Note: Before you launch or revisit your own credentialing program, it’s recommended to review guidelines for certification, certificates, and badges as there may be legal ramifications that apply. Learn more in our guide or from these other certification resources from Skilljar.
Skilljar Coffee Chats showcase different ways customers are using our platform, including demos with special guests. This month’s Customer Education Coffee Chat, hosted by Cutler Bleecker, Skilljar’s Customer Training Manager, featured a conversation with Stacy Case, VP Professional Development for the FinOps Foundation.
The FinOps Foundation gathers a community of Financial Operations practitioners and professionals to advance their careers through connections, best practices, education, and specifications. Recognizing the significance of education to their mission, the Foundation brought on Stacy Case as their first full-time hire (in addition to the Executive Director) to build out a credentialing program at the same time they built the organization itself.
Our subject matter experts were really good. Our content was good. But the original experience was horrible. The next iteration, which was bringing on Skilljar, meant we had real courses and could offer professional-looking certificates. — Stacy Case
So grab your coffee and read the recap of how the FinOps Foundation went from a bare-bones manual certification process to an industry-defining standard of what it means to be a “FinOps certified practitioner or professional.”
A training risk well taken
The FinOps Foundation has a short but mighty mission – to help drive the value of the cloud. Stacy felt it was important not to wait to launch their education program. She believed in the power of training so much that she wanted to get something out there to begin to move the needle on elevating the FinOps community, even if it meant releasing a program that wasn’t “perfect.” (This is in line with Skilljar’s recommended crawl, walk, run approach to developing training.)
As a project of the Linux Foundation, a non-profit that supports Linux operating system development and open-source software projects, the FinOps Foundation is an open-source non-profit. Its three core tenets are to:
- Create connections to community education
- Provide certification offerings to FinOps practitioners and professionals
- Develop best practices and standards in an emerging field
We realized early on that education is critical to everything we do. Having that as a core tenet, it was important that we develop a meaningful credentialing program.— Stacy Case
When Stacy joined the FinOps Foundation in 2020, the organization was building out systems and best practices for the industry on their website and offered instructor-led training for practitioners to become certified. She knew it was critical to build out the program as the organization itself was growing.
Their humble education beginnings consisted of a Zoom recording of an instructor-led training. It was enough to start promoting their program, although there was some risk associated with this decision. They assessed their community’s interest in paying for such a training by pre-selling the program before it was even complete.
They broke the video into sections and posted it on Eventbrite for a fee to certify practitioners. The process was very manual. They directed interested practitioners to a gated website where they could find the videos and some speaker notes and then linked them to another platform where they could take an exam. Users had to log into three different systems in order to take the course and the exam.
Once this process began to generate revenue, Stacy knew it was time to scale.
Not being concerned about having a perfect program at the start allowed us to generate revenue that allowed us to take the next step, which was using Skilljar. — Stacy Case
The success they were having early on made it a no-brainer for their executive director and governing board to justify an investment in a training platform.
Shifting to Skilljar
Making the shift to Skilljar was a simple matter of “lift and shift” for the FinOps Foundation. Stacy said she literally took the program out of Eventbrite and their website and “dropped it into Skilljar.” There was a very limited staff with which Stacy could accomplish this transition – just two people for the entire foundation, let alone the education team.
Realizing the importance of their mission, Stacy started building out additional training and certificate-granting opportunities. The FinOps Foundation distinguishes between certification and training as follows:
Anything we stamp as certified means the skill will not only help you do something, it’s going to help you advance your career. We’re validating practitioners’ knowledge to get hired into that next role versus training, which is helpful knowledge, but not career validating. — Stacy Case
FinOps Practitioners vs. Professionals
To build on the success of the FinOps Certified Practitioner, the Foundation developed an additional offering for the FinOps Certified Professional. The Practitioner training is a basic program for anyone who uses FinOps in their role whereas the Professional training is an in-depth program for advanced level practitioners.
The Professional offering, which takes several months to complete, is more robust with 40 course modules, two instructor-led trainings, an essay, an exam, and a content contribution component (which the Foundation leverages for future training iterations).
Whether a learner is transitioning jobs or trying to do their job better or get promoted, being a FinOps Certified Practitioner will help. (Note: As part of the Linux Foundation, a certification granted through the FinOps Foundation is a certification granted under the Linux Foundation and their guidelines.)
Our program supports what our community defines as the practices, principles, and domains that define FinOps. We’re helping practitioners find the value of this understanding through a curated approach. We then verify that they have this understanding by issuing a badge.— Stacy Case
The value of getting certified
Thanks to the efforts of the FinOps Foundation, the value of being a FinOps Certified Practitioner has only increased, particularly regarding the sourcing of talent in an emerging field. The ability to put badges next to a learner’s name to designate the FinOps training helps candidates stand out in the field.
The value of our certificate skyrocketed as we started to see postings for roles that required a FinOps certified practitioner – and we were the ones defining what this meant.— Stacy Case
To help promote the new offering, they used the following tactics:
- Established “International FinOps Day” to draw awareness to the field, the organization, and the training
- Participate in Cyber Monday sales in conjunction with the Linux Foundation
- Tease upcoming releases in their monthly summits and then announce them on Slack channels and LinkedIn
Almost 80% of everyone who earns their FinOps certificate shares their badge on LinkedIn. — Stacy Case
Success begets success
The increase in revenue that the certificates brought in enabled the FinOps Foundation to hire an instructional designer and a graphic designer. These additional hires helped make their program more professional-looking and engaging and enabled Stacy to build out more training.
Certifications are so important to us that we made it our North Star metric this year. Based on the increase we’ve seen in the numbers for one course between 2020 – 2022, our goal is to increase enrollments by 138% for 2023.— Stacy Case
Stacy’s team is on track to meet or even surpass this goal.
Once you put a credential program out there, you need to make sure it stays relevant, especially with an open source solution that is constantly evolving. So Stacy’s next program iteration was keeping the content updated and encouraging learners to recertify.
For learners who have a certificate that hasn’t lapsed, Stacy’s team is looking into ways to provide regular updates of what’s changing in the open source world and provide a curated way for them to get this information. They are also looking to design prerequisites.
Our growth has been greater than we’d ever imagined. It just astounds me what we’ve been able to accomplish year over year.— Stacy Case
Lessons learned for credential training
Here are some tips Stacy shared if you are thinking about starting a credentials program:
- Talk to legal
Stacy noticed a lot of “copy cat” certificates started to appear once their program was catching on. She had to issue “cease and desist” orders on fraudulent courses and exams. Trademarking your program is a way to make sure imposters don’t post your badges , share your exams illegally, or post them on online education sites.
- Keep the exam fluid
Stacy’s team regularly changes their exams on a monthly or quarterly basis in response to their exams being illegally disseminated in the market.
- Beware of AI
Stacy’s team also needs to ensure that AI is not being used to take their course exams without learners going through the coursework. (Note: The Foundation assigns “Practitioner” badges when an exam is passed, not for passing or completing individual courses or modules, which include knowledge checks at the end. So a practitioner can earn a badge without taking the Foundation training, however a “Professional” credential requires more steps beyond the exam.)
- Know your worth
While Stacy’s team experimented with discounts early on, she’s learned that you don’t need to “give things away.” Still, knowing the value of their education, they created a scholarship program to donate $500,000 worth of training to people who otherwise couldn’t afford to advance their careers.
- Don’t be afraid to try.
Stacy’s advice: “It’s ok to put something out there that is perhaps not as good as you’d want it to be. It can still be really effective. Start with something and go with it; don’t wait for it to be perfect.”
- Talk to legal
We’ve impacted 53 countries and 800+ people with our scholarship program. We want people to learn the practice of FinOps and walk away from interactions with the FinOps Foundation as a positive experience.— Stacy Case
See more resources from Skilljar on how to build or revisit your credentials program:
Badges, Certificates, and Certifications (Comprehensive guide to credentialing eBook)
Getting Started with Certifications (Webinar recap featuring Carol Dibert, former Manager, Certification, Zendesk)
A Customer-first Approach to Professional Certifications (Webinar recap featuring Aly Roper, Lead Learning Experience Designer, Bluebeam)
Bringing Clarity to Credentials, Certifications, and Badging (Coffee Chat recap featuring Susan Manning, Sr. Manager of Customer Education, Credly)