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Monday, May 14, 2012

Should I Get Certified?

Should I Get Certified?

I see threads in forums all the time wondering whether tech certification is worth the time, money, and trouble. I'm going to talk about my opinion, and what I chose to do in my career.

Basically, when it comes to landing a job in IT, there are three main aspects:
  1. Experience
  2. College Degree
  3. Certification 
Everyone has their own opinions on which is the most important. Sometimes, company policies dictate which ones are paid the most attention. I'll go through them one at a time and explain the who's, what's, and why's.

If you have a proven track record, it pretty much trumps everything else, nearly all of the time. The exceptions are places where people who work are required to be certified to a certain level. If you're applying to a "Microsoft Certified" consultancy or repair shop, then surprise! You need to be certified. That said, if you have oodles of experience they'll probably pay for you to take the test. Another area where experience may not trump the other two areas is if the company you're applying to requires some sort of degree by company policy.

College Degree
In my opinion, the current state of the "Computer Science" bachelor's degree, for sysadmins, is a joke, which is why I never got one. If you're going into database design, programming, or some other sort of "development" area of the IT industry, then it's worth a bit more. First off, I don't think 4-year universities can move fast enough to incorporate new technology into their curricula. Typically, the professors are focused mainly on theory, instead of the application of those theories in the real world. Also, would someone kindly explain to me why I need to go through Calculus II to be a server admin? In my view, being a sysadmin is a lot like being a plummer (except plummers usually make more). You need to know how to do tasks. You need to know how to troubleshoot to find a problem. The other very handy skills to have to be a good sysadmin are communication and business skills. I chose to attend the local community college, which offered a hands-on curriculum based on certification. For example, our "Intro to Computers" used the A+ certification training book. Networking 101 used the Network+ training book. They also offered blocks of classes that would help you get your CCNA or your MCSE (they've since changed the classes to reflect the new MCITP exams). Of course, you still had to go take the test, but at least you were being taught current industry standards and taught to do useful things. I learned how to make networking cable, which was an amazing skill to have.

Opinions on whether you should certify are usually very strong. Many people have used braindumps (actual questions from the test) to pass exams. They got jobs based solely on their certifications, and of course could not perform very simple tasks when they got the job. This left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths. Personally, I like certifications. Despite the title of the certification, the holder should never be considered an 'expert' unless that candidate can point out actual experience in the real world. If they have passed the exam though, and they can speak reasonably in an interview setting about the given topic, then it should be viewed that they are knowledgeable about the topic. They can talk the talk, and they can probably do quite a few things with that technology. There are some certifications out there that ARE worthy of high-esteem, without a doubt. These certifications not only require a written exam, but also a practical exam. A couple of examples of this are Microsoft Certified Architect, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) and Red Hat Certified Engineer. A step below these are VMware certifications, which don't have a practical but require you to take a VMware approved (and expensive! $3000!!) class in order to receive the certification. Another facet of certification is that sometimes HR departments are the ones doing the hiring, and in general, HR departments don't know much about IT certification. So if your resume is being passed through an HR department that came up with a rule that successful applicants need the A+ certification, then you aren't getting through HR without it, even though you have a decade of experience.

So, the final answer? Do them all. Except the 4-year degree. Having certifications will never hurt you. The stuff you learn while studying for an exam is helpful. You need to know it anyway, or at least be exposed to it. Therefore, you shouldn't look at it as a waste of time, either. To some companies, cracking out a certification every year or so proves that you're interested in learning.

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