Leadership

10 reasons IT certification will be important in 2009

In the midst of staggering business and economic turmoil, you need all the tools at your disposal to help shore up your career prospects. See why Erik Eckel believes IT certification will become increasingly important for IT pros and the organizations that rely on them.

In the midst of staggering business and economic turmoil, you need all the tools at your disposal to help shore up your career prospects. See why Erik Eckel believes IT certification will become increasingly important for IT pros and the organizations that rely on them.


Many technology professionals believe IT certifications reached their peak during the height of the dot-com boom. But such a mindset may well prove shortsighted. The subsequent dot-com bomb led to an exodus of certified technicians from the industry. Then, as the dust settled, IT certifications were reworked. Accreditations were better mapped to real-world needs and expertise. Program flaws were eliminated. Training programs improved.

Now, in turbulent economic times, IT certifications will provide more relevance than ever before. With unprecedented bailouts, widespread cost and workforce reductions, and a slew of new platforms being released, IT accreditations will assume renewed importance in 2009. Here are 10 reasons why IT certifications will prove important in 2009.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

#1: Job retention

Organizations are laying off employees at alarming levels. When wildly successful franchises such as the National Football League downsize 10 percent, you know the economy's in trouble.

When faced with difficult personnel decisions, organizations generally try to retain the most skillful and knowledgeable employees. Certified IT pros have a credible advantage over their colleagues. While holding a current IT accreditation is no guarantee against being laid off, the more education, expertise, and skills you can demonstrate, the better.

#2: Salary maintenance

Many organizations -- and city and state governments in particular -- are asking employees to accept salary reductions. Whereas staff may have grumbled over a scant four or five percent salary increase a few years ago, today many are being asked to cut their compensation by those amounts.

Holding current IT certification does not guarantee you won't face salary reductions. But possessing specific certifications -- including A+, Security+, Microsoft credentials, and other accreditations --often qualifies employees for higher pay grades. Thus, when forced to accept a salary reduction, you're more likely to be earning more than your non-certified colleagues.

#3: Hiring and promotion eligibility

Despite the economic downturn, some companies are still hiring. Others are actively promoting from within. Recent headlines prove medical facilities, health insurance companies, and manufacturers, among others, continue expansion efforts.

Significant competition exists for these open positions. With unemployment exceeding six percent, a number expected to grow in 2009, jockeying for good jobs will only increase. If your resume is bolstered by new and timely certifications, you'll gain an advantage over others applying for the same role. For better or worse, in cases where two otherwise equal candidates are competing for the same lucrative job offer, one applicant's certifications could prove the deciding factor. Certification may even be required to apply for the position.

#4: Career improvement

Many technology professionals feel they've done all they can do as a support technician or network administrator. They may be working in positions where they'll receive no additional responsibilities, pay, or challenges unless they move up the corporate ladder.

IT certifications can certainly open the door to such promotions. By completing project management training and proving command of the fundamentals by earning a Project Management Institute (PMI) Project Management Professional or CompTIA Project+ certification, an administrator can demonstrate initiative and expertise in an effort to win a project management promotion. Likewise, a support tech might leverage a Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) accreditation to gain a new position as a server administrator.

#5: New-generation certs increase relevance

Certifications are receiving a boost from considerable reworking. Many organizations, including CompTIA and Cisco, are revamping and redesigning exams and instructional initiatives. And Microsoft really stands out due to the variety and impact of changes made to its training and certification program.

Microsoft's new generation of certifications -- including the new MCITP, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), and Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD) accreditations -- map directly to real-world needs. The MCTS, for example, measures a candidate's skill, knowledge, and expertise deploying, maintaining, and administering specific Microsoft platforms.

Microsoft's new MCITP credential, meanwhile, is aimed at helping organizations meet specific staffing needs. The certification is designed to demonstrate expertise within job roles, such as server administrator or desktop support technician, thereby better enabling hiring managers to spot qualified, well-targeted candidates.

To keep these new-generation certifications relevant, Microsoft is expiring new credentials when mainstream support for the corresponding technology platforms is retired. Those changes, combined with the introduction of classroom and lab training requirements for new higher-level certifications, are helping put the shine back on IT certifications in 2009.

#6: Organizations will become more discriminating

Consultants can benefit from IT certifications in 2009, too. As clients more closely guard expenses and become more discerning, organizations needing to outsource computer services and support will want to ensure the firms and technicians they hire are competent. IT certifications are a great method for consultants to demonstrate their skill, knowledge, and expertise to potential clients.

#7: New products will gain momentum

A slew of new products is sure to gain momentum in 2009. Microsoft's 2008-branded server products lead the charge of new technologies that will gain market share throughout the year.

As organizations begin replacing older or failed equipment with these new products, and as myriad other factors require that the new platforms be deployed, these organization will seek qualified IT technicians, managers, and consultants to plan, deploy, and administer the upgrades. If you can demonstrate your skills and expertise with these platforms, you'll be better positioned to provide those services. By becoming certified on new technologies that gain traction in 2009, you'll not only strengthen your resume, but you'll also position yourself well by aligning your expertise with these new products.

#8: Organizations must minimize downtime

Server, desktop, and network downtime, as well as mean times to repair, must improve. This is true for most every organization, but especially for those that have reduced staff, as fewer employees are available to pick up the slack when errors or failures occur.

When running lean, as many companies have been forced to do, remaining employees' workloads are often increased. Thus, it's imperative that organizations fully utilize remaining staff.

IT certification programs are one method of ensuring that staff members have the training and instruction required to fulfill specific responsibilities. Employees who are better trained and educated as the result of certification efforts will be less likely to commit errors that lead to failure. And when outages do occur, the corresponding education and training will prove helpful in speeding recovery.

#9: Organizations need to reduce costs

When sales or funding levels dive, reducing operating costs becomes critical. During periods of recession, organizations are obligated to maximize efficiency. As a result, productivity requirements become greater for each worker.

From a cold and calculating perspective, IT certification is one proven method for leveraging an organization's salary expenses. By ensuring that technicians have specific skills via training and certification programs, whether those skills target desktop support or network design and optimization, organizations know that IT certification efforts help maximize ROI.

A Kotler Marketing Group study published by CompTIA revealed certifications enabled organizations to reduce expenses, identify knowledge gaps, and improve productivity. In addition, certifications proved helpful in improving uptime and reducing turnover.

#10: Confidence proves handy during turbulent times

If nothing else, during periods of stress and upheaval, it helps to have confidence. While you can't insulate yourself from major economic trends, you can leverage certifications to know you've taken prudent steps to keep skills current and make yourself an attractive employee, both to your current employer and to prospective hiring managers, should a pink slip arrive.

Some 75 percent of IT professionals responding to the Kotler study said their CompTIA certifications make them more attractive to employers, while 84 percent believe they now have the skills necessary to fulfill a job's requirements. Further, some 93% agreed or strongly agreed that customers felt they are in good hands when working with them, due in part to their certifications.

With numerous other factors seemingly out of your control, IT certifications present at least one element you can command. In an age of unprecedented business and economic turmoil, the resulting confidence boost can only help.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

17 comments
unhappyuser
unhappyuser

I've been in the industry for 20 years. I've seen people with certs, people with degrees and people with hands-on training. None have been 100% as far as producing good techs but they haven't been complete failures either. I guess it depends upon what you do. I've found that most people with just certs can't function outside their, very small, work bubble. To me, a four-year degree is somewhat of a waste. The industry changes too quickly and what you learned in the first 18 months is almost worthless. You also work in a small bubble. I would rather hire someone that has five years experience and has taken a few courses over someone with certs or a degree. I've found they work out best compared to the others. State government here doesn't pay more for certs. I was on the cert track in 2002 and stopped paying the outrageous prices for tests after I discovered the cert wouldn't get me anything more for salary. I kept taking the courses (prepaid) but saved the money for something better. Certs may have changed and now be more productive. I think memorizing answers and getting a cert is worthless. I hope these tests have been designed for the type of tech that's out there in the real world. If not, I won't fall into that trap again. EMD

Greg Mix
Greg Mix

Early on I obtained 3 certs (A+, Net+, CCNA). The best decision I have made was to spend my time working on my CS degree rather than certs. No collection of certs will be more valuable in the long run than a good [key word used to exclude most online schools, UoP, etc.] degree. The very best jobs in computing are held by PHDs, and certs will never get you there. Although now due to DoD requirements, I'm forced to get a couple more certs, unfortunately.

cbulla
cbulla

"Certified IT pros have a credible advantage over their colleagues." No offense, but you're kidding right? I've worked with certifed people are much more incompetent than those not certified, yet were preferred by HR because the paper said they were competent... at what, we're not sure, but it was an "industry" standard. Hey, did you know that anyone can make up a cert program about anything? I know that ASHI and FABI (home inspection affiliations) were compltely fabricated by 3 guys to give themselves a 'crediblity'. Fancy name for a coffee group.

BradTD
BradTD

I've been in the industry for 17 years and hiring people for the last 10 years. I agree with you that the cert path, the degree path, or the straight experience path all have pluses and minuses as far as producing good technicians. For sure, the certified ones with little experience and no degree are the weakest candidates to me. Completely disagree with you, however, about a four-year degree being a waste. The purpose of such a degree is not entirely to boost an exact hands-on skillset. It is to formulate a general way of thinking, including building a needed general concepts knowledgebase and skillset. In addition, a person who has completed a four-year degree has shown that he/she can stick with something through to completion. Saying that a tech who has taken a few courses is superior to someone who has a degree is utterly foolish. If two candidates both have the same level of experience but only one has a degree, the one with the degree easily gets the nod unless an obvious shortcoming for the educated candidate comes out in the interview.

BradTD
BradTD

I too am in the DoD and have to get certifications that I never had to before. 17 years of experience won't keep me at my job if I don't get the entry-level A+ cert. Seems kind of silly, but it's the way it is. Get on board or get left behind. Kind of a silly statement: "The very best jobs in computing are held by PHDs..." Isn't that true in any industry??

Professor8
Professor8

Credentials are just a means to discriminate. Of course, it's flawed, but if hyper-credentialism weren't at least a little useful, it wouldn't persist. As with setting "objectives" and "goals" one must be careful of the standards because you'll get what you rig your system to encourage and prefer... whether it's really the talent and knowledge you need or not. When you decide based on degrees or certs your focus is already a little off the mark of what you really need or want. It's not the degree, but the bundle of characteristics you believe comes with that degree, but may not. A whole lot of getting a cert or degree is about having the time and money, and being directed through that path, and very little to do with having talent, intelligence, knowledge, creativity, industriousness, or what would keep you enthused and productive on the job.

jzean
jzean

i believe so, a newly graduate IT person with certification can't underdog an experienced IT person without certificates...and in my country Philippines, IT schools aren't even giving warning to student that IT certificates are very important mostly in working abroad, and upgrading IT skills here is very hard and expensive as well, so how can person apply for a new certificate if his skill isn't updated?

Greg Mix
Greg Mix

Yeah, lazy hiring practices are among the biggest problems with certs.

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

In reality, Certification means that ?I?ve been trained to start learning to practice in this area of Information Technology?. (A. MS, Novell, Cisco, IBM, etc. can?t fix their own problems in a timely fashion, so they certify that you?ve been trained so that you can?t either? And you think that?s a good thing? And you paid money, too?! I don?t quite get it.) The resume says "I'm Certified in....." (B. I never asked for a resume in the ad.) And my response is "So? What can you actually do?" (C. I have easy interview questions. Why is it so hard to answer?) Or my response may be "OK, there's a problem in this home network at this location. Fix it in two hours and you can try out that desk right there." (D. Some Certified IT Professionals eyes can get really big on that one and they start remembering appointments and previous commitments elsewhere. I, on the other hand, know exactly where the problem is and keep it that way just for this purpose. BTW, White shirt and tie might be a hindrance here ;) (I?m sure the Ad said ?Casual Dress?)) Or, I may ask the interviewee to make a pot of coffee, or if they do Windows (real, glass ones that you see through, the original ones), "What do you think would be a good way to get rid of roaches in a server without taking it down? (Orkin = no job)?, or ?Now, durn, How was it we were supposed to put the kernel into upper memory?? or any number of questions that they may never expect in an interview in ways that would probably not be expected. If the interviewee actually spends more than 1.5 minutes looking for the shelf stretcher that I ask him to hand me out of the tool room, or the roll of flight line from the back of the truck, or the Magnetic Flux Reversal Tester lying on the workbench, the interview may be just about over. If the interviewee shows unwillingness to perform the requested action at all, it?s already over. (E. I?m busy; most of my interviews are on the fly) Being Cocky doesn't cut it and the quickest way to get cocky is to have a piece of paper that says that you know everything. After staring at that hard earned piece of paper a few times, you start to actually believe it and start to "Toot" your own horn. And that, my friend, is a really quick way to make your self look like a fool. (Been there, done that and, yes, there's a T-shirt or two around here somewhere). Oh, I'm certified all right. But I put those 30 some odd diploma's, along with the medals and decorations, in a box and hid them from myself. They tend to make me think I know more than I actually do. I've come to realize that the really cool part is, knowing that I never actually will and have fun with it. Keith Hailey

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

And he has a degree. This one proves the point for the experience and a few classes end of the spectrum. My evaluation of this young gentleman, so far, is that getting a degree teaches you to "Ask the Teacher" when things don't go as expected or anticipated. That seems to happen every few minutes. I haven't taught since 1992 and I can't get anything done when I have to stop what I'm doing every few minutes to point out the obvious. It tries my patience and I almost gave him his wallking papers yesterday for raising his voice at me when I tried to explain to him what he was doing wrong and how to fix it. No, the degree is not a waste. I just wish that they'd include a few classes on things like, let's see, Tact would be good. Customer Service would be an exelent choice for a course subject. Interpersonal skills would be another. A decent expectation of what is expected as far as job performance is another (Daydreaming with Thumb in Rectum is not a a real world expectation). Real world examples in the theory classes would be kind of cool, too. And, like an electrician or plumber, should be taught business basics so he can use what he learned to survive on his own in case the individual doesn't land that dream position that every one of the grads seem to think is supposed to be handed to him upon graduation. Week before last, another young man with an IT degree working with Acer/Gate/Machines (I just call them Frankenstien Systems now) was explaining to me why he was wanting to charge $129 for me to obtain the XP Activation Code for a system that one of my customer's had purchased and was out of waranty. My rather large sign on the main street now has a rather large, rather public display of why not to buy from Frankenstien Systems. Just wait. When, a 4 year degreed punk tells a 25 year IT veteran that he doesn't know his donky from a hole in the ground, the punk is asking for more than a lawsuit. I could do something really great for his career, like give his boss the recording of him explaining why his valuable services have to be paid for to fulfill a duty that the customer purchased the day he bought the system. (Once I get the little messages saying "This Call May be Recorded", I make sure it is.) His lawyers would cringe at the part just before I told him that he was nuts and that I would no longer support ANY system manufactured by their firm. I could also post his name right here on TR for the tech world to know who this air headed fool is and to avoid hiring him like the plague. Well, I could. But I do believe in a little bit of mercy. I still say that all a four year degree or any certification means is that the individual is officially prepaired to start learning their trade or the area of certification. It surely doesn't mean that they know what the Heck they are doing. Keith Hailey

Greg Mix
Greg Mix

"Kind of a silly statement: "The very best jobs in computing are held by PHDs..." Isn't that true in any industry??" This reply is a little late but I don't watch these very often. I was talking about the difference between IT technician and computer scientist. The best job in an IT department probably wouldn't require more than a B.A./B.S..

velvetz11
velvetz11

You have to begin at the source, wherever they are coming from 1st. Then it's a matter of preventative maintenance. Borax is great for external surfaces but not to be used inside the equipment. There is an organic paste, usefull on hard to reach corners. WD40 kills ants on contact and windex will drop a spider quick. Good luck!!

mgj1954
mgj1954

I've been in this field since 1994, and learned everything I know the hard way. Nice to find someone in the hiring capacity that gets it, thanks for renewing my spirit.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you go with must have cert X or Y more usually A-Z inclusive, let's ignore lying boogers for now. So aside from counting how many heads they have, whether they are likely to take a crap in your bin, you are now deciding whether in your professional opinion they should have been certified. Given the HR numpties have only passed you candidates who jumped or perhaps sneaked through hoops, some of which are useless, how many useful people did they not pass you? Last set of interviews I did 7/9 'highly qualified' candidates I was passed, would have been hard pressed to land a junior role, never mind the senior one I was interviewing for. Certs are a nice money spinner for the big boys, and everytime some industry professional recommends them on a technical basis, I want to know who paid them. Make you better at the job, possibly, be able to do it, my arse....

velvetz11
velvetz11

Very respectively put. So funny, I am half expecting to see this, " Young daydreaming gentleman with well planted thumb, strolling down the sidewalk." lol It's probably not an obvious look, but he maybe walking with a slight limp.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and a probably a degree. They aren't without value in and of themselves, anything you learn something from, is good. To me they are only fit for purpose in that they will give you a leg up to get a chance at the role. The days where you could go the route I did bogged off decades ago. Go for the certs the HR numpties want, and get full value out of them. Seeing as they are near mandatory, any other course of actionis a waste of everybodies, time except CertsRUs... Keep that long answer in mind, it's the one that will let you figure out how to create a user in Linux, Or VMS. It's the one that will let you code in Java instead of C# , set up a database in Oracle instead of SQL Server. Trust me you'll need it....

Jessie
Jessie

Mentos would be good too! I am actually working on industry certifications but I'm really only hoping to get my foot in the door as a junior somewhere, at least until I've got some actual experience under my belt. I think too many people get their certs and then think they all of a sudden know it all. The thing is, from the 13+ years of experience I've got as a Desktop tech, working on a limited basis with servers... my certification tests are full of bogus extraneous information that I'll have to UNLEARN before I'll be able to get any real work done... There's the way they do it in the tests, and then there's the way it WORKS, and never the two shall meet. Actually I find that on the tests they want the LONG answer, when a couple of clicks will do the same job.