Rethinking Skill Certifications: Mozilla’s Open Badges Project

Open Badges

Open Badges Evaluating tech workers’ qualifications is a persistent issue when hiring consultants, contractors and employees. Established certification programs, such as those from Microsoft and Oracle, are big, broad certifications covering major general use technologies. But in a world where new technologies proliferate rapidly, including many niche solutions, are these certifications enough? Is there a way to provide more “micro-certifications” for technologies and professional accomplishments?

Mozilla’s Open Badges project is one emerging possibility. Mozilla is working on an infrastructure for a decentralized system of badges for issuing, displaying and managing “badges” earned for various skills or accomplishments. They could include expertise in a programming language, contributing to open source projects or peer recognition in a particular area. Here’s what someones’ badge collection might end up looking like:

Mozilla badges screenshot

In an interview with Audrey Watters for O’Reilly Radar, Erin Knight, the director of the project, said:

In this ecosystem, there would be many badge issuers offering different types of badges for different learning experiences, and each learner could earn badges across issuers and experiences. This requires that badge systems work together and are interoperable for the learner.

The big missing piece was a core infrastructure that could support a multitude of issuers, allow a learner to collect badges into a single collection tied to his or her identity, and then connect to many display sites or consumers to extend the value of the badges. This middle “plumbing” needs to be open and decentralized because if this is as successful as we all think it can be, we are talking about critical identity information here. It’s important that the user remain in complete control.

Technical implementation aside, there are other challenges a project like this will face. Since it will be possible for any organization or individual to issue badges it will take some time to establish which issuers will be considered legitimate and which are simply “badge mills.” There will also need to be controls to prevent individuals from gaming the system and displaying badges that they have not earned.

Mozilla has partnered with P2PU on a badge pilot program, which includes badges for JavaScript, PHP, Web accessibility and more.

Services Angle

Open Badge is one of many projects trying to rethink how tech workers’ skills are evaluated. For example, projects such as Geeklist center around using Github in place of a resume. There’s a real opportunity for disruption here and a real need within the enterprise to find new ways to evaluate candidates.