IT Career JumpStart

Jan 13 2012   3:48PM GMT

Interesting Viewpoints on IT Certification

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

It’s not every day that I sit down at my desk to read my email, and wind up thanking my lucky stars to have such great friends and colleagues to work and interact with. For me, this was one of those days as I read through a short missive from my friend and colleague Jeff Carrell (the recently-appointed lead author for the fourth edition of my Guide to TCP/IP  college textbook, now nearing manuscript completion, and the lead partner in our IPv6 Hands-on Labs) that linked to a couple of IT certification blog posts with this recommendation: “If you haven’t seen these, I really liked them.” I liked them, too, all right–so much, in fact, that I’d like to share them with you! I also liked it very, very much that Jeff took the time to point these excellent blogs out to me.

The first is from a group of network engineers that run a Website called Packet Pushers; you can get a good sense of where these guys live from their site’s tagline: “Where Too Much Networking Would NEVER Be Enough.” In a post entitled “Certification — Earn It, Don’t Just Pass It!“, regular contributor Kurt Bales (a network engineer based out of Sydney, Australia, where he works as the CTO of eintellego Pty Ltd) makes some very valid points about the real meaning and value of IT certification, as he stresses the importance of real learning and skills development rather than rote memorization just to pass a certification exam. As I’ve often said myself here in this very blog: It’s not just what you know that counts, it’s what you can DO with your skills and knowledge that matters most. I also really liked reading about somebody lucky enough to work for a company where they valued their people, and were willing to invest in their professional development.

[To run the gamut of Packet Pushers blogs, check out their home page where you’ll find links to their latest postings at the top center column of that page, as wel as blogs on Data Center, Switching, IPv6, Security, Routing, and Work Life. Please check them out! ]

The next site is even more hard-core: it’s called The Networking Nerd and its tagline reads “Come for the Networking Stay For the Snark.” The logo features the word “nerd” right below the Cisco bridge logo. Hilarious! This site is the brainchild of network engineer Tom Hollingsworth, a “major certification holder” based in Oklahoma who already has over 20 certs from vendors and organizations that include Cisco, CompTIA, HP, ISC-squared, Microsoft, Novell, and VMware (I listed them in alphabetical order). He also confesses that while it took him SEVEN TRIES to pass the CCIE lab exam, he’s got one of those, too (CCIE #29213).

His blog is entitled “Certification Merit Badges” and it’s based on Tom’s recent Twitter exchange with Fernando Montenegro in response to another Twitter post that reads “…my boss told me today that certifications aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.” This is a widely held opinion that corresponds to reality in varying degrees, often depending on how well people follow the admonition stated in the preceding Packet Pushers blog post. Nevertheless, Tom does an excellent job of observing how, for at least some certifications (most notably, the CCIE, in his case), they are almost analogous to a college degree. They both take a serious investment of time, effort, and money, and both are universally recognized as representing something meaningful and worthwhile by their holders, and by those who know about them.

His “merit badge” observation (and blog title) recognizes something else I’ve observed in IT since I first started working in and around certification in the mid-1990s — namely, that for a certain segment of the IT workforce, collecting certifications becomes something between a hobby and an obsession. Hollingsworth further observes that these credentials announce to the world that their possessor claims basic competence with various specific areas of knowledge, so that employers and colleagues can assume they are aware of various tools and technologies, simply because of the certs they hold. Next, he does a good job of explaining why some employers might opine the way that “the boss” mentioned in the tweet that provoked his posting (they don’t always see the value of official marks of technical competence, though they do want their workers to know their stuff). He even does justice to the sometimes very valid fears that employers have about losing highly skilled and trained employees to poachers (and competitors) after they’ve invested huge amounts in training them up, and gives credence to the common practice of making employees agree to repay training costs if they leave an organization within some time period (usually, one to three years) after employer-funded training has been received. Good stuff, and worth reading.

[Hollingsworth’s Networking Nerd site is a WordPress creation, so all you have to do to access all of his blogs, which cover a broad and interesting range of topics, is to visit the home page and start poking around. Or, you can access his blogs through the “Recent Posts” and “Archives” links in the right-hand column there. ]

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