Credentials

I occasionally get into the discussion about why I haven’t finished college and why I never bothered to get certified in anything. I like to believe past performance is a good indicator for future performance. I have a decent resume with a few good jobs that I’ve put a few years in on. I try all sorts of things on my own all the time. I want to go for jobs that allow me to learn and keep expanding my repertoire. I worry that I don’t have the skills for those jobs but that’s sort of the point. I don’t think any piece of paper could show any of that better then my resume, certainly not a degree or certification.

Anyway (and yes I still think about finishing school mom and dad), I read this interesting article called After Credentials by Paul Grahm of YCombinator (an interesting VC firm specializing in startups). It’s a nice short read about this history of why he thinks they came about and where they’re going. Let me excerpt it for you. (I skipped everything, these are very non related paragraphs. Also I skipped the part about the dawn of the yuppie and how it’s not odd to see a 25 year old with money anymore.)

Before credentials, government positions were obtained mainly by family influence, if not outright bribery. It was a great step forward to judge people by their performance on a test. But by no means a perfect solution. When you judge people that way, you tend to get cram schools—which they did in Ming China and nineteenth century England just as much as in present day South Korea.

The obvious way to solve the problem is to make credentials better. If the tests a society uses are currently hackable, we can study the way people beat them and try to plug the holes. You can use the cram schools to show you where most of the holes are. They also tell you when you’re succeeding in fixing them: when cram schools become less popular.

This doesn’t work in small companies. Even if your colleagues were impressed by your credentials, they’d soon be parted from you if your performance didn’t match, because the company would go out of business and the people would be dispersed.

Credentials are a step beyond bribery and influence. But they’re not the final step. There’s an even better way to block the transmission of power between generations: to encourage the trend toward an economy made of more, smaller units. Then you can measure what credentials merely predict.

Go read the article and comment here. =)

-Francis