Unity: Certification program not designed to punish established devs

Unity: Certification program not designed to punish established devs
James Batchelor

By James Batchelor

March 16th 2016 at 9:30AM

Confusion arises from new qualification, but CMO Clive Downie stresses initiative is targeted at graduates

Unity Technologies has stressed that its new certification program is entirely optional to devs already familiar with the widely-used engine, and instead is aimed at giving students and graduates a better chance at securing a career in games development.

Unveiled during yesterday’s GDC 2016 keynote, the Unity Certification Program is a new educational initiative that gives users a qualification to prove their experience with the Unity engine providing they pass an exam. ‘Courseware’ and other tutorials will eventually be available for sale through certification.unity.com.

The initiative – a much-requested one, according to Unity – starts with the Unity Certified Developer qualification, with plans to introduce Professional Artist and Professional Programmer certifications at a later date, as well as some focused on more specialised areas such as virtual reality.

The premise is that these will help students and graduates prove their experience to potential employers – although, confusingly, Unity Education boss Megan Stewart warned that the initial exam is “very challenging” and “definitely not a beginner level” – as well as give established Unity devs that chance to gain official certification to emphasise their prowess with the engine.

Eventually, it is hoped that universities and other training institutes will use the Unity Certification Program to bring their courses in line with industry requirements and practices.

However, confusion and concern has arisen among some devs given the price of this certification. A casual browse through the certification website reveals that the exam costs different amounts in different regions: $130 in Brazil’s Sao Paolo, $160 in Mexico’s Guadalajara, €230 during this summer’s Unite Europe conference, and $250 in France’s Paris.

And if users fail the exam, the price of retaking it is still 50 per cent of the original cost.

One developer told us they believed this could arguably be described as “a tax for Unity users”, charging them to prove they have the skills many have already made a living out of. Further ire stems from that fact that Unity certifications only last for two years, meaning a developer could face spending thousands of dollars throughout their career purely to remain certified.

It's an added cost and it's an added worry – what if I fail because of some obscure feature I just have never had cause to use? Does that mean I could be excluded from work?

Byron Atkinson-Jones, independent developer

There are also concerns that should employers embrace this certification program too intensely, experienced devs will struggle to stand out from applicants who have been able to afford the exams.

UK indie Byron Atkinson-Jones told Develop: “I think the idea is sound and it's a way of Unity formalising who exactly is and isn't a Unity 'expert' – it could potentially be useful from an employer’s perspective. At the moment it's hard to differentiate between a hobbyist Unity developer and a professional one.

“Having said that, I hate the idea. If I were doing freelance Unity work right now, I could be facing the prospect of paying out for a two-yearly certificate that says I can make games in Unity. It's an added cost and it's an added worry – what if I fail because of some obscure feature I just have never had cause to use? Does that mean I could be excluded from work?

“In reality, this won't be enforced. I get so many requests to recommend Unity developers in not sure any prospective employers can afford to turn quality talent away regardless of a certificate or not.”

Develop brought these concerns to the engine provider’s chief marketing officer Clive Downie yesterday, who stressed that the Unity Certification Program was entirely optional, primarily aimed at students and something that Unity is only just getting started with.

I don’t think certification is designed to be a replacement for developers being able to show their portfolios of projects.

Clive Downie, Unity

What you’ve seen today is us launch one of the squares on a very large matrix that we will develop over time to mirror certification programs from other categories,” he told Develop.

“We need to offer certification that is genuinely useful for the people who it is designed for. As I said, there needs to be a matrix, and today we’ve just launched one square.”

When it comes to developer fears of being overlooked by employers in favour of those with certification, Downie believes this won’t be relevant in all cases of recruitment.

“I don’t think certification is designed to be a replacement for developers being able to show their portfolios of projects,” he said. “Instead, the target market for this certification is graduates moving into early engineering roles at the start of a career, and I would argue those aren’t the roles that tried and tested developers would be going for.

“Additionally, certification is designed for people who wish to change their lifestyle and become part of disaggregated indie teams. You might want to prove that you do have some foundational skills, and that’s what sets you apart.”

What are your thoughts on the Unity Certification Program? Email James via jbatchelor@nbmedia.com.