From scouting to the military, physical badges have signified an individual’s accomplishments. The concept has evolved to meet the needs of the digital world through digital badges at companies like IBM, in online gaming, and among professional organizations and educational institutions. SHARE began its digital badging project in 2018 to adopt the concept as part of its technical program, says Martha McConaghy, SHARE vice president. Holden O’Neal, SHARE director of conference operations, adds, “The SHARE community is familiar with digital badging that acknowledges the successful completion of technical certifications and similar educational accomplishments.” SHARE’s digital badges can be used in social media profiles to signify that an individual has mastered a skill or completed a certain level of training.
Lay the Foundation
Digital badging programs do require a bit of work, McConaghy says. SHARE needed to establish the infrastructure, and partner with a badging company to have a strong foundation for awarding badges. When someone earns a badge based on SHARE’s criteria, SHARE sends that information to the badging company, which actually issues that badge. She adds that “if someone contacts that company directly and asks for a badge, they will be refused. The request has to come from staff working for SHARE.” McConaghy explains that the badge exists as long as SHARE wants it to: it could be viable for just a year, or it could be permanent. “If, down the road, SHARE decides to retire a badge, or remove them entirely, the issuing company would be instructed to withdraw them. They would then disappear from people's social media accounts,” she adds.
O’Neal adds, “We are excited to use digital badges to recognize the speakers that our event attendees have selected as the very best at SHARE events.” After an initial rollout of “Best of the Best” speaker award badges at the winter event this year in Phoenix, SHARE is expanding the program to all speakers who won a best session award in Phoenix. McConaghy says, “Since the concept of digital badging is very new to the SHARE community, we decided a good pilot to start would be with our speaker awards. The people who speak at each of our events are the backbone of our technical program, and SHARE tries to show appreciation with the best session awards.” She adds, “It seemed to be a natural thing to provide them with a digital badge so that they can show their award to their online audience. It’s also a good way to get the name ‘SHARE’ better known.”
Take Digital Badging to the Next Level
The goal of the digital badging initiative at SHARE is to go beyond just speaker recognition, says McConaghy. The next stage is to award participatory badges for different areas of study. These areas could include skills in z/OS system administration or skills in programming or database management. These types of badges will require a person to attend a certain number of sessions at a SHARE event and answer basic questions about the material. This minimal validation will ensure each person actually attended and participated in the program, but the process will not be as rigorous as certification testing.
At the summer event in Pittsburgh (Aug. 4-9), attendees can earn a Security Warrior badge by attending a minimum of 15 sessions out of the more than 30 available in the security track, and registering their attendance via SHARE’s online tracking system. Once the Pittsburgh event is over, those attending 15 sessions or more will need to answer a series of related questions correctly to earn the Security Warrior badge. McConaghy explains, “We are having the soft launch for this badge in Pittsburgh, with a major launch planned for the 2020 Fort Worth event. We’re also discussing possible additional badges for various projects within SHARE. So, we hope that Security Warrior will only be the first participation-based badge at SHARE.”
Recipients Respond to the Digital Badging Program
Responses to SHARE’s digital badging initiative vary. Jason Shewbert, who works in mainframe systems programming at UPS, received a Best User Session digital badge at the SHARE Phoenix event. He says, “I’m sharing my badge as part of my LinkedIn profile.” Shewbert adds that since then he’s been asked to come back to SHARE and present sessions again. “IBM has also asked us to attend TechU and present a session, and other vendors have asked us to co-present with them,” he says.
Meanwhile, Rocket Software Director of software engineering Jean-Philippe Linardon, who received the SHARE Best Vendor Session digital badge, says, “It’s an appropriate tool for team members engaged in technical work.” He adds, “LinkedIn is the main area where I see badges being promoted.”
Shewbert agrees, “Digital badges seem like a good idea for social media profiles and externally facing business profiles, but I don’t see much use for them on internally facing profiles. I do, however, appreciate the acknowledgement that digital badges provide.” Linardon adds, “Digital badging is a valid trend in the software industry at large. I think it’s a valid medium and should be pursued for all deserving participants.” But Shewbert says that another thing to consider when starting a digital badging program is that other “organizations may feel the need to validate the credibility of the badge issuer before allowing employees to add them to internally facing business profiles.”
Digital Badging for the Future
McConaghy explains that the introduction of digital badging to SHARE is significant in several ways. “First, it helps get the name ‘SHARE’ out in social media more,” she says. Secondly, she explains that the badges can help counter the idea that members of SHARE are old fashioned and out of step with the current technology environment. “Digital badging has a great appeal for the younger members of our community and helps provide additional motivation for them to attend SHARE events and become more involved.”
Where the effort goes depends on how the badges are received by the volunteer community and SHARE event attendees, and whether people participate. McConaghy adds that SHARE can ensure participation by offering digital badges with substance, making them worth the trouble for participants to earn them. “A badge that is too easy to achieve will have little value to our customers or their employers,” she says. While the program is still in its early stages, the hope from McConaghy is that these badges will become part of the organization’s long-term education strategy.
Interested in demonstrating your mastery of mainframe security? Earn your Security Warrior badge at SHARE Pittsburgh by attending 15 or more identified Security Warrior sessions. Find out how to acquire access to your digital badge here.