Leadership optimize

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."

About

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.

44 comments
ciscohite
ciscohite

There are certain certifications which are still in very heavy demand. When I was preparing for my CCIE... it was the most sought after certification but it seemed to have been replaced my other variants of CCIE and PMP had evolved as another salary fetching cert. free exam simulators for all these certs can be found at - http://www.ebrahma.com/practice-exam/

cieronimo
cieronimo

Some of the most incompetent people I have met throughout my career hid behind paper certifications called degrees???

iworsfold
iworsfold

I for one have a number of Certifications, but I not got them for the sake of just getting them. The reason for me is that i have a genuine interest in the technology. And as new versions of technology come out, so does new version of the certifications. Take the MS certs. Why should someone who has got an MCSE in Windows 2000, 2003 and then an MCITP in 2008 be pushed to one side because of the number of certifications they have. Clearly the person has an interest in new technology and always wants to be in line or ahead of the times. However i do agree that maybe a person who has Certifications that do not relate to each other in any clear way would be concerning. An example would be a person who has a VCP, CCNA Voice, and an Oracle Application Developer would be concerning as you can see the person clearly does not know which area of IT he/she wants to pursue. My advice would be to look at the job you???re applying for a tailor the CV towards that job putting down only the certifications that are relevant to the position. There is no point putting down you've got CCA, VCP and MCITP Virtualization when all they are running is VMware VSphere. But at the end of the day, real world experience will always win over certifications because as others have said if you mess up in the real world, you can't just walk away and come back two weeks later to try again.

Professor8
Professor8

I hardly see any job ads that demand certifications... But then I hardly see any ads for real jobs (full-time, long-term, developing software products rather than being on the programming services or tech support or sys admin or DBA or SQA tread-mills). I hardly see any job ads that have e-mail addresses and phone numbers of actual hiring managers. I do see a few job ads with strained grab-bags of "requirements" and duties that seem to constitute 3 or more jobs -- e.g. secretary-tech support-software product architect, DBA-sys admin-statistician, mathematician-software engineer-data entry clone, biochemist-programmer-janitor must have PhD and at least 2 post-docs for this one, mechanical engineer - senior analyst - SQA test-monkey - tools architect, cable stretcher-product manager-software engineer, prototype inventor - sales-clone or seeing-eye-dog for sales-clone - closet-nerd, economist-statistician-mathematician-junior programmer. The first people who talked with me about certs and licensing were striving to create barriers to entry into the field so that they could boost their own pay, prestige, etc., so I've never valued certs. The tests I've seen were rather lame, not an indicator of savvy but of being an excellent player of trivial pursuits. "starting out as a CICS/DL1 programmer - MVS JCL, TSO, etc." My condolences, but it's never too late to turn away from the dark side and be redeemed. "Took me a week, but I managed it (picked up a copy of 'UNIX for Dummies', figured it out)" Way to go; dum spiro spero! But then, tsk tsk, you slipped back to the old ways "SQL Server and DB2". I dare not mention the first system on which I programmed but this last couple weeks I've been studying iOS/Cocoa Touch with an eye to the iPad (though with some dissatisfaction with privacy and security related to Core Location blabbing the device's location to one and all; there needs to be a way to totally shut it off). When picking up a new programming language, operating system, or framew-work set, I tend to read 3-6 books (each one filling in some of the holes and mistakes from the others), then, when I can afford it, take a class so I can grill the instructor about things not clearly described in the books and for which I haven't been able to develop good experiments, until I can get inside the skulls of the designers enough to see the direction they were going, and then apply it on the job. (Others prefer to start with sample code and just dink. Or start with a class. Or jump in trying to implement an application they thought should exist but never found, and looking things up on the web as they go.)

tbmay
tbmay

The market values what it values. It really doesn't matter how certified, degreed, skilled, or talented you are, if the market doesn't value them at a rate you can be happy with. That doesn't mean you're any less certified, degreed, skilled, or talented. Some very smart people are not valued by the market. It only means the market doesn't value the skills as much as you do. There is a lot of confusion about technical valuation. Chip Camden wrote an article about free software that is not completely irrelevant to this discussion. We like to pick apart details (Are certs valuable, etc.), but there is a larger dynamic going on for this to even come up. Certs specifically...my suspicion is the market has been flooded by not only people who are attaching alphabet soup to their names, but also with cert offerings themselves from the vendors. The real beneficiaries are the cert vendors. I am certified. I never attached the acronyms to my mail sig, etc....on purpose...but they are on my portfolio/resume. I am not sure I am going through the aggrevation...and the EXPENSE..of keeping them current though because I am not sure they offer any real market value now. There are a bagilion of them now. Which ones can one isolate as being the right ones for him/her?

yattwood
yattwood

I am a terrible test taker; I simply do not do well on tests. I have been in IT since 1982, starting out as a CICS/DL1 programmer - MVS JCL, TSO, etc. Then, became an IMS/DL1 DBA One year, the one person in my shop that knew Oracle/UNIX went out on extended leave - the books were put on my desk, and I was told: "Install Oracle (7.0.13) on NCR UNIX!" Didn't know UNIX. Didn't know Oracle. Took me a week, but I managed it (picked up a copy of 'UNIX for Dummies', figured it out) And my story is probably pretty typical of many people in IT - have done SQL Server and DB2 pretty much the same way, because there is either a critical path and/or lack of budget for formal training. Have gone through three (3) data center moves, dealing with outsource companies - I find the people very bright, tons of certifications - drop them in a "It's 2 AM, the major production Oracle database is down during a Financial Close" - and they simply do not know what to do. The best IT people are those who figure out how to swim and survive after being thrown to the sharks - not necessarily the ones with all the paper.

Diana8
Diana8

Most resumes submitted online or thru other established channels are never heard from again. Whether or not certification matters depends on how or even if these resumes are reviewed. Certification matters if HR clerks with limited knowledge or if automation scans resumes for very specific qualifications. Certification matters less if hiring managers review resumes more critically and assess success stories and achievement statements. Certification is totally irrelevant if submitted resumes are not considered. And then there is networking. For all the websites in place to collect resumes formally, many interviews are obtained thru personal connections. In this case, its about companies short-cutting all the processes in place and zeroing in on someones friend. In other words, it depends on the whims of the person making the referral and the hiring personnel and there may be a lot of flexibility in justifying why the favored individual was hired. Diana http://www.StartFreelancingAndConsulting.com : How to take control of your life and make great money quickly as a solopro.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

It doesn't matter what your opinion is. Federal workers are required to have certain certifications. If you don't have the certs when you get the job you will be required to get them within a reasonable amount of time. Certs are also used to show who is ready for promotion.

jwesleycooper
jwesleycooper

My career advisor had been trying to push me into getting some certs, (which simply isn't fiscally possible right now) but seeing as I have virtually no professional experience, reading this pretty much tells me that I'd just be wasting my time and money. Thanks for the advice Toni, I'll probably share this with my advisor as well!

bill
bill

I have over 30 years experience and have always been doing the job rather than the certs, but was the company I worked for went to the wall. Now I can't get past the re recruitment agency filters to get my CV on the desks of the people who make the decisions. So certs do matter but not to do the job, just get it.

Gadz00ks
Gadz00ks

In my experience, the value of any cert is based on the scope and nature of your job duties. If your job functions substantiate your certs then I believe there is a higher value associated with obtaining that particular cert. Their value seems to be relative to your experience in your craft. Formal education serves as a baseline for many managers to judge administrative abilities like communication, teamwork, organization, and focus. From what I have seen ,both are required to maintain an advantage in this market.

Guitarpwayer
Guitarpwayer

I think there is a difference between education and degrees or certs, and it's unfortunate when people equate them. Degrees and certs can be indicative of education and knowledge, but they are not always so. Experience can also be indicative of education, but not always so. Hiring managers and HR people and job seekers need to come off their reliance on paper as proof. Those with degrees/certs need to come off their high horses, those without degrees/certs need to realize that they have to prove themselves in different ways.

neuralping
neuralping

You won't become proficient (Certified) in the use of any MS or CISCO products with one or 2 weeks training. The product vendors know only to well the disparty between knowing how a product works and actually implementing it are entirely different. You learn by doing by becoming fully engaged in the task is the only way it is engrained into you muscle memory. The time to assimulate new tasks diffesr from person but takes longer than one or two especially without a frame of reference and in some cases you just have to wait for the neural network to build itself in the absence of any prior knowledge. Having a certification and/or degree does not equate to the ability to make good decisions from sparse information. I wonder what the measure of adequacy was before degrees and certifications?

itguy1111
itguy1111

Having certs can open a few doors. However, I think that experience comes first, especially in this job market. Having someone on staff that is able to administer a technical interview is key so that a company does not waste time bringing in someone that talks really well, but doesn't have the skill to match. Unfortunately, acquiring certs is fairly easy nowadays, so as far as I am concerned their overall value is decreasing. This is especially true given the existence of braindump sites and other sites that offer test questions for a fee.

sermic
sermic

With the amount of unemployed IT people out there, we see a lot of fluff in resumes where experience is claimed (circular file). However, experience should be backed up with formal education. I have a lot more respect for people that go that extra mile to get a degree. It doesn't even have to be a degree in IT, believe or not. It is the ability to survive the process and see it through to the end. The one thing I can't stand is a person that doesn't know how to write, document, communicate, and follow processes. That is another reason why a formal Ed. is important as well. However, there are those with a formal degree, even a master's or doctorate, that have the brain of a Cro-Magnon. Just take a look at your own organization and you will find them here and there. :-) As far as certs go, it all depends when, why, and how they got them. They are not that important to me, but it is a fact that due to the competition in the field, company's are asking for certain certs. One would be wise to read the writing on the wall as anything can happen in today's economy. This is to say that although we may not find cert's important, some companies, not the individual, may mandate it as a requirement. My list would be as what was originally suggested.

tommy
tommy

In my experience, certification can help get you started in the industry. Having had zero, or very little experience, a potential candidate for a role can demonstrate that they (supposedly) have some knowledge about the subject. Having interviewed any number of tech' candidates, my preference would be for the individual with demonstrable experience over paperwork any day. The last time I mentored an MCSE, he wasn't confident enough to build a network of three PC's and a switch. The last degree qualified candidate I interviewed - supposedly qualified with an IT Degree, not Art History or similar - couldn't tell me which class of network a 192.168.1.0 address was on. Utterly useless! The best candidate I saw recently was one who had one qualification, CompTIA A+, but more importantly had bags of enthusiasm and a a six month apprenticeship with on the job training. Give the man a job!

dwygonow
dwygonow

I have met quite a few well educated individuals who were as dumb as a box of rocks when it came to real world situations. I have yet to see two shops do things the same way as well. Real world experience is # 1 on the list and should be.

mustang84
mustang84

Certs, like degrees (formal education), and experience are all in the eye of the beholder. I've had bosses who refused to let me interview people without a Bachelor's degree. Or tried to low-ball their salary requests because they didn't have a degree. To each his/her own. I'm sure they think they're right, even if they're ultimately wrong.

Fahim@sickkids
Fahim@sickkids

Formal education? I am trying to remember what was the last thing i did that came out of my formal education (i.e.: degree). despite the fact that there are many paper cert available who seems to have too many cert listed, this should not give recruiter/manager idea that the guy with couple of cert sitting in front of them during interview, is one of those (paper cert). If the interview has started on wrong foot, how do you wish to get a good candidate to do your job? Also, IT guys tend to get certified on areas where they might not have core work experience. whats wrong with it? Employers should stop asking for 10 required skills if the hire is only going to do 2 things.

xangpow
xangpow

" ... 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." I tried for YEARS I tried to get a job withOUT certs or degree going on experiance only. Guess how many jobs I got? Zero (0) Sure, once someone found out I knew about computers they would ask "Oh hey can you look at my computer?" but they never led me to a job. After I got a few certs, I had some job offers. So YES getting certs matter. One guy even told me that for insurance purposes he couldnt not hire me without certs.

smankinson
smankinson

I do a lot of looking around on LinkedIn. I see a consistent pattern of those having the 'better' jobs have more formal (or just better) education. You will not see many people putting their certs on their profiles. Best example I think of right now are those with MBA's with IT emphasis. And I am not talking about the goofy colleges that have popped over the last 10 years. Do not take this wrong - those of you defending the certs, why do you feel the need to?

skq01
skq01

Well, I have many years of experience, however, I'm seeing tons of ads with the requirement for certs.

dlevans
dlevans

Certificatons wind up being a tie-breaker. To me I'd rather have a new employee with certifiable experience, trainable (we all do the same thing - just differently), and last but not least... a team player. I doesn't matter how good the employee is, or how much education they have, or how many cerifications they have... you can't fit a square peg in a round hole.

gjm123
gjm123

I'm moving house. And country. Having certification is a demonstration of an ability to study and of having a level of knowledge. Experience is absolutely imperative though - I have worked with many 'book' MCSEs and frankly wouldn't expect many of them to be able to log on to a server, let alone administer an environment. A cert will certainly help to get your foot in the door and give you a chance to talk. without it, you could find yourself left outside.

jkameleon
jkameleon

Sucking the last dimes out of the unemployed.

mattouellette
mattouellette

I'm mixed on the subject. I say it depends on the hiring manager for sure. But I will say that I believe they are important as a goal/mind set/motivator to help you stay on top of the game by always learning new things to add to your knowledge base. Truth is taking a cert on linux when you run an all windows environment may not directly affect your job but it gets you to think outside of the box which could pop a resolution into your head.

maclovin
maclovin

"1. Formal Education" WTH? You mean having a degree is more important than ANY level of experience, or certs? Given the costs of college alone these days... And, not to mention the fact that many degree programs give you less practical experience than even any certification programs. List should be, IMO: 1. Professional Experience 2. Certifications 3. Personal Experience 4. Formal Education Then again, that's just my opinion.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Often as not, any replies to a job posting will have to make it past the HR shredder before an IT manager even sees it. If the resume doesn't hit all the keywords and have all of the certs listed, chances are that the IT manager will never see it anyway.

sboverie
sboverie

The problem with responding to an ad is the HR filter; not to mention the hundreds of resumes that come in. This was a problem that started decades ago with the increase in reliance on HR to be the entry point for jobs. As you point out, the better way is to network your way to the hiring manager to get past the HR filters. I have several certifications but do not consider them to represent my abilities. The qualities that make me shine are not testable with certifications. My two cents worth is that real experence trumps certification and even formal education. Formal education is a big plus but does not show expertise. I would look at the experience first, formal education and then certification. There is a small advantage to certification and that is to show a track of personal improvement if the certifications are not clustered at the beginning of your career.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

There is a need for classroom training in basic electronics (DC & AC theory, semiconductors and basic logic), but then an apprenticeship would provide the needed experience and polish.

bill.becker
bill.becker

The whole college thing is overblown. How many people do you know where their current job has NOTHING to do with his or her degree. Unfortunately it is HR's fault...which is why you should never go thru HR to land a job. In the age of LinkedIn and other networking opportunities you need to work your contacts and the contacts of the people you know. It's hard work but as someone once said..."If it was easy...everyone would be doing it." I'd much rather have my much in my own hands than waiting for someone to call me back.

Bob_or_Fred
Bob_or_Fred

I would expect the people defending the certs are doing it for the same reason that people with formal education defend that. You spend a lot of time, money and effort to achieve that and you want others to respect and value it. I would say it is also heavily dependent on what platform the certs are for. MS Server certs won't get you much because there are so many people with experience that trumps it. SQL server certs will get you even less because they aren't going to let anyone who has no experience, just certs, actually have that much control in a database. (nor should they) CompTIA certs don't seem to have any influence, as they're too general and basic to be applicable. Cisco certs are the only one I've taken that were actually challenging, but even then they suffer from the same problems as SQL certs. Nobody's going to give someone without experience deep control, no matter how many certs they have. Certs will help you get your foot in the door, but that's all you really can count on them for.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

...that at least you have enough interest in the field to spend the time and money to get certified. That makes a huge difference in an interview.

tommy
tommy

I've noticed that too, especially with regards the upper end of the market. Why a degree in some strange esoteric subject is better then no degree in anything, but with many, many years experience is beyond me. However, at the top tier, the people doing the hiring will tend to be business animals. Having very limited technical experience themselves, they will look to the paperwork for guidance. In that respect, a senior IT manager with many years of experience and an MBA would be a worthy employee for obvious reasons.

erh7771
erh7771

...verification of knowledge at one time in the person life. There are plenty of certs that can't be crammed on either....OCMJ, Informatica, Cisco certs to name a few

adelacuesta
adelacuesta

It just escalates the cost of services rendered. A really simple job that can be had in training can demand big $$$ coz of this cert thingie. Economics today, the HS grad jobs are being grabbed by those who had MS degrees just to survive... Just saying

jlcrowe
jlcrowe

No more than the $60K student loan that eventually is defaulted on. Well, there is one difference, it's hard to default on a $300 certification test.

rfolden
rfolden

"Truth is taking a cert on linux when you run an all windows environment may not directly affect your job but it gets you to think outside of the box which could pop a resolution into your head" Troubleshooting an OS is troubleshooting an OS. GNU/Linux has nothing to do with with thinking outside the box. You cannot (necessarily) edit a text file in Windows and expect a miracle. Likewise, "regedit" gets you nowhere in GNU/Linux. I have no problem in being poly-OS cognizant, however, I would say that my being UNIX/Linux/PICK/MPE-IX/OS400/Blah certified has much bearing on my Windows "skillz." I find that not giving up until you find a solution on any OS makes you more valuable on that particular OS.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

I would agree with you for real world sake but I'd say the certs are more important. It's the X factor that affects your salary. You can spur out all your professional experience but there simply isn't anyway to prove them to be real unless they hire you. Most HR or hiring managers just simply don take this risk anymore. Certificates are at least justifiable. I'm one who has just a diploma, 5 years of experience in the IT world and zero professional certs. To be honest, I make less than my peers who are well decorated with certs and knows nothing. It's a sad sad world.

xangpow
xangpow

I completly agree with you but my list would be: 1. Professional Experience 2. Personal Experience 3. Certifications 4. Formal Education I mean after all a cert is just a pice of paper and you can find the answers to many cert exams online. Experiance above all else.

Professor8
Professor8

Well, of course, first it has to get by the retained immigration lawyers. Only if they can't find enough pretexts to reject all US applicants does it go to the HR clones. And only if both the immigration lawyers AND the HR clones can't find an excuse to declare all US applicants "unqualified" or "uninterested" does it go to the secretary/administrative assistant of the hiring manager (whether that be a real manager at a software/hardware product shop, or only an IT manager riding herd on in-house nerds and data processors). The secretary/administrative assistant gets another shot at narrowing it down before it reaches the actual hiring manager and they start thinking about holding an actual interview. And then of those interviewed, they pick the top 1%-2%, and then dash off another editorial about the "turrrrible talent shortage". If they ignored the buzz-words and certs and "talent management systems", and instead spent a 20th of the effort to actually seek out talent that they do on rejecting the many able and willing applicants the field would be far better and far more productive.

JGregory
JGregory

I don't believe that the issue rests with HR in all companies. Requirements for IT candidates need to be correctly communicated to HR personnel by the IT people that are requesting the resource. Good HR recruiters work with LinkedIn and similar sites to find qualified candidates. I'm an IT not an HR person, but I know that the highest level of our HR managment team tends to look for experience in the areas required. When seeing a resume with a lot of education or certs, they tend to review the candidate with an eye towards "what can the person actually do?". I think a lot has to do with the size of the hiring company.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

It's convincing evidence that you can and will take on a heavy learning load, even if it's not in the field you're applying for. In the case on an English major,, it also shows your not looking to get rich.

dswope79
dswope79

I agree with this! The only Certs that hold up IMO are the higher level Cisco certs (CCIE). You can't just take a bootcamp and pass a CCIE written/lab. Experience is king and always will be!