Certification - Don't Waste Your Time!

Certification: Don't Waste Your Time!

Posted by Uncle Bob on Tuesday, April 27, 2010

As I have said before, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the current mania for certification. If you want to be certified at the cost of a 2-day course, by all means get certified. If you want to certify people for attending your 2-day course, by all means hold the course and hand out the certificates. It’s all good. Make money! Be fruitful and multiply!

But be careful not to waste your time.

How could certification be a waste of time? That depends on your motive.

  • If you are getting certified in order to impress someone, like a hiring manager, or a recruiter, or your peers, you are wasting your time. Nobody worth impressing is going to find this certification impressive. Indeed, the people youreally want to impress are likely to find it a bit mundane.
  • If you are getting certified in order to get hired, you are wasting your time. Nobody is going to hire you simply because of that “C”, and nobody worth working for is going to require that “C”.
  • If you have decided to hire only certified people, you are wasting your time. The population of certified people is not richer in talent, skill, or knowledge. Indeed, it may be poorer. Remember, those who have talent don’t need certification as much as those who don’t.

What part of certification is not a waste of time?

  • The primary benefit you are getting is the instruction; but be careful: There are lots of pretty mediocre instructors out there. Some of the instructors teach pretty good courses, but others are just hoping that all you care about is the certification.
  • So do a little research and find the best instructors. You may, in fact, find that some of the best instructors and courses do not offer certification. That shouldn’t stop you from considering them.

But wait, aren’t the instructors certified as trainers?

  • Sure. They paid the money and took the course to become a certified trainer.
  • But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they:
    • are a good instructor.
    • know what they are teaching.
    • have done what they are teaching.
    • are qualified to teach you.

OK, but isn’t there some benefit to the certification itself?

  • Sure. A nice piece of paper.

  1. Avatar
    http://www.endswithsaurus.com/ about 1 hour later:

    I heartily agree and have been saying this very same thing for years.

    A course is only worth studying if the content is relevant to you and of equal or greater value than your time spent learning it

    If the content is stuff you already know at best or at worst is completely irrelevant, then in my mind you fall into one of 2 camps:

    1. You lack confidence in your own skills and abilities – Confidence comes with learning and experience, not from a piece of paper. You’re not going to have any more confidence in your abilities by pinning a piece of paper on your cubicle wall than you do right now.

    2. You care more about saying [displaying] what you know than doing what you know. I don’t care what you say you know, show me. A bit of paper means nothing to me, either as an employer or as a programmer. What I care is that you can do it, not that you have a piece of paper that [rightly or wrongly] says you can.

    Go to courses and learn the material because they’re interesting to you, because they’re relevant to you, because you’re passionate about them, because they stretch you and leave you in some way better for having taken them. If all you are going to take from it is a piece of paper, you’re wasting everyone’s time, most of all, your own.

    We have remarkably short lifetimes. If you’re frivolous enough to waste that which is most important to you – your own time, what are you going do with mine?

    There’s a fantastic quote from Good Will Hunting:

    “See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna staht doin some thinkin on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don’t do that. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library”

    Learn for the sake of learning, don’t learn for the sake of a piece of paper.

    Thanks for listening

  2. Avatar
    Jason Gorman about 1 hour later:

    Certification is often a pyramid scheme. People get certified so they can make money certifying other people, who in turn make money certifying more people. The benefit is in the process of certification itself, and the exponential potential for growth in certification. Eventually, the market is saturated, and a new certification is created (often by the same people).

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    Allan Lykke Christensen about 2 hours later:

    Are we talking about a certain type of certification here? I’m currently preparing for certification (free will, and don’t seem to fall in any of the categories that you all mention). I’m preparing for the Sun/Oracle Certified Enterprise Architect Exam. The preparations are hugely beneficial, even if I don’t go and do the exam in the end of the day.

    However, if we talk about something like Scrum Certification, I agree that it is a complete joke!

  4. Avatar
    Saulo about 2 hours later:

    I partially agree, because as already stated in previous post which is worth of taking a certification is gaining knowledge about that content studied. If we could only study without taking the certification would be the best !

  5. Avatar
    BenAlabaster about 2 hours later:

    @Allan Lykke Christensen

    Your comment implies that your motivation is the preparation rather than the exam/certificate, which in my POV means that you are doing the course for the right reason – to learn. The course material itself is of value to you, not just the piece of paper. Your motivation for doing the course means you don’t fall into those categories.


    If you’re going to study and learn the material anyway, why not get the piece of paper if you can? My point was don’t study something just for the piece of paper, study it because the material is beneficial to you. If the material’s beneficial to you, you may as well get the certificate for it while you’re at it if you can.

  6. Avatar
    Oliver about 2 hours later:

    Certification preys on the unknowing.

    As for certification in products (as Sun/Oracle mentioned above), I do believe that is different. These companies are the creators and absolute owners. They have the inherent right to certify. If that certification is worth something that is a different story.

    I think what we’re all talking about here are the certifications as a “tester”, “business analyst”, “software architect”,.... all those things where there is not really a clear-cut lore. There is no company or entity that owns the right to be prescriptive.

    Cheers Oliver

  7. Avatar
    Alex Mackey about 3 hours later:

    “If you are getting certified in order to impress someone, like a hiring manager, or a recruiter, or your peers, you are wasting your time. Nobody worth impressing is going to find this certification impressive. Indeed, the people you really want to impress are likely to find it a bit mundane. “

    Well maybe in an ideal world this is true but when you are looking for work you need to get past several gatekeepers such as job agents/HR etc before you can get to someone who can actually evaluate your skills.

    Yes you could argue the great companies wont require certs etc and are based on skill but let’s be realistic about this..

  8. Avatar
    Matthew Taylor about 3 hours later:

    I bought a Java Certification book one time early in my career with the full intention of studying up and getting my certification in order to land a kick-ass job. In the meantime, I got so busyworking that I eventually forgot about it. My work experience got me the kick-ass job, not the certification.

    You can’t fake anything with a certification. Nothing matches that combination of smarts and experience.

  9. Avatar
    Diogo about 5 hours later:

    Be careful when you’re reading articles like this.

    Most writers that criticize certifications are already well employed with a good profit, and most of them HAVE certifications.

    If you think you’re going to get that cool job with that cool team that doesn’t care about certifications but care to take the time to write a blog, alright. You’re a champion.

    However if you’re like everyone else that’s not a special geek with many contributions to the open source community, someone that doesn’t give speechs, someone that do not invent the techonology other people use, someone that nobody ever heard about, then you probably could make use of a certification.

    If you change your mind later just don’t mention it on your resume.

    Until then do not act like a popstar if you’re not. Take the goddamn certification and get a goddamn job. Then we talk about it.


  10. Avatar
    Marcelo Costa about 6 hours later:

    In Brazil, many people take courses from either or as they say here “cascateiros”. Many people do not seek references about the instructors, or seek to know how much experience these teachers have. This is a heinous error.

    Two years ago when I started studying agile methods, I read a lot about and looked for a good course.

    What I took from this experience is that thank God I had good guidance and now I can adopt the agile methodology that I want and make it work because I had a good instructor guiding me.

  11. Avatar
    www.cezarguimaraes.com about 8 hours later:

    I completely agree with this. If someone wants to attend a course it should be because he or she wants to learn. Not to get a piece of paper. If someone wants to sell a course and add a ‘C’ in the name and give a piece of paper in the end, nobody can stop him or her. But don’t wait that people believe that this C is important and valuable.

  12. Avatar
    benvegnu@ipercom.net about 11 hours later:

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Don’t Waste Your Time and money because certifications cost a lot. Usually certification is matter of business and candidates are only the raw materials!

  13. Avatar
    Robert Dempsey about 15 hours later:

    When I was hiring employees certification was the last thing on my mind. I also hired people I knew were involved in the community and knew what they were doing.

    As you said before Uncle Bob, certifications cannot be used by hiring managers or HR folks as a shortcut in the hiring process.

  14. Avatar
    Marc Löffler about 16 hours later:

    I think you’re right with most what you wrote in your article BUT IMHO there are still a lot of companies out there were certification is important. I just had a case last month were our company was asked by a potential customer if our team or at least a part of them is certified.

    In my special case I had a great and valuable ScrumMaster training by Simon Roberts. So if you’re searching for a great Scrum training I would recommend him…

  15. Avatar
    christopher.cuarez.borja@gmail.com about 17 hours later:

    Sometimes, certification gets in the way of hiring a pretty experienced candidate. Or I can always create my own certificate. :D

  16. Avatar
    Geir Gulbrandsen about 18 hours later:

    I had a little discussion on this topic with a recruiter over at a LinkedIn group a couple of months ago. His assignment was to get a shortlist of certified testers.

    In principle I totally agree with Uncle Bobo, but If the company you want to work for use recruiters like this one you wont even get considered without the cert. Sad but true.

    For those not on LinkedIn I summarized it as part of a discussion on testing.stackexchange.com (http://bit.ly/bgJ8Vy)

  17. Avatar
    Neal Gafter about 19 hours later:

    At a previous employer, we did a large scale regressive analysis comparing keywords appearing on resumes versus subsequent success as an employee (measured by reviews). The only (weakly) negatively correlated keyword was “certified”.

  18. Avatar
    Manoj about 19 hours later:

    I certainly agree with this. Sometimes the certified persons don’t even clear the interviews. Just for the sack of getting job or a recognition, people do the certification. Also almost for all certification the questions are available in the net. I have seen people preparing from the dump of the course and they attend the certification exam, they score more than 95%. What’s use of that? Does it really add a value to career? Ohh.. yes if you show this certificate outside, may be employers first get a good information but if they start digging then they find nothing. :( In certain companies they follow the trend of having certified professionals. But it’s not that essential as you should have. In some cases the certificate is only valid for a couple of years, so if the company provides the certification program then it’s fine, we can take it up, but for individuals it may not be that value add as compared to the certification cost.

  19. Avatar
    Oliver 1 day later:

    @Geir Gulbrandsen: Recruiters use text search engines and they serch for ISTQB or certiefied. Well…..you can always write “I am not ISTQB certified” in your CV. i doubt anyone would notice and you’d be in the shortlist ;-)

    @Diogo: Did the training for ISTQB, then purposefully decided not to do the exam. Also turned down jobs with companies that “required” ISTQB. Wouldn’t be happy at such a company anyway. And I think I’m not alone with that stance. So come up with some real arguments.

  20. Avatar
    John Sonmez 1 day later:

    One important point here is what is the certification? Not all certifications are created equal. I think we pretty much know what certification Bob is referring to in this post, but it is important to point out that some certifications are of some value. It really depends on how much you have to know to pass it.

    Consider the State Bar exam for lawyers. I think we could all agree that there is some level of merit which is associated with passing that exam and getting that “certification”. Now, it doesn’t mean all lawyers are good or even competent, but it does give you some level of assurance that a practicing lawyer is better at representing you than some guy off the street.

    I am an avid arguer against Scrum certifications of any kind, because there is no real rigor required to obtain the certification. Good training is useful, but Scrum training is not about training. It is about getting a certification. If you want to face it or not, that is what it has become.

  21. Avatar
    Steve Py 1 day later:

    “Sure. A nice piece of paper. ” (The rest of the quote) ”... That he can fold into a little hat to wear to the fast-food joint that he will probably be fired from for eating the customer’s fries!”

    99% of certifications aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on simply because they’re effectively handed out to anyone willing to dish out a bit of cash. (Kind-of like getting a fire-arms permit in Canada.) Employers need to know one thing in order to find skilled candidates: Know exactly what you want, or assign someone to the task that knows exactly what you want, and talk to candidates.

    If the interview becomes a game of buzz-word bingo then you’re doing it wrong. “Yes” is not always a correct answer, and “No” isn’t always the wrong one.

    “Have you used Scrum?” “Yes.” or “No, but I did cut my teeth on Agile development using Extreme Programming three years ago and have continued to adopt principles of test driven development and pairing up with other team members whenever possible in later assignments.”

  22. Avatar
    Derek Smyth 1 day later:

    the sheep dip certifications are a waste of time… the scrum master one is a good example from what I have seen. Two days to becomefanfare !!SCRUM MASTER!! pull the other one… ‘SCRUM is easy, just write everything on a post it note’.

    But hang on Uncle Bob… I spent over three years getting my MCSD, no courses, no trainers, no braindumps, nothing but books, code, hard work and caffeine.

    Annoys me to see people posting generalised opinions about how all that hard work, that those three years, were all a waste of time… because… they weren’t Bob.

  23. Avatar
    Steve Py 1 day later:


    Certifications cut both ways. If they require too little effort to acheive they are worthless. If they require too much, they become antiquated in less time than it took to get them. Sure, you’ve got the knowledge down, and knowledge is never a bad thing, but you can have that certification or no. The certification (piece of paper) proves very little in the real world when it comes to getting a job. Your certification may be in SQL Server 2005, or .Net 3.5, which in the eyes of any employer that puts more than a casual importance on certifications, will be obsolete as soon as they want SQL Server 201x or .Net 4.x+. Sure, you can pay/study to upgrade the certifications, but that’s more money for a new piece of paper. Good employers will see the value in the knowledge and technologies, but they’ll see that based on your experience and resume if you’re applying those skills.

    The fact that you can and do put in the energy and time into improving skills is exactly what all good employers are looking for. The piece of paper itself is what’s worthless. (With exception to “Consulting” organizations.) If you can’t communicate and demonstrate that you have those skills, no piece of paper will do it either.

  24. Avatar
    Derek Smyth 1 day later:

    Hi again, think Diogos comment above is an extremely well put response about certification.

  25. Avatar
    Steve Py 1 day later:

    On a side note about schemes to train to be a trainer for any given certification…

    Don’t these smell like Pyramid schemes? :)

  26. Avatar
    Derek Smyth 1 day later:


    Hi, I get the point about a 5 day course leading to a worthless certificate; and I know a few people who have those type of certifications displayed proudly in their booths. I completely understand! makes me laugh.

    The 3 years it took for the MCSD were just about right, still a long time but without putting in that time I’d still be dead-end programming in VBA. Worth ever second!

    Certifications are a good way to focus the mind (so are dead-end jobs) and give you a target.

    Imagine learning a technology (in your free time) and having nothing to show for it. Although it’s not perfect that piece of paper is at least some proof that someone else has checked out your knowledge and found it to be OK…

    Yes experience, applying that knowledge, might still be lacking in real world but it’s better than nothing.

    Here is a personnal example; I really want to work in developing SOAs but I have no experience as my current company have no interest in them.

    If I apply for a SOA job now it’s very unlikely I’d get it (I’ve tried)... if I get adecent ‘services certification’ then my chances improve (even if it’s only slightly that is better than nothing). Key word there is decent (and for most companies in my area that means Microsoft).

    I get the message Steve, it’s just certification got me a better job. Doesn’t mean the next certification will; and a 5 day certification certainly shouldn’t…

    time to step down from the soapbox. :)

  27. Avatar
    John Sonmez 1 day later:


    I have to agree with you Derek. I also spent a good deal of hard work and time getting my MCSD, MCDBA, MCAD, and MCSE certifications. It wasn’t something that I just signed up for a class to do. I bought book and read them cover to cover. I spent hours researching and learning. It was a large effort, and that certification is some proof what what I had done.

    In my mind that kind of certification actually means something. There is no way a 2 day course can compare to a year of studying. One of the things that pisses me off, is that Scrum certifications are causing valid certifications to get a bad name.

    Now don’t get me wrong. A certification, even a MCxx one, doesn’t actually prove that your a competent software developer and can do a good job, but just like a college degree, it indicates that you can study and learn something and have the follow through to see it completed.

    I am afraid for the day when the “Scrum Bubble” bursts.

  28. Avatar
    larry@peralstreetgroup.com 2 days later:

    At the APLN Chicago meeting on Thurs, April 21, 2010 we had a good discussion on Certification and Certificates. The discussion focused on the reasons for and against certification as follows:

    Reasons for Certification:

    1) As guide to learn a domain

    2) To get past hiring filters

    3) To demonstration that the individual has learned a domain

    4) To socialize with peers w/similar knowledge, challenges and interests

    Reasons against Certifications:

    1) Doesn’t show true capability – especially when Certification occurs after a 2 day class without a test (or even 1 week class with a test – I’m thinking of PMI here);

    2) Certification turns skills, knowledge, experience and knowledge work in general into a commodity

    Some of my thoughts on the issue that were not discussed at the APLN meeting:

    I believe that Certification has turned knowledge work into a commodity without adequate proof that it can be turned into a commodity. The use of Certifications for positions like Project Manager, Tester, Business Analyst and Scrum Master has made the life of a hiring official easier, but I doubt that it has improved the quality of the workers hired.

    Certification is not the way to solve the problem, especially when Certification means attending a 2-day class (or even attending a 1-week class and test). Pretending that a Certification will fix the personnel selection problem is foolish and dangerous.

    Where’s the Beef?

    I would like to see a hiring official show me defensible personnel selection data that shows that Certifications has improved the quality of the work force hired.

    In fact, I believe that Certification in the Computer Industry has led to the outsourcing of many US jobs to cheap foreign labor without adequate demonstration that the foreign labor can in fact deliver the same results.

    Assessing Talent is difficult. It is difficult in the software development area and it is difficult in sports teams as well, as most fans of Chicago area teams know.

    Interview based personnel selection systems (which most organizations use) have low validity with correlation coefficients between 0.20 and 0.30. This means that the interview based selection systems account for between 4% and 9% of the variability between interview ratings and job success. Not a number you would want to “bet the farm on”!

    Improved interviewing skills, job simulations and greater focus on grooming internal employees will provide some improvement, but current personnel selection techniques are just not very effective.

    It takes many years of continued demonstration of good skills, knowledge and experience in real life situations to become a licensed Medical Doctor. If we want to formally assess talent, than we should State License Software Engineers in a way similar to the Medical Profession!

  29. Avatar
    David Starr 3 days later:

    Bob, when the reaction to something seems out of proportion to the stimulus, I always look to see what in the world is really going on with someone. This feels like that.

    In other words, why do you care so much about this?

    And while I don’t disagree with most of your statements regarding motivation, it seems you are merely making the statement that:

    You'll get out of it what you put into it.

    Isn’t that true of any form of learning?

    We all know that CSM is a joke, but why are “all certifications a waste of time?” You mean that in all of history there are no redeaming qualities to affirming knowledge through testing?

    I am sure you don’t mean that, but your statements imply it.

  30. Avatar
    http://baigsorcl.blogspot.com/ 3 days later:

    For me the best way to get certified is to by self study while you are working in the same technology.

    The major benefit for certification for me is it gives you a confidence and would add value somewhere.

  31. Funny to see that even SEI shuns the “C” word – they use “appraisal” instead. One can not but wonder how come that some agilists are not smarter than that.

  32. Avatar
    Vibhu Srinivasan 5 days later:

    The best programmers I see are the ones who do not have any certification . They learn because they love doing what they do.

    Learning from a mentor or someone more skilled that you is a must do.

    If you have to learn something so that you need to deliver a software project that is one thing. There is a deadline and a motivation. But certification by itself does not get you much. It is just a small tool.

    Only our software industry pretty much allows any one under the sun to become programmers. Folks with a degree , no degree, half a degree etc. While this does allow anyone do become good, it also certainly creates a lot of bad programmers.

    I feel getting a degree in CS or doing something more indepth is much more meaningful that couple of hours of instruction .

    This is because we as humans only learn by us doing it not by someone talking to us for a couple of hours

  33. Avatar
    Ashley 6 days later:

    Scrum training certifications might get you in the door for a job, but it’s not going to keep you there unless you really understand the concepts of scrum.

  34. Avatar
    David 9 days later:

    I get certifications in order that our organization gain the required compentencies for corporate partnerships (and thus free licences and such) usually by reading a book and then taking the test. I, however, am entirely self-taught (I count prodigious reading as self-teaching), and I believe in the doctrine that my Father taught me.

    He ran a garage. He needed mechanics. When he was hiring, he’d set up a car to fix. The candidates would come in flashing their journeyman tickets like they were magic. He’d brush aside the ticket, point at the car, and say, “Fix that.” If they did, they got the job. If not, they walked. In all the years he ran that garage, he NEVER hired a ‘certified journeyman mechanic’. Not once. He never found one that could fix the car. He hired the guys who learned how to fix cars because they liked fixing cars.

  35. Avatar
    Matthew 11 days later:

    I agree almost entirely with the argument but for one thing: certifications - even dumb ones that just require you to sit in a room for two days - can matter a lot to clients. If you’re freelancing directly to the end client, for good or ill having some certifications seems to impress the heck out of them. If you’re a small company and your team has certifications of whatever type, clients often care.

    It’s dumb, and can quite easily become shady, but clients often like to hear those magic words.

  36. Avatar
    rtpHarry 17 days later:

    I appreciate that this site is a multi-language website and you are probably referring to smaller certificates handed out by individuals. There seems to be a large amount of certification that you have missed out on the discussion. Take for example Google Adwords and Analytics qualifications and payment gateways such as PayPal which show your clients you are technically competent in those fields.

    Also from my experience of the Microsoft .net qualifications – they require several years experience and are pretty hard! There are also CISCO qualifications which are well respected in their industry.

    Are you saying that all of the above is not important? (and that i’m a bad developer because i find the MS certs hard? :)

  37. Avatar
    Miguel Insaurralde 23 days later:

    I agree with most of the content.

    Normally being ‘certified’ by taking an exam does not mean you are a talented skillful guy but at least guarantees a basic background.

    Getting certification just by attending 2-days course not even provide a minimum ground.

    Maybe some kind of well-oriented exam or proven experience with an presentation of paper/real case or something like that may contribute to make people study, research, investigate and understand better the fundamentals of Agile. And could be also complemented with a kind of Agility Assessment of the companies.

    For sure there will be many problems to implement those things in an efficient manner, avoiding side-effects like certification/assessment-oriented culture instead of excellence-culture

    But anyway, regardless those well-known issues, I think it could contribute for a solid spread of Agility and, in the end, to the software industry. Otherwise we will see many ad-hoc ‘agilities’ out there misleading companies and frustrating talented colleagues.

    Is it too crazy? Could we think in a new worldwide efficient organism able to survive bureaucracy and administrivia and provide real help to work better, to be proud of the way we work? I mean: providing formal agility assessments and agile certifications (as mentioned above)..

    Agile regards :-)

  38. Avatar
    Dr. Edward Wallington 26 days later:

    Dear All,

    A lot of interesting and lively debate – always the sign of a pertinent topic, and certification certainly is currently!

    There are many posts and comments on this thread that I agree with. In particular re: the motivation for certification – in my view the route to certification is one that a person undertakes due to their interest in the topic and desire to learn in a structured and expandable way (with many certifications being hierarchical, e.g. APM, PRINCE2, PMI etc). This allows the individual to learn the basics, apply in the real world (i.e. not just theory) and then progress to the next stage in the learning process. I also agree that self-taught, rounded reading is essential – another demonstration that the learner is interested and passionate about their subject, and is willing to spend time improving their range of skills and understanding.

    I also agree with comments re: gatekeepers to job vacancies etc, and the requirement to tick the box against job evaluation criteria – this is a fact of the modern world, we need to have a level of certification to satisfy recruiters. I think it also demonstrates to recruiters that the individual has taken the effort to undertake learning in a relevant field.

    In my view we require certification, but not as just a piece of paper, but as a evidence based body of learning and knowledge, supported by practical experience.

    Best regards,

    Ed Wallington

  39. Avatar
    Robert about 1 month later:

    What a great topic!?

    I recently obtained my PMP certification at the request and via funding of my current employer. As a PC technician early in my career and then years of Project Management work, I have always said that certifications were a waste. I had worked with technicians that could open the registry or PM’s that couldn’t manage a hot dog stand. Those experiences, along with the fact that some of my greatest mentors didn’t have their certifications either didn’t have me rushing to the next boot camp.

    However, since taking a week long class in preparation for PMI’s exam, I did learn a great deal of information that I am leveraging on projects today, so I am very grateful to my employer. I also feel certification like the PMP that require course work and documented experience (2500 hrs) to supplement the exam provide. In my case, I only have an Associates Degree and needed 7500hrs of documented PM experience. These requirements help round out real-life experience with the theory learned in class settings to provide a relatively balanced candidate for potential recruiters.

    As for the certifications as a screening tool…in today’s age of internet job postings and 100’s of resumes per job opportunity they need something to get the candidate to a manageable number to move into the interview stage. I have been left off many lists because I don’t have my BA Degree…what a physical education elective has to do with Project Management is beyond me, but they need something. (I am going to finish my degree this fall)