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IT badges: A new path to better pay?

Bill Snyder | June 30, 2016
Skills-based mini-certs are gaining traction as a worthwhile way to round out your résumé

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

If you're an IT pro looking for a new gig, that old "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" line about not needing no stinking badges may soon no longer apply, thanks to a relatively new credentialing system finding favor with some large companies and a growing number of job applicants.

Take Damian O'Farrill's experience. His interview with Autodesk was going well until a member of the panel wondered if he could make the transition from his relatively relaxed software job at a nonprofit to the hectic and competitive atmosphere of a major tech company. With the position on the line, O'Farrill pointed to a half-dozen skills badges he earned through's Trailhead program.

It worked. O'Farrill, who only six years ago was teaching salsa dancing in Mexico City, is now a business analyst and process engineer at Autodesk in San Francisco. "I wouldn't have the job without the badges," O'Farrill says.

But what exactly is an IT skills badge, how does one go about getting them, and -- most important -- do they truly hold water in the hiring process? We spoke with applicants, hiring managers, and badge issuers to find out the true importance of this new wrinkle in IT hiring.

Badges: The latest IT bona fides

If you're a gamer, you're already familiar with the idea of accumulating badges and using them to bolster your cred in that subculture. That, says David Leaser, senior manager for IBM's Global Skills Initiative, was the inspiration behind the IT skills badge.

Think of a skills badge as a portable, mini-certification. They're earned when you complete a course, finish a project, or make a noteworthy contribution to a code repository on GitHub or elsewhere. Once awarded, the badges reside in a digital wallet you can add to your LinkedIn profile or personal website. The badges can only be edited by the issuer, a feature designed to bolster credibility.

Open source organization Mozilla was the first to approach badges in an organized manner, creating the open badge standard. It instituted a backpack metaphor as a repository for badges you earn. Through the open standard, organizations can issue badges that verify your skills, interests, and achievements, attaching that information to the badge image file, thereby "hard-coding the metadata for future access and review," according to Mozilla's documentation.

IBM, a major proponent of badges, has issued 20,000 in 18 months, says Leaser. "Badge earners are telling us that badges are connecting them to employers," he adds.

Pierre Tremblay, HR director for Dupray, a manufacturer of steam-cleaning devices says, "one out of every two [IT] job applicants shows us a badge."


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