Are tech certs valuable or not?

To cert or not to cert is a question that many IT pros have. I polled some CBSi tech managers to get their feelings on the topic.

I would say the question I get most often from the IT pros who read my blog is whether they should pursue tech certs and, if so, which ones. There's no easy answer to this because it's not a one-size-fits-all situation. Whether certs help you get a job depends on your area of expertise, how long you've been at it, and the general mind-set of the manager considering your resume.

I realize "it depends" is not an answer anyone is particularly satisfied with, even though it's true. To help get some more focus on it, I've asked six internal IT managers in our company whether they look for certs in resumes they review and if they carry any weight.

I was surprised that all six were in agreement about this topic. They said it depends. OK, OK, they actually said that they always look for experience first; if there are certificates with it, then great, but it wouldn't affect their hiring decisions. They tend to be suspicious of an individual with a lot of certs, but little to no experience.

Stephen Comstock, Director of Database Operations and Internal Development, lists the order in which he would actually talk to candidates:

  • Individuals with direct experience with the stack
  • Individuals with indirect experience that is similar to the stack
  • Individuals certified with no experience in any related stack (highly unlikely unless it was a very specialized and specific need).

Jason Kees, Director of Communications Services and Information Security, says, "Filtering those candidates out who have sought out the certificate in order to become a master of that domain vs, having a piece of paper is difficult. I personally put more emphasis into related experience and attitude in prior roles then I do in certs. I also steer far clear of those candidates that have lots of certs."

Jim Ketcham, Director Aud Dev Engineering, who hires for entry-level positions tends to agree with Jason Trester, Senior Manager of CNET Engineering, when he says,  "Certifications tend to be more important for senior level hires. It shows a "continued interest" in their craft. Professionals with certifications, especially multiple certifications over a longer period of time, tend to enjoy what they do. I also like to see certifications on resumes whenever there is a gap in employment. It shows their level of dedication and willingness to go the extra mile." Jason's order of priority is:

  1. Formal education
  2. Professional experience
  3. Personal experience
  4. Certifications

Doug Lane, Director of Site Reliability and Performance Engineering, says, "The MySQL DBA certifications are valuable to me, since we support so many instances of that. Frankly, the Java and MS certs became less valuable due to the number of those who were just paper certified but not actually practitioners."


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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