I drove into the city this evening for a meeting of the Richmond Java User Group. The topic was Sun Certified Enterprise Architect certification. It was a fine presentation with a lot of good points. The speaker was pro, of course, while I remain pretty firmly anti.
The speaker, Andy Pemberton, suggested that it's probably best to pursue certification for personal growth rather then any hope of financial benefit. The "value" of the certification is going to depend on where you work, and may not be worth anything in some organizations. But the knowledge acquired in obtaining the certification should be valuable anywhere. I think I can agree with that.
Andy said that the certification exam is a good motivation. It drives you to do the studying necessary to pass. I can agree with that too. But it also costs money. Not just books and the time to read them, but something like $900.00 to sit for the exam. That's a lot of money, at least to me. I can't justify spending that much money on the exam, especially when it isn't necessary to acquire the knowledge. You don't get feedback from the exam, just practice.
So what would I do for motivation? Open Source. If you want to learn something new and get a chance to practice it, why not join an Open Source project that uses the technology you want to learn? Or if one doesn't exist, start your own. The SCEA exam involves designing a software solution to a fictitious business problem. Why not find a real problem and write a real software solution, and then release it for free?
I have two Open Source projects that I started myself to explore ideas and write a little code: SimpleGWT and SimpleJDBC. As the names suggest, both are built on the theme of simple APIs for building real world software. I also participate in the Google Web Toolkit project as a community member and occasional code contributer. I think I get more out of these hobbies than I would out of a certification exam.