IT Career JumpStart

Dec 19 2008   2:56PM GMT

Certification as a “Tie-Breaker”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Site Member Cruicer had this to say about my recent blog “Can Virtualization Certs Get Real?

Certs are good, but until the Microsoft’s and the VMware’s testing centers put individuals in real world situations where they need to think about the answer instead of memorizing the answer to me they are only good to be used as the “tie-breaker” or something an individual has to have for a promotion.

I’ve been blundering around the certification market with some degree of seriousness since 1996, and have often pondered the whole “Value of Certification?” question in many shapes and forms over the past dozen years. Cruicer’s pithy summary here, and his mention of his preference for experience over certification when making hiring decisions earlier in his posting, brings many components of the answer to that question into sharp relief:

  • Credentials for their own sake don’t do anybody much good, not even their holders.
  • Experience remains the essential tempering ingredient for any mix of degrees, certs, and other ways of declaring and pursuing technical interests.
  • Certifications work best to help distinguish otherwise equal candidates, and then only when their presence or absence helps to differentiate them.
  • Multiple-choice exams may actually reflect memorization and test-taking abilities more than they reflect the presence or absence of subject matter expertise. (Incidentally, this is the very same argument that proponents of performance based testing make vis-a-vis conventional testing.)

As I reflect back on my own observations and analysis of what’s right and what’s wrong about how IT certifications behave, work, and what they reflect about their holders, Cruicer’s observations or beliefs ring some pretty profound chimes with me, too.

Let’s distill this information into some potentially useful career advice.

1. If you want to get certified, it’s best to decide that you also really want to learn something, and develop genuinely useful skills and knowledge.

2. As you prepare for certification, try to get past memorizing the answers to a real appreciation of the subject matter and how it relates to what you do (or can do) on the job.

3. When you refer to certification in the job interview/annual review/promotion situation, make sure you tell others that your certifications are “more than mere merit badges,” and then go on to tell your interlocutors what you know, what you can do, what problems you have solved, and how your professional development has advanced or improved thanks to your credentials.

Only then can you get past the “paper certification” stigma, and really use your skills and knowledge to do some good, both for yourself and for those you serve.


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