Is certification relevant?

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As a consultant, in the past I often pursued certifications to demonstrate my capabilities with related technologies. This led to me obtaining IBM, Java, XML, and now .NET developer certifications. In addition to demonstrating some knowledge (I emphasize some), it also gave me a reason to dive in and become acclimated with the various aspects of a technology/platform. Now, I may not remember every aspect/detail but I’ll be aware of its existence.

It may be my current situation, but I don’t hear much about certification these days. Do companies emphasize it? Do developers pursue them or set certification as a goal?

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  • http://www.sigma3w.com CodeLes

    From my personal business experience it seems that more people without degrees push certification and claim that a college degree isn’t worth the paper it is written on compared to their certs…

    And college grads just go for certs these days if their career pushes for it.

    I stand somewhere in the middle. I have a college degree (B.S. in Computer Information) and no certifications. But now with my experience in the field, certs aren’t even on the horizon, unless my employer thinks I should get one…

  • http://www.digitalgreenlight.com busy

    It’s not really a goal of mine, but I certainly see where it would add credibility and help with the sales process. (Self-taught here) Something to think about next time business slows down.

  • aspatton

    I have both a college degree and certifications, and I place more value in the degree. I do agree that it is more applicable to the sales process when things slow down.

  • Ned Collyer

    I was a school drop out with a passion for technology (forgive me for my horrid english skills :)).

    I’m now a senior software engineer, I can code well in a heap of languages and platforms. I architect solutions, train clients, mentor junior staff, write techincial docs etc etc. Its easy. Its natural. I’m baffled by some of the idiocys “qualified” people bring to the table.

    Of all the devs I’ve come into contact with over the past 7 years, the most clueless are those that are “qualified”, while the talented ones have soloed it from a teenage hobby into something professional.

    I think quite often uni teachers do not have the required skill set for what is the industry norm, so perhaps this contributes. (eg, being taught VB3 when VB6 or VB.NET is current is idiotic).

  • http://www.totalpda.co.uk dhtmlgod

    I would have to go with Ned on this one. We recently spent 4 months looking for a new developer, and the worst candidates where generally graduates (generally, though we did have some interesting bedroom coders come in!). We needed someone to come in and hit the ground running, which none of the graduates came close to!

    We had a simple programming test, debugging and unit testing really, a form that uploaded an image and inserted text information to a SQL Server, and out of around 30 candidates, only 3 people passed it and none of them had a degree.

    Having said that, I have been turned away from a few jobs in the past due to a lack of degree. But I would sooner get for a certification but the company whose technology I’m using than a degree. I did start getting one, but it was like relearning everything I sat up to 4am learning when I was 15!

  • http://www.shaunhills.com hillsy

    I would disagree with the above to an extent. It’s been my privilege to work with some extremely smart, well educated Comp Sci/Comp Eng graduates. Of course they had a natural aptitude for it, but the stuff they got taught at uni was stuff like methodology that allowed them to hit the ground running in the middle of a team of 20 developers. These were good graduates of course. We were a big company in a small city, so we got our pick :)

    However I’d agree that a natural ability is more important than paper qualifications, all other things being equal.

    I think the thing that’s going unsaid here as well is that IT qualifications just aren’t that great or well formalised. I mean, if you want to be a doctor you need to go to med school. Want to be a lawyer, same deal. Want to be an “IT Consultant”? Hack HTML for a year or two, get an MCSE, get a degree, install Windows 95, whatever. It’s small wonder projects get into such a mess sometimes.

  • plan9

    I left my Computer Science degree in the second of a total of four years.

    I have some certs in macromedia products, and my opinion is that certs and degree are two different things that don’t exclude one another. Like the degree the cert is only a begining it’s the real experience that’s matters.

  • cholmon

    Experience is definitely the greatest asset a developer can have when on a job hunt, and like plan9 said, certs and degrees are different things…it’s not either or.

    I have a BS in CS, as well as a few certs, but right after I graduated, it took me about 6 months to land a job. The biggest complaint was my lack of experience. I worked for the university for a little over a year, and did my web development thing on the side, but when a big company is looking over hundreds of candidates, many with degrees and certs, they will undoubtedly fall back on experience and soft skills as the deciding factor.

    As far as the certifications themselves, I think it’s sort of iffy to even have a programing certification. Programming in general is such an abstract endeavor that it’s very difficult to test ones aptitude with a multiple choice test. Sure you can test a candidates knowledge of syntax and language constructs, but that is just book knowledge. I don’t know many folks who have any language totally memorized. Every developer I know, both good and bad, makes extensive use of reference material. Actually, I can’t think of a single developer that I am acquainted with that has a programming-related certification.

    Networking and database administration is another matter. Really anything related to hardware can benefit from certs more than software, mainly because of the deterministic nature of hardware. There are a finite number of ways to bring up an interface on a cisco router. There are a finite number of ways to back up the transaction logs on SQL Server. These (many) routine tasks are predictable for the most part, and if a company is hiring a network admin, they will need to know that the new hire can jump into a router and do what needs to be done. This type of knowledge is testable, and the results of the tests can typically be trusted. Obviously this hinges on the quality of the test itself, but that’s a whole other matter.

    While there is a certain amount of overlap, I believe that when it comes to programming, a degree (heavy on theory and math, not necessarily IT) and experience are most valuable. For vendor specific tasks (routers, DBMSs, OSs), certifications and experience are most valuable.

  • http://www.cyberlot.net cyberlot

    “Anyone” can be certified, but only a select few have the intellect to learn a lot of this technology on there “own” without an education.

    Those few people are “naturals”, they soak this stuff up like a sponge. They live and breath tech.

    You will not get this same level of “love” for there job as you do from the “Average” certified person.

    Its simple, Crap in crap out.. The crap coming out might have know a little bit more and might be certified but there still crap.

    The jewel’s are the people who both have this love for technologies and went to school and got certified, These are the “Jewel’s in the Rough” you rarely find.

    So to sum it up

    1. Certification – On average a person who did it for money, career, or some other self motivated reason

    2. Self-Taught – On average a person who did it because they love it, enjoy it, live and breath it.

    Remember these views are based on the “Average group” of people.. Im not saying Self-Taught always make the best tech’s but if you take compare the 2 on average I feel the self-taught will a diffrent animal, one who loves and enjoys there job and what they do.

    People that enjoy there job and what they do tend to do better jobs and be more productive.

  • http://www.sigma3w.com CodeLes

    The only problem I found with being self-taught proir to my degree was that it was a little complicated getting serious employers to look at you without the paper work. After the degree, the experience became the most valuable asset, but it took the degree to get in the door.

    Just from my experience.

  • warjockey

    I agree,

    When you start looking for a job in this field, experience is very very important, however every employer looks and asks for your education unless you have a truly impressive portfolio. Then that’s solid proof that you are able.

  • cholmon

    The whole point of certifications is to provide employers or other interested parties with an objective measure of a person’s knowledge. Some certifications are better at this than others, either because they are more rigorous or because they actually give an accurate picture of what the person in question knows or is capable of.

    I agree that people who have a passion for IT make better employees than those who are just in it for the promise of lots of money, but passion is pretty difficult to gauge, and its relevance is questionable. You can put on your resume that you are madly in love with programming, that you’ve been doing it since you were 13, and that you dream about code every night, but that doesn’t tell the person reading your resume how good you really are. Sure, people that are really good more than likely have the passion, but if they get hired it’s because they can PROVE that they are good (experience, references, degrees, certifications, soft skills, etc), not becuase they convinced the hiring manager that they’ll have lots of fun if they get hired.

    Having been on both sides of the field (getting hired and doing the hiring), an effective hiring process will go something like:

    1) Determine the position’s requirements (technical and non-technical).
    2) Collect lots of resumes.
    3) Weed out the obviously unqualified (lack of qualifications, poor grammar, over-qualification, etc). This may come in the form of requiring certain certifications, requiring a 2- or 4- year degree or graduate degree, or requiring a minimum number of years of relevant experience. For instance, to teach in a technical college you usually need a relevant masters degree. no masters = resume in trash can.
    4) Interview #1: call the candidate to get a more detailed understanding of past experiences and communication skills. If they make you uneasy, say you’ll “keep their resume on file for 90 days in case something else opens up”.
    5) Talk to references to get a 3rd party perspective of things like technical knowledge, social skills, work ethic, interpersonal relationships, etc. If what you find out makes you uneasy, say you’ll “keep their resume on file for 90 days in case something else opens up”.
    6) Interview #2: bring the candidate in for a live meeting for a face-to-face impression, maybe give him some “think-on-your-feet” questions or tests to determine how he attacks problems (maybe IT related, maybe not).

    There could be more steps depending on the type of position and the number of candidates, but that’s sort of the template I’ve followed/been exposed to in the past. I’ve had to throw out resumes that didn’t meet a company-imposed “2-year degree or more” . I have, however, applied for plenty of positions that had minimum “don’t bother applying unless you have X” type requirements. Alot of state IT jobs require at least a 2 or 4 year degree, though some will be willing to substitute a degree with related experience.

    At the end of the day, most hiring managers don’t care what’s on your resume…they just want their employees to do the work as effectively as possible. Everybody just has different ways of determining which potential employees will be a good investment. Certifications are simply one, usually very small portion of that decision.

  • http://www.custom-toolbars.com milette

    As both a certified person (MCSE+I, MCP+SB, MCSD, MCSA, A+) and a trainer (CTT+, MCT), and an IT Director — I get to view the situation from many angles.

    From the employer perspective — certification shows me that the person is interested enough and serious enough about their chosen profession to do the work necessary to become certified.

    However, this is just a foot in the door — and the candidate should prove themselves by their experience, references (which I DO check), and samples of their work (where appropriate).

    If I’m hiring a ‘technician’ (programmer, system engineer — basically someone who DOES the work), then I look for certification over degrees.

    For people working for me, I want them to be TRAINED rather than EDUCATED. This is ESPECIALLY the case where people DO need to hit the ground running.

    Colleges and Universities ARE BEHIND — these mammoths simply can’t upgrade their curriculums fast enough to keep up with the technology. No question about it.

    However, commercial training companies are IN BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY — so although they generally offer the latest and greatest up-to-date training — they don’t necessarily use the best trainers — rather the CHEAPEST trainer available who can marginally do the job.

    (Staff trainers are cheapest — but how interesting is an instructor who’s taught the same course 30 times over the past year — it really shows!)

    Another point: In 95% of cases — trainers at Colleges, Universities and training companies are “professional trainers” — meaning that they may be very good at teaching what’s in the book but they are NOT IN THE FIELD learning/doing/trying/failing etc.

    It’s easy to stand in front of a classroom of ‘perfect’ lab computers and read from a book and say the way things are ‘supposed’ to work. Quite another thing to explain how things DO WORK (and how they DON’T work according to the book!)

    You can really tell the difference between these types of trainers and ones who are working PROFESSIONALLY on the job — and only teaching part-time.

    A final point — although anyone can get certified – I’ve seen cases where these people shouldn’t get within a mile of a computer — let alone work with them.

    (Like the student who’s mommy and poppy put up the $20K for Johnny to become an instant “System Engineer” at one of these commercial companies — yet who couldn’t log on to the computer the first day of class because he could not SPELL “Administrator” !)

  • Bob

    Degree and cert holders will always have more cred in some hiring/sales situations. What is most important is that J.J.Developer have VISION; creative problem solving ability (not from the MacGyver school); an aptitude for languages, gramars, syntax; and some common sense around the design/build process. After all, what we do is a creative thing, and there are many well-trained, well-papered folks who canot create their way out of a paper bag.

    The diagnostic test mentioned by dhtmlgod seemed the best way to winnow. If someone cannot accomplish a small, well defined task as part of an interview process, they may “hit the ground” … but you won’t like cleaning up after them.

    Final point: sales is bull$hit and when someone tries to sell you their talent, it is incumbent upon the buyer to determine if they really have anything to offer.

    Cheers,
    Bob
    20+ years using Oracle
    Permanent undergrad
    no certs
    almost retired from IT and lovin’ it

  • hdsol

    5 years and 2 degrees later I can tell you that college isn’t always the place to learn it. My first job was as a cadd designer even though i wasn’t in the cadd program. My employer went to the school to find an employee and none of the cadd students could do the job. The root of the problem was this. The school was teaching a program that was not used in the industry. To save money they were teaching a platform that was given to them by the software company who was trying to crack the market with the idea that if you teach the students that they will demand your product inthe workplace. This is tough to do when you can’t even get your foot in the door. I had 6 years of cadd experiance when i applied for the job and got it without much compatition.

    It was this first job that set me in the it direction. Our certified network guy tried to install a network in the compnay and drop the ball. After hours with the manuals i was able to complete the job and start on a long road to a career change. That was in 1992. 13 years later I run a sucessful web development company with 7 very talented people. All where hired on talent and a love for the job.

    The botom line is what the customer realy cares for. What can you do for me? How much does it cost? When can you start?

    Just my rambiling thoughts.

    Dave

  • http://www.uberasp.net jeffyjones

    It doesn’t mean jack. I have a BA in English and Radio/TV and I can bill three digits. I have zero certifications. It’s all about the actual experience you have. (And I should add that I was able to get there before I wrote my ASP.NET book.)

    Your track record and your cost to the customer still drive everything these days. Where I live (Cleveland), you’ll find plenty of work if you’ve been using .NET for almost any length of time.

  • chadslagle

    Has anybody looked at few questions on the MCSE test and thought “wow, who cares about that”? How many of the questions really apply to programming in the real world. Like, who the hell uses Microsoft Passport that doesn’t work at Microsoft or citibank? I looked into taking the exam, and thought to myself “Why am I wasting my time doing this, when I could be studying factory patterns, or something way more useful.”

    I have a degree, and I can’t tell you one time where it actually helped me find a job. I was working full-time when I graduated, and I told my boss thinking it would coax him into a raise, and his exact words we’re “that’s nice”. My degree provides me a line at the bottom of my resume, below my list of programming languages I know, and far below my experience, and references to previous projects. School is a good start, but I learned more about programming, free, from on-line tutorials, geeking out on some friend’s band site, and subsequent trial and error at home. IMO, I’d say a business major is a better degree to have than a Comp Sci. Degree, so you have a better understanding of business processes. Programming’s the easy part.

    There is no substitute for experience..

  • http://www.madfellas.com CaRTeR

    I dont think there is any real answer because there are too many variables that make you a good candidate for a job or a good developer.

    From my point of view as a recent Comp Sci graduate, its almost laughable to see some of the people that have “earned” their degree and still know basically nothing about computers at all, let alone programming. In the same vain, its relatively easy to pass Microsoft certification exams and still not be able to program anything very well or solve actual real world problems.

    Degree’s can be valuable, certification can be valuable, but at the end of the day you need to prove to an employer or client that you really know your stuff, just as an employer needs to ascertain your level of *skills* when you go for a job interview, not your level of *education*. The titles and certification and stuff don’t count for anything if you can’t prove your worth; Experience really does count for much more than both of them combined.

  • http://www.toluseunfawole.com toluf

    Degrees can be gotten with lots of cramming and in a place like Nigeria with lots of connection, while Certification usually requires a little practical ability on the student’s side.
    But when it comes to setting them on priority, i will always put Self Development First, I am Arts Diploma Holder but throughout my course I never touched a PC, By pursuing short IT Courses and lots of practice, I have a job most Comp Sci graduates are still trying to get. I am a Web Developer.
    I think the schools shoud review the curriculum and train the lecturers so Graphic Departments can upgrade from Corel8

  • Granville

    I am currently doing a degree in Computer Science but for 4 or 5 years have been doing programming in several languages. I think that the level of complexity the uni course covers is very advanced but as I have never done a certified course I don’t know how deep it goes. My brother has done a few certified courses and these courses don’t really go that deep in terms of detial yet they can become certified, with what seems to me not that much knowledge.

    There are arguments for and against certification and if I had the time I would do a certified course as well as my uni course so that eitehr way I was covered.

  • Luke.Smith@langley.af.mil

    So where do I find these so called jobs that are open for tech lovers? I’ve been working with computers for over 14 years now with 7 years of actual work experience. I love everything about technology and try to learn as much as I can. I’ve looked at certifications and degrees alike. I just don’t know which I should go for first with my experience. If anyone has any ideas drop me an e-mail I’m always open to suggestions. Thanks

    Luke

  • vindicator

    After 20 something years I returned to school and got my BBA-Information Systems degree (Magna Cum Laude/3.76 GPA), and although I haven’t landed a job for lack of experience and certifications, I did learn people skills, language and gramatical skills otherwise lacking in self taught geekies!