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Are Certifications Valuable

Are certifications valuable? Does it make as much sense these days to get an MCSE as it did 5 years ago? Do companies make hiring and pay decisions based on certifications? Certainly if you want to be a developer at Microsoft it doesn’t hurt to have an MCSE, but in the real world — that’s what I’m curious about? Anyone?

By Chris Tingom

Principal of Tornado Design, a Phoenix, AZ based web consultancy

10 replies on “Are Certifications Valuable”

As a Solaris/Linux admin in Silicon Valley (which often plays by significantly different rules than other geographic areas) with non-trivial interviewer experience: certifications can be helpful in determining direction for the interview questions, and if the interviewee has significant hands-on experience related to the certification, then at most it’s a plus; at worst, it can be a subconscious minus depending on exactly what the certification is for and how it’s related to the job they want.

In general, what I’ve witnessed numerous times is that certs are worth the paper they’re printed on unless and until the person exploiting it/them can prove themselves knowledgable in the subject area. Then, they almost always become the go-to person for work involving that skill because, “Well, they’ve been to the training. Ask them.”

Here in Europe it definitely means that you have an advantage if you are certified. It’s not uncommom for people to have 5 or more certifications just to get ahead.

What’s being explored is naturally the type and overall quality of the certifications but when it comes to Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat and the like, there is no doubt they are good references.

For Jim,

I agree with your comment, and understand it, but it begs another question IMO…If someone can display their knowledge in the subject area, does having a certificate make a difference?

…and also to the effect, if one person without a certificate displays subtly more knowledge over another with the certificate, who has the advantage?

In terms of getting a job / gig, I think it’s important and also serves to get one’s resume / proposal through the filtering process. The same with the sheepskin. (to answer the most recent post through this one) It’s one of those backup things which verifies “yes” this person really does know this stuff. It’s no secret to HR folks and hiring managers that folks looking for a job fib their way in the door a bit. Having that bit of paper that says that Microsoft, Cisco and / or the University of ____ agrees and verifys that one knows the stuff is a good thing.

This is more important than job history. Typically, it’s becoming more and more the practice for former employers to only verify that an individual was employed and what their salary was, more so than actually talk about their job performance and / or duties. Working as a contractor (self, no through an agency) is a different matter, but still you take your chances on how that reference might be feeling that day.

To have a degree or certificate with some meat (like an MCSE) instantly says yep, he did this and he knows what he’s doing.

That’s my opinion anyway.

If someone can display their knowledge in the subject area, does having a certificate make a difference?

In most cases, no. It’s icing on the cake at that point. Unless it’s one of the few recognized certs that aren’t handed out like candy; e.g., Cisco’s highest networking cert that I can never remember the name for.

…and also to the effect, if one person without a certificate displays subtly more knowledge over another with the certificate, who has the advantage?

At that point it would likely be decided by other factors not related to the certification(s); e.g., personality, attitude, etc.

In terms of getting a job / gig, I think it’s important and also serves to get one’s resume / proposal through the filtering process.

Otherwise known as Buzzword Bingo. One of the few times that having a technical cert may help get you through the HR filter — it will, however, not improve your chances with any technical person in possession of a clue. But if HR is doing the filtering for a technical position such as Unix or Windows administrator, you’re already at a disadvantage because in general they don’t possess the knowledge to properly evaluate your resume using any method besides Buzzword Bingo, which is what leads many people to fib here and there to get a foot in the door.

The same with the sheepskin.

A college degree and a technical certification are not remotely similar. Obtaining a four-year college degree involves nearly infinitely more personal resources than sitting in a certification class for at most three or four weeks (on average, 5-10 days) and represents vastly more learning and knowledge in the subject area of one’s major.

I’ll concede, though, that a college degree and a technical cert are similar in one respect: they indicate a fair-to-good amount of book, and some lab, learning.

Typically, it’s becoming more and more the practice for former employers to only verify that an individual was employed and what their salary was, more so than actually talk about their job performance and / or duties.

This practice has evolved out of our increasingly litigious society. Job performance, etc. are typically not asked about because it can expose the companies to defamation and discrimination lawsuits. And HR doesn’t usually have any idea what someone’s day-to-day job duties are, let alone their performance or quality of their work — talk to the person’s direct manager for that info, if you can get them to divulge the contact information.

To have a degree or certificate with some meat (like an MCSE) instantly says yep, he did this and he knows what he’s doing.

I don’t mean to be flippant, but where in the world does an MCSE mean anything any more? Here in California, MCSE means “Minesweeper Consultant/Solitaire Expert” and has for the better part of a decade because it is (or at least used to be) relatively easy to get. Even if it’s no longer so easy to get, the stigma remains.

Having a certification does not mean anyone knows what they’re doing, but it can indicate a familiarity with the material — and probably they’ll be less likely to completely fubar something. Having a (undergraduate) degree doesn’t, either, but it’s a much more credible piece of paper than a tech cert especially if the degree is in a related subject area to the job being interviewed for.

One way it can make a real difference is in company certification/partnerships/alliances. In order to be a Technology-Vendor-X “Solutions Partner” (or whatever title they put on the company’s “speical” relationship with the vendor) is having a certain number of your employees certified at various levels. If a company needs, say, 8 MCSEs in order to qualify and they’re hovering at 8 or 9 or so, they may well hire the person with certs in order to stay compliant.

Bottom line is that the cert gets your foot in the door. Check most IT jobs and which ones, even entry level, require some sort of cert. As a former job-seeker-turned-employee, I noticed the quickest response and highest salary offers as soon as I was able to apply under the MCSE pseudonym 🙂

It’s not necessarily fair to those who work harder/smarter than the majority of the certified folks, but I was there once, looking for the best job, knowing that I more than qualified based on knowledge and experience, but I couldn’t even get the interview without flashing my pretty little MCSE card at the HR dept.

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