On: Certifications. In IT and in general

Categories Career

I consider certifications as the ultimate learning tools. That is quite frankly all. A learning experience that gives you skills, understanding, knowledge, but not entitlement or guarantees.

Well, the above is not a factual statement, it’s an expression of attitude. In it, I consciously choose to be empirically incorrect – even wrong (I will explain how in a short while) – while focusing, laser-sharp, on the thing that is important. It is an attitudinal heuristic or a value judgement, if you will. And in this short post I’d like to critique a certain attitude I had and have seen others having towards certificates and other official achievements/awards.

Wrong reasons to pursue a certificate:
Lets address one common attitude towards having a certificate – entitlement. Certification will not guarantee you that (dream) job. University degree will not guarantee it as well. You are not entitled to it just because you have a CCNP or a M.Sc in Network Engineering. Forget guarantees. In fact:

Clinging to the allure of a guarantee that the-safety-blanket-of-a-certificate should (or even must) provide is a mistake. It should not be the reason to go for a certificate. In fact thinking about guarantees usually leads to false sense of entitlement and unreasonable expectations. Life is not about guarantees, it’s about increasing the statistical probability of success. No guarantees – only chances.

The right reasons (as far as I could figure out):
Many people noted, that certificates are about “getting the possibility to fulfill the HR requirements” a.k.a “getting your foot in the door argument”. TTBOMK this reasoning is correct. Many of the job requirements list certain certifications as a desired skill or even a requirement (i). Recruiters and HR in certain companies pre-filter candidates based on the certification status (ii). That is fine and that is why the quote at the top is not correct (told you I would exlain it latter 😉 ). So we have 1 reason in our bag of “pros” for a cert – passing through automated HR filters.

The 2nd reason, the most important one for me, is that certifications are hard and achieving them, gives you a lot knowledge and understanding. No, no … not just reading the RHCE/CCNP/CISSP book, but actually paying the money, scheduling the exam, prepping for it as best as you can with the time you have at hand (reading, taking notes, watching the tutorials, labbing-labbing-labbing!!!, exploring, and not cheating). Sometimes failing. Always persevering. Eventually succeeding. The lessons in perseverance alone are sometimes worth the trouble.

Certification material is structured, there is a clear path of what you need to know. This means that you will find it easier to learn – you will not scatter around the internet looking for some logical progression of the material from 101 to advanced – this will be done for you. And if you choose the right certification (more on them in future blog posts) – you will be able to use the knowledge gained in job interviews and the daily grind.

But isn’t the job the best practice?
Sometimes yes, many times no. The variable this depends is are simply the level of certificate and the level of the job. There are certificates that cover – in both depth and breath – the amount you will never see in your job. Certifications are general and generic. They aim to prepare you for many situations that you might encounter in any job environment in the area of your choice. Jobs are specialized. In order to be effective you specialize and become very good at a certain thing – you know, your thing – for which maybe you become known inside the company. Case in point – Cisco CCIE certification consisting of written exam and an 8-hour-long lab. As CCIE Rob Riker CCIE #50693 explains – its likely that you will never encounter anything near the complexity of the CCIE lab @ your job, see here.

Le épilogue:
In conclusion – don’t chase guarantees. View certifications as opportunities to learn, as preparation for the battlefield 😉

Leave a Reply