for another moment my urge to vehemently oppose the idea, I am going to instead offer a positive alternative: Gifts instead of certs for recognizing someone's ability to practice XP.

After reading this on social objects, and this on Kula rings I thought: Why not do something similar for Extreme Programming or individual programming practices? (I think its too late to save Agile, but if I'm wrong then the idea works there too)

In a nutshell:

  1. Anyone can create and give a gift. In practice, gifts created by certain indivdiuals and organizations will carry more weight, much like different items in the Kula ring system seem to, so no need to limit them
  2. Anyone can pass on a gift to another. Having the gift in one's possession is not necessary, simply having the ability to show you had it would be sufficent to carry prestige.
  3. Gifts do not have to be physical, but do need to be unique. A digital signing type of operation could work here, or perhaps a website that serves as the gift exchange to show history of its travels.

Some things to note: scarcity and prestige of the gift giver will naturally increase its value. If Ward Cunningham creates just 5 gifts and gives one to you (or someone who has one feels you should have it) that will carry a lot more weight than if Bill Caputo LLC creates one for every new hire into its company and they pass them on to client programmers as a way to get gigs.

In effect, this would be a way to ritualize namedropping, but since lineage and reputation are what we seem to base decisions on anyway (I learned TDD from so-n-so, and I worked with that guy, and he gets it, etc) then formalizing it maybe scratches the itch that has some practitioners desiring certs.

This is obviously just a thought; there would be many technical hurdles to overcome and it may not work anyway, but I wanted to share it.

I am in short proposing that we don't try to certify the practices, but validate the people (people over process).