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Old 04-01-2004, 10:00 AM   #1
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Importance of IT certifications

If there are any IT management professionals watching this thread, I would be interested in their feelings about IT certification. I've been in IT for about 10 years now and I currently hold CompTIA Security+ certification, LPI certification, and Microsoft's MCSE and MCSA. I'm a senior technology specialist at a large university and modestly consider myself an expert in the field Anyway, I only really started working towards certifications over the last five years or so, mainly because of my position. I do a lot of R&D, and systems administration, but being in a senior position, I'm in a role where I need to lead by example, and train our junior level staff. When I started out I felt like the certifications were very worthwhile, but at this point I feel like certifications are of little importance to me. I've taken more exams than I can remember (probably 20+), and I no longer see the benefits from continuing on with certifications. My time is much better spent doing my own R&D, solving problems, reading documentation, etc. Even with the certifications that claim to be "advanced", I find that they still provide only a slight indication of a persons ability in any one particular area. Anyone can read a book, take a certification workshop, get a brain dump, etc... and pass a certification. Yes, even the hands on certifications are passable with this kind of preparation. I can't tell you how many questions I have seen on exams about a particular command, or command options. Who cares?! Everyone has heard of man pages or command --help or command /? . Why do I care that someone passed a certification test because they learned some commands? Why do I want to waste my time learning a dozen switches for a command and ten ways to the something when I know the way that works for me and I know how to get information on a command when I want to use it?

The number of certified professionals that I see, that I would consider relatively incompetent, is very high, and the number of skilled people without any certification is pretty high. I'm not saying that the certifications are worthless, but there is way too much emphasis placed on certification. Like any sane person, I take certifications for what they are and for me a certification is like any other factor you consider in hiring someone. It's a very small part of the big picture. If a person said to me that they had 10 certifications and because of that they were qualified for the job, or they should get a higher salary, I would know immediately that they weren't right for the job. If someone asked me why I didn't have xyz certification I would say because I spend my time doing real work and I've demonstrated with all my previous accomplishments and certifications that I can learn anything I want and leverage any technology as I need to.

I think certifications are helpful for those starting out in the field, but even those people really need to keep them in perspective. Don't think that what you learned studying for a certification exam will be even a significant portion of what you need to know to be successful in IT. I would rank certifications in line with a single college course, even those requiring mutiple exams. They may help you get to the next level, you may draw a few things from them that help you in your daily work, but they aren't going to be the things that by themselves determine how successful you are in your career. You need to keep learning every day and you need to be able to learn on your own. When I hire, all the factors most important to me in evaluating candidates, have nothing to do with certification or education. I definitely consider those things, and if someone can truly demonstrate to me how those things have benefitted them and how they have leveraged them, they will hold more weight, but seeing them on a resume means almost nothing to me, and the more someone focuses on those things, the more likely I am to assume that they are lacking in more important areas.

Companies will continue to try to make certifications more difficult, more confusing, more costly, etc., but for those who are serious about a career in IT, always keep in mind what value you are truly going to get from it. If you are in consulting where you often deal with customers who will pay more for certified professionals (even though they have no idea what those certifications really mean), then it almost definitely is worth any amount you can spend on certs., but if you are working in any other area, don't succomb to the marketing and believe that certification will get you a raise, or a high salary, that it will give you the skills to succeed, that it will indicate to employers that you are better than another candidate, etc. Look at how certifications may compliment your overall resume, what you might learn while studying for them, what impact they will truly have on your ability to do your job, and so on. I think it's always good to have at least one just to be able to say that you've done it and can do it. I have no problem with someone who has only a 10 year old cert, and can explain to me what they have done and learned in the last 10 years and who is willing and able to acquire a new certification if for some reason it was required. On the other hand, when someone who has little experience and has never taken a test, says that certifications are useless and they see no need for them, I'm a lot more skeptical. Certification is just one of those things that if you have it, you better be able to explain how it is of benefit to you and your employer, and not expect a whole lot in return, and if you don't have it, you better have a good case for explaining why you don't and clearly demonstrating your knowledge and skills. The employers and the certification bodies are the ones who always win. Employers typically just downplay it if you have it (so they don't have to pay you more), and overemphasize it if you don't..

For me personally certification was good in that it allowed me to better evaluate job candidates, it confirmed for me that my level of knowledge was where I thought it was, and it did give people who aren't as familiar with IT, more confidence in my skills (i.e. customers that don't have tech backgrounds). At this point in my career though, I would say that I can be much more effective learning what I need to be successful at my job, rather than being locked in to learning what I need to know to pass an exam.

Vern Wilkins
Senior Technology Specialist
Indiana University Libraries
Old 04-01-2004, 12:41 PM   #2
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Well said rbr28, but I can't tell you how many times I've heard "you have the most experience but our client really wants an MCDBA" or similar statements from recruiters. I also find there's an emphasis on fitting into a "corporate culture" that pervades many companies. And while it may be true that personal success in the corporate world depends on playing well with others, tell me truthfully, does a computer really care how charismatic the operator is? Perhaps that's why so many jobs are being outsourced to foreign countries, because advancement here (in the U.S.) has more to do with politics than ability. It doesn't take an MBA to figure out you'd get a better return on your investment somewhere where employees spend more time working and less time socializing.

I've been in the doldrums myself for the last two years, so forgive my somewhat cynical outlook. I just have little faith things are changing for the better in the IT job market. If another HR person asks me for three words to describe myself I'm going to slap them silly. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?
Old 04-04-2004, 11:37 AM   #3
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Angry Fustrated

I can see both of your points also and agree with both of you. I myself have seen too many techies out there with a ton of book smarts but no real world sense to think of. Where I live US-> Tennessee, if you don't have a Degree or Certs you DON'T even get the interview most of the time.

I helped run a computer repair shop for over 14 years and have been doing web design since the web became business popular. Even with all of my experience I'm told that because I don't have any Certs/Degrees they don't want to hire me. I've even been on temp jobs were I have been better then the man with the Certs/Degrees and still didn't get hired after proving myself because of it.

I guess what I am saying is that those of us in the know have realized that Certs/Degrees don't mean a hill of beans. But if you want to get a job they mean almost everything to everyone else. So because of this I'm taking off for a year to get as many Certs that I can get. Maybe then I'll be a "MARKETABLE" person. We'll just have to see.
Old 04-06-2004, 05:16 PM   #4
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"Employers typically just downplay it if you have it (so they don't have to pay you more), and overemphasize it if you don't.."

good point, and this is exactly my problem at the moment, i don't know whether to consider spending a whole year full time completing my degree OR start working -after hours- towards both a programming and/or linux and/or microsoft systems cert?

i have a few questions regarding this...

Firstly a quick overview of my background

I live in sydney australia and im 24... i first started working as a web applications programmer in 2nd year of my degree (information science - computer science/systems analyst type degree) because i started working part time in my 2nd and third years i have only completed the core subjects and still have to go back to complete a years worth of electives, thus i don't have my degree.

This hasnt stopped me getting work i've now been working as a web applications developer since '99 4years+ for 5 different small companies. Each of with involved me in many different areas of development and systems. In the past 3 years ive been involved in all areas of the development process

I've worked prodominantly with asp/sql server and php/mySQL. I've had plenty of experience with j++/COM, vb6/COM, sql server storeprocs and sql server SP performance tuning.

Recently i've been working on projects developing .NET web services wrapped around c# objects.

won't go into my experience with windows admin work, as most web developers know the ins and outs of getting this work done... right?

Linux - Over the past 2 years i've been forced into taking the role as system admin for my companies linux servers. We are a small software development, webhosting and dsl provider company. On top of the usual programming im configuring new users (adduser), adding email accounts (virtusertable), configuring hosting (dns-zonefiles, apache conf etc), ftp etc etc. So i've been forced into knowing the ins and outs of administering a linux system for many users. This is using slackware so its all shell

I've now just started REALLY figuring out how to setup my own hosting from home .... so, building a box from scratch including firewalling, dns, mail, apache etc etc. Up until now this has all been in place, there is only so far the learning curve can go without me learning EXACTLY how to setup the services rather than maintain them right?

ANYWAY, my questions are:
Im REALLY worried i've been stretched over too many area's in my commercial career and haven't been given the time to become more of a "professional" in either area. I DO KNOW that given a few weeks i can pick up ANY language and run with it, im definately confident in myself for that... but how does a potential employer know this? Like you said rbr28, your happy if you can see the employee has one cert because it shows they can do the cert and CAN show dedication. For me, i can't prove it on face value.

anyway, should i continue going the way i am and learning in multiple areas of both admin and programming? should i go and do a cert for c# .net programming or j2ee, should i get a cert in linux admin and or windows?

What certs are good to do? i'll probably have to learn myself and then do the exam so i'll need to buy the exam book... Should i just scrap what i've been doing the past years and try going for jobs with big companies where im just a monkey to program in ONE specific area rather than spead over whatever language the project entails?


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