The Value of Certification

Seriously, why should I care about certs?

Very early on in high school I remember my father sitting me down and saying, “When you get to college nobody is ever going to ask you what your GPA was in high school.  And after graduating from college nobody is ever going to ask you what your grades were.  All they are going to want to know when you apply for a job or seek a promotion is, ‘Does he have a degree?’”

By no means was my father suggesting that it was OK to coast along, to barely scrape by.  Quite the opposite, actually.  He expected excellence.  His lesson was that, in life, there are certain boxes that must be checked in order to move to the next level.  And he was right.  I have been out of college for almost a quarter of a century and nobody has ever asked me anything other than, “do you have a degree?”  The fact that I can say yes to that question seems to serve only one practical benefit:  getting my resume sorted into the correct pile.

I don’t intend to de-value college degrees; the benefit of the skills and knowledge gained in college should equip you for a lifetime of continued learning.  Making it to graduation day takes a lot more than just the learning of facts.

In many areas of the IT world, industry-recognized certifications fill a similar niche.  There are a healthy number of employers who want to fill positions with people who hold specific certifications.  Sometimes it’s because they think these certifications are actually representative of a person’s skill set (a tragic mistake to make).  And sometimes it’s required for them to be able to bid on a contract.  Maybe people in certain roles are required to demonstrate a certain level of competence and the only way they can think to measure that is to have everybody get a certain certification (and troubling mechanism of measurement, I must say).  Other times it may just be because they want help to sort out the stacks of applicants.  “Sort the list of applicants into two piles:  those who have XYZ certification and those that don’t.  We’ll decide who to interview by going through the list of certified candidates.”  Whatever the reason, many employers want to interview, and ultimately hire, people who are certified.

I know more than a small handful of absolute rockstars who hold few, if any, industry certifications.  I’d hire them on the spot.  Their lack of certifications is completely irrelevant.  But I don’t work for a company that has certification as a hiring requirement.  Do you?  Conversely, I know more than a few people who are certified to the hilt and I wouldn’t hire them to do data-entry work.  Most of us, fortunately, fall somewhere in-between.  This is evidence to suggest that certification is an empty shell and only means something when the person behind it has actually invested the time, energy and effort to be worthy of what the certification purports to validate.  Separating the worthy from the undeserving is an important follow-up.

There is no shortage of discussion on the Internet about the pros and cons of industry certifications.  It is as divisive an issue as any political hot button topic.  Both sides have some compelling arguments to make.

But for me, it all goes back to what my father told me a long time ago:  “Check the box (i.e. get the certification) and move on”.  In the industry as it stands today, and I don’t see it changing any time soon, having industry certifications are a helpful tool.  Unfortunately, they are more helpful to individuals looking to become employees than they are to employers looking to have a better skilled workforce.  There is no substitute for applicable knowledge and experience.  If you have it, awesome.  Getting certified will help you get the interview that will allow you to showcase your awesomeness.  If you don’t have it, getting certified will help you hide behind a shield of pomp and circumstance, letting you eek by until your real skill set is discovered.

Certification isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  So, check the box.  Get certified.

Cheers,

Colin Weaver

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About the Author

Colin Weaver

Colin Weaver is co-owner and lead instructor at ITdojo, Inc., a network security and information assurance training center and consulting firm located in Virginia Beach, VA. His passion for technology, networks, and security has led him to become enthralled with the idea of IPv6 and its implementation. In this blog he will share with you glimpses of what he has learned and a hint at what you’ll learn in his classes.