The other day the COO, a co-worker, and I were talking about things happening at the Company, and a quick side trek into the value of IT certifications came up. My original stance on the subject was that certifications weren’t valuable and that the skills we end up sharpening are better. After talking with them though I came to find out that not all certifications are created equal, some have more value than others. I don’t have all the answers to what the best measures of how to find those valuable certifications, but I did think about it longer, and I believe I’ve come up with something to help us measure wither getting a certification is worth it.
To date I have obtained two certifications in my IT career: the CCNA and the MySQL 5 Developer certifications. When my CCNA renewal came up, in 2007, I decided against renewing it because the job I was working at had taught me more networking skills than the CCNA had. In 2009 I took the MySQL 5 Developer certification, at my last job because if I passed then it was paid for, I was developing in PHP/MySQL, and it looks good on resumes. While a majority of the things I learned while studying I had already learned by virtue of being a PHP/MySQL developer, there were several that I learned that I actually used at the job.
The Salesforce certification my co-worker is going for has more than just the exam, they also have a project that needs to be completed. When I learned about this, my perception of the certification changed, because it tests more than just memorization. Personally, I tend to forget what I cram into my head for an exam, thus lessening it’s value. I’ve formulated the following: Is more than your ability to memorize the answers to a bunch of multiple choice or true/false questions going to be tested for this certification? If the answer is yes, then take the certification, otherwise skip it. You’ll gain more from those that go beyond memorization!
I once had the idea that I was going to get the A+ certification but I passed on it, the exam didn’t bring any value to me. I had been a technician, tech support, and system administrator, in each of these roles you have to know the basics, and an exam like the A+ certification is not really going to bring value to you, your career, your current or future employer, or your life. Find the certifications that will challenge you, and provide value beyond just being a notch on the base of your brain stem.
Another thing to think about: it depends on what kind of company you want to work for. If you’re going to be aiming for larger, monolithic companies with complex HR structures, the certifications can be a cheap insurance policy. In larger companies, these HR people are scanning for buzzwords. You might not even make it to the hiring manager’s desk if you don’t have some things that “standard hr” people can pinpoint. You could have the biggest plethora of code in github, but the HR person could trash your resume, thinking they’re helping the hiring manager.
I agree with your idea that certifications should help and challenge you, though. I can tell you I learned nothing new in preparation for my A+ and Network+ tests. I learned a tiny bit for Security+, and MCP. And the ZCE forced me to read the php manual more. But, I’ve never found such a thorough test as the Salesforce test. 🙂