IT pros are divided on the value of brand-name certifications. On the one hand, vendor-neutral certifications seem a better fit today’s world of commoditized products. Then again, a Red Hat certification certainly appeals to the majority of Linux-friendly employers.
Last week I chatted with Linux Professional Institute (LPI) president and CEO Jim Lacey about the merits of vendor-neutral certification. In November, LPI joined forces with several organizations, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Sun, to revitalize the certification market by forming the Information Technology Certification Council (ITCC). Responding to the Lacey interview, users generally agreed that specialization is useful and can win jobs; but today’s IT environments require IT pros who can think outside just one vendor’s box.
Jesse Becker, a member of the DC Linux User Group (DCLUG), values peers who can apply their specific knowledge to a larger scope of products and technologies. “A good generalist can probably do whatever is needed, even if they may take slightly longer than someone focused on a specific product or system,” Becker said. “Knowing how IP, disk partitions or file systems all work is much more useful than just knowing how to run tools or knowing the magic options to ifconfig, or fdisk or fsck.”
Most Microsoft pros are not good generalists, and most Linux pros are, says Ed Kohlwey, technology director of The ASCII Group of Bethesda, Maryland. Largely, Linux pros have had to be able to work in heterogeneous data centers. Microsoft pros have not, but that’s changing.
Linux administrator Ed Sawicki of Lake Oswego, Ore. thinks vendor-neutral certs encourage innovation and could help break up IT vendor monopolies. “Corporations tend to solve problems in ways that maximize their profits. I don’t believe this changes just because the vendor is selling open source software like Linux. Vendor-specific certifications encourage people to build social capital in specific brands, thus encouraging the formation of a monopoly. We’re all better off if certifications are neutral.”
Vendor-neutral certifications are most useful with commoditized, broadly available and rapidly changing technologies, according to Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond. They also help IT pros deal with issues independent or orthogonal to specific technologies like programming languages and database products.
On the flip side, Kohlwey told me, vendor-neutral certs may lack clout with employers, who don’t know what those certs mean. It’s easy to recognize the value of a certification from a big vendor, such as Novell, Red Hat, Microsoft or Sun. So, employers most often judge the merits of an IT professional based on their own experience with and current usage of a certain product.
Vendor certs are effective marketing tools for IT professionals, says DCLUG’s Becker. He thinks that’s unfortunate. He’d rather work with or hire an IT pro “with no certifications and a firm understanding of the tasks at hand,” instead of someone who has many brand-name certifications and can’t think outside the box.
If you want to sound off, leave a comment below. Thanks to the DC Linux User Group for sharing their thoughts on the subject.