Leadership

What's better—An IT degree or tech certifications?


Frankly, it would be easier to solve the age-old question "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" than to ever reach a consensus on the question of whether it's better for an IT pro to have a technical degree or certifications.

It may be one of the oldest, yet most hotly debated, issues ever to post on TechRepublic.

It's constantly debated because there are no clear-cut answers. So I'm not going to throw out any concrete facts and I can't hope to change anyone's mind on the matter, but here are a few things to consider when weighing the benefits of a degree vs. a cert.

First of all, keep in mind that the degree/certification matter is only a part of what you should concern yourself with when you're marketing yourself for a new job or a better position. Degrees and certifications may comprise the bulk of your "calling card," but you should not depend on either to be the overall marketing strategy for what you're selling to potential employers -- yourself.

Once you get into a job, above anything else, your employer will want to see you as a person who can get the job done and do it in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. No one is going to temper your good results because you lack credentials.

However, this is IT, one of the most constantly changing industries there is. Keeping up with technology is important, and certifications demonstrate that.

Who's going to see your resume?

Another variable in this equation is whether an HR person or an IT manager is the one looking at your resume. Unless specifically instructed otherwise, the chances are that an HR person is going to respond to the presence of a degree before a jumble of Microsoft acronyms. In this way, "Bachelor's degree" is a universal language. Is that a reason against certs? Not at all, just something to keep in mind.

The flip side is that if you have an HR person who does a lot of tech hiring, you might get someone who knows all of the certifications and simply uses that as a criterion to filter candidates. For example, if you are applying for a job as a Windows administrator, you must have an MCSE to be seriously considered for the job.

If a technical person, however, is vetting the resumes, it helps if you have some certifications. It's a language a technical person speaks.

And another possibility to consider is that if the person doing the hiring is an "academic" sort, he may be of the mindset that if he suffered through getting a degree, it's the very least he would expect from you.

Like I said, there are really no hard-core facts here, just things to consider.

The perception

There are lots of good reasons to get a degree, both personal and professional. In the eyes of some employers, a completed four-year degree shows that you can finish what you start. It gives them an idea of your dedication and work ethic. And, as an article from DataStronghold.com says, "Through the courses covered in a four-year degree, students are given the opportunity to learn a variety of skills in different portions of the major they have chosen. Technical as well as analytical talents are developed and tested."

On the other hand, degrees can become dated. Certifications have to be renewed as technology evolves. You may have earned a computer science degree 10 years ago, but that doesn't ensure that you've demonstrated proficiency recently. A certification does.

The timeline

The timeline is a very important factor in the degree/cert question. Let's say you've been in a job for five years and you haven't been promoted because of a company policy requiring managers to have degrees. Then, by all means, you might want to explore the option of going back to school. But if there is no formal policy and you haven't been promoted, it may be because of something that neither a degree nor certification would have any influence over. In other words, don't waste money on a four-year degree if the problem is you're a general pain in the butt or don't show any initiative in other ways.

A solution may be to pursue a goal that could be achieved in a shorter time span to show your desire to better yourself. And that could take form in a certification.

The power of specificity

We've all heard stories like the guy who has a Masters degree in Computer Science but can't figure out a simple problem that anyone with an A+ cert could. That could be an issue of specificity. Some IT shops only have the budget for a "Tech of all Trades" so to speak. But some have the luxury of being able to hire those with specialties and that's where a cert does some talking.

I asked Ramon Padilla, an experienced IT manager, what he looks for in a job candidate -- a degree or certs, and he said it depends:

"If I am looking at a highly technical position (DBA, network engineer, etc.) then I lean more heavily toward certification. Someone with experience and a CCNA or CCIE for Cisco equipment or Oracle certifications for database admin goes further with me than someone with a generic IT degree. However, if I'm looking at a managerial, administrative, or analyst type position, the degree is more valuable."

Renewable knowledge

As I said, degrees can become dated. Certifications have to be renewed as technology evolves. Degrees can prepare the foundation for dealing with technology, but you can't generalize everything. Let's use a car analogy: You may be a mechanical person who is used to taking apart muscle car engines with your eyes closed. But that may not help much if the electronic sensors fail in your new car.

The answer to the age-old question of degrees vs. certifications is "it depends." Depends on the specifics of the job, on the person doing the hiring, and on your capabilities in general.

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.

166 comments
dm185090
dm185090

I worked 10.5 years with Lucent Technologies then took an early out. I worked as a retail field service tech, then as an on-site contractor at Limited Brands where I was pigeon-holed into solely a technical field support specialist. I wanted to learn to configure mobile devices (SCOM) but the contract prevented me. Now, just recently laid off after they went with a competitor, my re'sume' gets a good first look but falls way short of producing interviews because my experience is either viewed as dated or lacks the quality it should have. I am starting to reconsider continuing with IT at all as I am nearly 60.

BigD21489
BigD21489

I started a tech business, when I was 15. I started, just fixing and optimizing computers, on my own. Now, I still do it on my own, I just offer a whole lot more. I've gotten into web development in the past 4 or 5 years, and I do graphic design, so I offer flier and poster design. There are many jobs that stem from the core ones.

bmossberger
bmossberger

As a Certified Cisco Systems Instructor for nearly 15 years, half the instructors I worked with have degrees (approx) and half don't. The best instructor I ever worked with did not. The guy who had been teaching longer than any other did. The Cert guys tended to come from a self-employment/corp background, the Degree'd guys tended to come from Corp jobs/academia. The highest paid guys I have ever met tended to be Cert guys, but I think that's because of their Entrepreneurial mindset more than their technical expertise. Just something I noticed..

shakilart
shakilart

thanks to writer. you solve my problem. with the help of this article i am so much convinced that. because i dont have enough money and time to achieve degree... now the certification is the best choice for me. thanks to write.

Darrell.Kirby
Darrell.Kirby

I have an Advanced IT degree and certifications. I have been in the field for over 25 years and actually started out by going to a Technical school for 1 year. During that time a Tech School degree was great! Certifications are excellent in certain areas to sometimes prove you know what you are doing. It certainly can kick start a career and get your foot in the door. Certifications do end and IT degrees last forever. I not only work in the field but I teach IT College level classes. You have to have a degree to teach college level classes. It will certainly depend on where you want to go. There are not many people in Upper IT Management without the Degree. I tell my students that it is great to get certifications while working towards a degree but I would still recommend completing a degree. There is a lot of competition and whatever edge you can have can make a difference, especially in a recession and I have seen a few in my career.

webcoperation
webcoperation

i will advice you to go for your degree.Most people seek for certification in order to get beta offer. Most people are certified oracle master but they can differiantiate btw primary key and foreign key.

meridius10
meridius10

I wish I'd seen these posts before. At the end of the day, my theory outside degrees qualifications etc. is can you do what the employer requires of you? Can you think outside the box and finish a project on your own or with help using the internet/forums? Can you make an improvement to the processes at work so you are doing less work and working more efficiently? Are you prepared to learn something new? My own opinion is that the degrees/qualifications are useful for HR to filter who they will or will not interview. But what is not measured is: a) enthusiasm or interest in what you are doing b) willingness to learn c) ability to get yourself outside of a tricky situation when something goes wrong d) lateral thinking An IT guy once told me that they hired someone who had an MCSE and they didn't know how to install Windows XP. The supreme irony is that the Microsoft qualifications are/were signed by someone who didn't finish his degree and does not hold any professional qualifications. At the end of the day, if someone is capable of developing a product, that should be worth more than anything else as it is an achievement in itself. P.S. I don't have any IT qualifications but will have to study for a Microsoft one and perhaps look at a degree. Such is life...

william.relf
william.relf

I am a young professional with a Degree and I am also an MCP. In my limited experience I find employers look at my degree first and see the certification as an added bonus. Another aspect to consider is the social influence on the employer. I am British, English to be specific (rather than Irish, Scottish or Welsh), and as such live within a nation were tradition is of most importance. Therefore a Bachelor of Science Honers Degree in Computer Science is a must for most (not all) mid-sized to large companies, which in Great Britain (the clue is in the name) is not a bad thing. British Degrees are international renowned for being of a 'higher' quality to their foreign counterparts. The curriculum is updated yearly ensuring students receive knowledge of the latest technologies and methodologies in all IT disciplines from management to technical support. And as well as the functional knowledge one would get out of a certification a British Degree also drills down to a granular analytical level, as one would expect. Because of this, British Companies (and most of the EU) take advantage of fresh graduates as they fundamentally have a general equivalent to a certification in almost every key area of IT, certifications then simply act as a top-up keeping the degree valid, that is why most British professionals hold both. The overhead is a small one as well. There is a small learning curve as once an individual has managed to consume a British Degree certifications becomes child play, as Americans would say "We eat them for breakfast!", Also being a British Monarchy with a democratic government things are done properly, the government will pay for your University education as well as your accommodation learning materials and, on top of that, they will give you ??30 (about $50) pocket money a week, mainly for a couple of (imperial - 1/3 larger than US) pints. Therefore, no one has an excuse not to be highly educated, of course that is if you meet the strict British University entry grades (UCAS points). So in conclusion the Social influence is important in dictating the attitude of employers over degrees verses certifications, in Britain where education is a large part of our 4000 years of culture and 3000 years of civilisation, a Degree will always trump a certification, at least at first.

SDNetService
SDNetService

Here's a slightly different way to ask the question: Would you prefer to hire someone with a degree and 5 years experience, or someone who has five years of experience and has completed a couple of relevant certifications? How about someone with a degree and a few certification courses, but no experience? Not so common, but what about the person who has certifications without experience? How do you feel about a candidate with five years experience, but no degree or certifications? The trump card is experience. Most people that I've encountered with industry certifications have completed their exams while actively working in the field, giving them that great combination of theory and practice. In a number of situations, I would still give an edge to the degree-holding candidate. A co-op degree (bonus! real world experience!!) is at the top of the list. And there are still cases where attitude & enthusiasm makes up the winning hand. I can build technical skills pretty easily with someone who shows interest, commitment, and an ability to work with people.

Comiter
Comiter

i think that.. ( imaging that !!) first thank you about this good post.. then.. i think that the degree and cert like keys in database.. so the degree as th foreign key and the cert like primary key ..so there is strong relation between the tow keys

welchrt
welchrt

True, use certs to advance and make it easier to get that degree. Some schools take certs, into account.

sean
sean

I have taught Software Engineering at Post Grad level at university and teach the MCSE/MCSD/CCNA range of certs currently. I have had to prepare training material at both levels as well. I have a degree and I'm constantly pursuing the additional value that certs provide. During university grounding the focus initially is on WHAT the technology is capable of doing. This is the focus of the teaching thrust for the 1st 18months of the classic degree. It is at this stage that the certs have more value because the topics taught during the certs are far more current and the expected pass mark is far higher than what is required at any university. After the undergrad is given sufficient grounding in WHAT the technology is capable of, the university education system starts layering knowledge about the WHO, WHY, WHEN, HOW about that techology on top of the WHAT that was covered in the initial 18 months. At this point in time certs begin to become limiting since they are usually specific to a given vendor and to a specific version of the techonology being studied. The university education then starts to challenge the graduate to think beyonds the technology and demands of the graduate an innovative mindset that forces that graduate to create something new that can add value to the industry. This approach has seen many new operating systems and applications being incubated at universities, while the same cannot be said for institutions that generate certified professionals. The depth to which universities take the knowledge taught differs hugely from what is required as part of the certification process. If the skill requirement was simply to ensure that a given person can make use of a given piece of technology, then the cert route will accomplish that more effectively than a degree would. If the person is seen as the acquisition of an asset into the organisation with a career path that will eventually expect that individual to accept some form of leadership role within the organisation, then the certification process is lacking in its preparation of the kind of foundation and provision of the contextualisation and fundamentals that are required of such an asset. When the universities submit their candidates to the certification bodies for exams, instead of accrediting them internally, then these universities will have a winning formula. Where the certification institutions embark on a more complete coverage of the academic material, not sticking solely to the Vendor Official Curriculum, but laying the correct academic foundation, contextualising the topics in their courses beyond just the vision of the vendor and when the certification process encourages innovation that can jeopardise the vendors' postions, then the certification institutions will have closed the education gap to meet the university.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

If your goal is to work for a Microsoft Partner, you'd better have certs. First, the partners are REQUIRED to have a certain number of members on staff who have certifications and who have 'associated' themselves to the partner. Additionally, when a company is sub-contracting you out, the customer is going to expect that you are certified. When bidding on contracts, it is standard practice to include the resumes (CVs) and transcripts of all proposed members of the team. One of my recent contracts was for a Microsoft Gold Partner in Finland -- and I was interviewing people for new positions. One guy who applied had ONE certification for Windows 95 -- yet he was demanding a minimum of 500 Euro ($725 or 372GBP) per day, regardless of the work, or the fact that he had no positive references or work examples of any kind. I only hope he wasn't too badly injured as the door was slammed on his a$$ on the way out! :) If you want to play in the Microsoft world -- the STARTING point is to have the appropriate certifications for whatever it is that you want to do. (A radical departure from the UNIX world, where there are no comparable certifications.) I often encounter people with 'experience' who claim to be the gods of the computing universe -- but when digging into their experience, samples of work and so forth -- a couple of things seem to pop out: 1. That they have experience in only a tiny fraction of a specific set of skills -- whereas the position requires a much broader experience. 2. They highly over-rate their experience and skills. Perhaps these, "I don't need no stinking certs" candidates should actually try putting forth the time, effort and expense to GET the certs? (If they are so $hit-hot, it should be EASY for them -- right?) As was stated in previous posts -- the people who usually minimalize the value of certifications or degrees are usually the people who either haven't got them -- or who couldn't get them if they tried. For those who think the current MCSE and other MS certs are 'easy' to get in a couple of months -- I'd love to put them to the test and see just how easily they really could get them. I know from my own experience, that mastering Active Directory and all the other changes between NT4 and Windows 2000 took me about a year of very serious study to get through. Maybe I'm just 'slow' -- but for me it was a hell of a lot of work. HOWEVER, the results are worth it -- I have a continuous supply of excellent contracts queued up -- while my uncertified and unmotivated friends are borrowing beer money.

RIMMAN.Larry
RIMMAN.Larry

Whenever this discussion pops up, I think it's important that there isn't a further confusion between a "certification" and a "certificate". A certification is generally earned following an extended period of course work by an organization to represent a broad base of knowledge on a specific subject area and it involved a requirement for continuing educational credits in the subject area to remain valid. It can be granted by a Professional body, or related to a specific product. A certificate on the other hand can be granted by essentially anyone, and it simply certifies/verifies that you did something. It certifies a fact, that could range from someone attending a 2 hour workshop, to someone receiving an award for attendance. And anyone can grant ot print a certificate. A degree on the other hand can only be granted by an educational body after satisfying a rigorous set of requirements over a number of years, specializing in one field of study and generalizing in other supporting fields. It indicates a commitment to a long term educational process and can be verified and validated as actually belonging to the holder. Larry Medina RIM Professional since 1972

dm185090
dm185090

@shakilartJust remember that you have to re-certify fairly frequently. I studied my brains out for the CCNA, got a 930 out of a 1000 (if I remembered to do a copy run start in my configuration portion I probably would have aced it). But it didn't help me get a job; the A+ did, and I didn't nearly need to work as hard to get it. I'm frankly bored with fixing PC's, and wish that I made a decision to become a Unix system administrator earlier as I prefer the Unix environment to Windows.

dm185090
dm185090

@Darrell.KirbyWell stated. Unfortunately for me the expense for a degree is out of the question; it just won't yield the benefits versus the large cost. I'm beginning to sense that I may have to count my 20+ professional years experience toward some other gainful employment. I just can't deal with the constant change in this industry. For me to re-enter after being laid off it's staring to become clear that I'll have to accept cheap contract employment at $15.00 per hour for awhile before making a come back. Layoffs in this industry are a killer if you don't prepare. What I want is just to get with a company that supports tuition reimbursement, that first means getting hired and that appears daunting.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

without knowing that. Well not unless you lied your arse off. Lots of degrees in IT you can though.... I'm not a big fan of certs or Oracle, but your reponse is at best misleading

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The government don't give, they lend. I live in Great Britain too, mine's obviously on a different time line though. Also being a British Monarchy with a democratic government things are done properly, the government will pay for your University education as well as your accommodation learning materials and, on top of that, they will give you ??30 (about $50) pocket money a week Presumably you are talking about student loans here? http://graduate.monster.co.uk/8663_en-GB_p1.asp I wonder is the dumb buggers who gave us the banking crisis are as well educated as yourself... Give....

tim.isted
tim.isted

I totally agree with the experiance front. I graduated last July with a degree in network management. 3 months after this I applied for a junior IT administrator post next to a lone contractor in an 120 node manufacturing operation. After 2 months, my Manager (external consultant) decreased his hours by 2/3 to work on other contracts. I found myself thrust into a sys admin job. Ill Prepared and totally overwhelmed, i took to reading this site alongside books, MCSE preparation and got myself enrolled on the A+. 3 months back we were bought out by a multi-national, I am starting to find my feet but its becoming clear that my 'enthusiastic best effort-service' is a cost-saving measure.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

Hey, a Toronto location too. Have you a website someone with experience could watch for job postings on? (send by private mail if you like)

cah1209
cah1209

I graduated six years ago and really didn't get into IT world right away, and when I tried to apply for jobs, most of the jobs were offered were data entries, so sad (on my part anyway). So now I am trying to get some certification and start fresh and now working as an intern as tech support. It's my passion and am willing to start from the bottom.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

No I mean it. :D Some kind of leadership role, as opposed to some kind of management role. Nice to see that there are some who realise that there is a difference. Well your idea would address the weaknesses in both routes. I fear it will extend the length of the courses and thereby increase the cost. Still at least you were upfront about what you do..... If we threw in a years work experience, it would be an IT apprenticeship. Then they could learn off the Professor, the Trainer and Nelly. Sitting By Nelly, is a UK description for learning off the 'guy' who's doing the job now, for those who weren't aware.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

The last time I saw that many strawmen was when the Wizard of Oz was playing on every tv in an electrical retailers. I've encountered exactly the same types of people, with certs and degrees as well. You know the, I don't need no stinking experience types. They were wankers as well. 1 is merely specialisation is it not ? Perhaps you should have worded the vacany better? 2 Degree vs cert, BS vs MS, CCNE vs MCSE.... blah blah blah f'ing blah. As was stated in previous posts, those who most value formal education are those that don't have the self discipline, commitment and knowse to teach themselves. :D Don't give me openings like that, you won't last long enough to be any fun! You want me to take a programming cert, I'll be happy to oblige. Want me to take degree in it, no problem. Stop giving beer money to your mates though, because you're paying for it, I don't need it. That's the bit that scares you guys, I don't have all those debts to pay so I could undercut you. Not fair, waaagh. Well not you personally, I don't do what you do. I know from my own experience that I didn't get to be senior developer at the largest and most succesful IT company in the UK, by being some know nothing uneducated knobhead, because they wouldn't be where they are if that sort of thing went on. You sound remarkably like professor pratt further up the thread by the way. How many of your contracts involve training people so they can get one of these valuable certs? Don't forget continuously employed since 1981, in IT since 1987. Three permanent employers, four contracts. Five different industries. Never in management, so there's no way I could hide the level of incompetence you suggest I must have, for that length of time, from so many.

stephen.jordan
stephen.jordan

Its an intresting question as the two relate to very different things. I'll summarise now its horse's for course's neither really teach you how to troubleshoot. I'm high school education however I was didn't want to complete my degree when I left school. After a couple of years I managed to get a job on a helpdesk and teach myself most things. After a while i moved up into second line, then into management, then back technical 2/3 line. I'm MCSA since 2004, Now i'm studying for a degree. I found the MCSA relivant and knowing how something should work (Even in the microsft world) is really helpfully so that a) i can set it up b) troubleshoot it when it goes wrong. you find you know a lot about a small range of things. I have found with a degree the subject is more broad, ie i know a little about a lot, like java script, HTML, servers, networks, TCP/IP. I'm doing a degree for myself as i've always wanted one, it may help in the future with intiews but we'll see. I'm hopefully gonna self-fund the CCNA course for myself this year as well. I've seen many people at interviews, who have plenty of certifications, and degrees etc but cannot do the job. experience, the ability to think locally, the ability to troubleshoot with a combination of degree or certification or both would be good. if teh person has complete furtehr education at home can have its pluses as well.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

http://www.boxfreeconcepts.com/magicmill/ http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2003-09-28-fakedegrees_x.htm It's attitudes like yours that created the opportunities described above. Personally I hope it continues, then instead of being asked what degree/cert I have, or worse still where did I get it. They ask me what I've done and what I can do. Assess mebased on something they can trust, their own judgement. I use mine all the time. Tony Hopkinson Above average IQ since 1963

william.relf
william.relf

I am not talking about student loans here, sorry I must be more specific, I am talking about Government grants, I was talking from the viewpoint of the typical "I can't afford to go to uni" I have heard too often. The government, if you fall under a certain household income (last time I checked it was about ?25000), will grant you the money for 100% of your tuition fee's as well as, from a separate government department, grant EMA (educational maintenance allowance) of ?30 a week to be spent on "additional needs" in an effort to attract the low income individuals who can meet the grade of university to taking on higher education, this is why I was talking about this when explaining my "low overhead" comment, and the "no excuse" remark. Sorry, like I have said, I should have been a little more specific. I might also add, if I can be so bold, that this is a debate between professional people on a subject which has been widely considered, as such I do not believe there is room for personal insults, when I say "highly educated" I was talking in reference to the comparison of British degrees to their foreign counterparts (no particular nation here), it was not an attempt to force personal grandeur. Again my apologies for any confusion and certainly any insult. A blog should be analytical and most importantly constructive so that we may move towards a common answer to a debate as a collective industry, it should not be used as an opportunity to shake others professional pride, lets move our industry forward together. I was simply highlighting the social impact on employers to further our understanding within the debate, our industry is worldwide, society is a huge influence.

DigitalFrog
DigitalFrog

Our local tech college SAIT (Southern Alberta Institue of Technology) has a program called ITP - Information Technology Professional. A large portion of the curriculum involves successfully completing a number of certifications, including MCSE, MCSD, CNE, etc. They are also required to complete at least one Co-op term where they must spend 2-3 months in a related work environment where there performance is evaluated by their employer. So far, our IT department has had excellent luck with this program, 3 of the students we hosted Co-op terms for were given full time jobs after they completed their programs.

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Look Tony, we all know you have all the experience in the world and don't need any certificates or degree. We all know that you have been employed steadily since the first microchip was invented. Good for you. I never suggested that you personally have any particular problem, but, you are not the only person on the planet who has experience. I've worked in the computer and IT industry since 1979 -- 10 years in Military and the rest (mostly) in the civilian world. I've also never had a problem finding work. When I first started doing software development, I also thought the exams were meaningless bull$hit until I got a wake-up call on the first Microsoft exam I tried. To all the $hit-hot developers who think you can just walk in off the street with all your experience and pass one -- give it a try and find out. If they are so easy, then what's stopping you? Over the past 12 or so years, I HAVE passed a LOT of Microsoft (and other) industry certification exams -- more than 40 of them to be precise. I also teach Microsoft, CompTIA and other programs from time to time. A question that anyone calling themselves an "IT Professional" could be -- WHY WOULDN'T a 'professional' want to spend the time, effort and money to get industry-recognized certifications that are directly related to his/her field of employment? Would you want a doctor working on you who has nothing but 'experience'? Like it or not, most "professional" fields DO have exams. Even plumbers and electricians need to be certified and licensed -- just as lawyers, doctors and dentists. For people opposed to any form of certification or testing -- I have only to wonder whether they feel that their IT work is so unimportant and inconsequential that they simply don't need any validation of knowledge or skills? I handle extremely confidential and sensitive data in some positions. I've trained military engineers how to secure their networks against attack. To do these jobs REQUIRED certifications in many areas for a reason. And what about legal liability for a business (or government) having uncertified people doing these kinds of tasks? Yes, certifications take time. Yes, they take money. So what? If you can increase your income by 10K or 20K per year by having them -- then what's the problem? Many employers will even pick up the bill for certification and training. Sorry, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who refuse to invest in their own education. Some people don't want to be in management -- that's fine. I was a tech for many years and I know a lot of excellent people who won't do anything else. However, if someone DOES happen to want to move into management -- they will quickly find that without a degree a lot of doors are going to be closed. Like it, agree with it or not, that's the way things work today -- and all the whinging and whining about how 'unfair' it is will not change a thing. I'm taking my Master's for two reasons: 1. To open up the doors that were previously closed just because of that little piece of paper, and 2. Because some of the courses are going to help me be a better manager and business operator. Everyone needs to think about their own path and make choices that suit them best. For some people, that means leaning towards the degree, for others, certifications are best. For those who choose to ride on the experience alone, that is a personal choice and if it works for them, great.

Uncle BEEP BEEP!
Uncle BEEP BEEP!

I think you are sore about the fact that you don't have a degree and that pretty much everyone else does If you are so capable, why don't you study for one part time?

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Unfortunately, it today's keyword-based recruitment world, managers, agents and recruiters simply don't have the time to make any kind of evaluation or judgement. They have a pool of tens of thousnds of CVs and resumes to select from, so the process is mostly automated. Your resume is databased and keyworded and only pops up (along with hundreds of others) if you have all the 'right' keywords. (And who decides them -- the hiring manager probably starts, but more likely the HR department who is going to take the 'real' requirements and tack on things like degrees and impossible combinations of certifications and experience.) The process is quite automatic and dehumanized. That's how you get to the 'long list'. Making the short list isn't much better -- human eyes will quickly scan, looking for any reason to toss it out. Too much experience is just as bad as too little. Too many jobs -- you're a hopper -- too few and you're not driven enough -- the list goes on. Here is where they look at the 'optional' or 'desirable' keywords to sort the stack from most desirable to least. The only serious evaluation comes during the interview process and only for the 3 to 5 candidates selected for interviews. I've gotten jobs with as little as a 10 minute telephone interview -- and as long as 5 separate interviews conducted over several weeks -- including a team interview conducted by future co-workers. Without certifications, degrees or whatever keywords are in vogue -- getting to the interview stage is almost impossible unless you have an 'in' to the actual hiring manager and can bypass the crap. Once you actually GET to see the hiring manager, you would have the chance to show-and-tell all you've done, but seldom before. Got a solution?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Most of the time in the industry, if you are using the latest systems, academia's latest is two to four years behind. It takes time to build a course. Certs adress this, but then you end up on the latest version merry-go-round. Worse still many businesses are still on the tried and trusted route. Job before this I was working with Fortran 77 and VMS. Most programming graduates wouldn't feel they had at least clue one, on how to get on with that, and they should! I'm not arguing that you shouldn't get a degree and certs. That would be dumb, that you need them in order to do the job. Well I, and many others are proof that you do not. I telephone interviewed nine highly qualified candidates based on their qualifications, and claimed experience, six of them had lied. That was two years ago, a colleague did some last month, same level of result.... Some of the answers we got back to basic questions that any one with their claimed knowledge would have to know, had us rolling about on the floor, in a very professional manner of course. I mean basic as well, like 'What is transaction', job was client server database developer. The idea that academia can keep up with business is a joke, on that basis, they should be teaching adapt and overcome, not .net 4.0 under Windows 7. For that they need to know the basics and then implementation over several different systems. It's not so much that system is wrong, but the perception is. When you get two people with the same qualifications and one can do the job and one can't, you've got to ask yourself what the qualification means in terms of the industry. What it means to academia and certs providers is quite obvious, money. They only get that if a sizable percentage of people pass.

william.relf
william.relf

I must say I agree with some of your comments regarding the primary and secondary education system, and I am sorry you have personnaly had such a negative experience with it. Although I am aware of issues we do have I suppose I very much have the "Make the most of what we have" mentality. As such, I put aside the problems we do have and make the realisation that the problems make up a fraction of a percent of our nations education system and in fact when one looks at the greater percentage of the system it isn't half bad, and when this is compared to our international counterparts you will be quick to realise exactly how far ahead we are. Sure we have a few issues, but the respect, and in many cases envy, that is paid by educational facilities around the world when looking into the British education system is something which is not earnt for nothing, we have alot to be proud of. That is just the primary and secondary education systems, my original, and follow-up, blog was with regards to our further and higher education system, our Universities. Apart from the "perks" added by the governement they have no further input with regards to the curiculum. This allows the educational facilities such as Cambridge and Oxford University, in participation with local companies, to study exactly what is needed and looked for by employers in the work place. The skills required, and quite importantly, the prefered knowledge required on particular subjects and to what level. With the added achademic strategy of analyticle thinking our British University Degrees are truely something and it then becomes clear why a British higher education, be it a degree, masters or doctorate, are envied the world over, they are not matched. This is why, with reference to my original blog, most (not all) mid-sized to large companies in Great Britian sieze every oppertunity to tap this resource of "freshies" straight from Universities, they provide the knowledge of the latest information systems development trends and technologies, this with a yearly or bi-yearly top up in specialist areas with certifications allows British professionals to be true assets to any organisation. You and I can be proud of what our British professionals have achieved, we are truely becomeing the European leaders of IT inovation, and this impact on our British society, our employers, can only contribute to the greater good of our industry. So, back on topic, the society in which we live will have an impact on whether a Degree is favoured over certifications, for the British IT industry, at least what I believe and what our market trends have proven, is at first a Degree speaks an employers language, they will get a world of real-world and technical knowledge, at the modest of cost of a trainee salery, as years and technology moves on Certifications top-up the knowledge. So, another conclusion, and forgive me if I repeat myself.. In my traditional society a employers find a Degree of most importance at first, it will at least get your foot in the door, then certifications then secure the job in years to come by topping up and specialising the priceless knowledge only offered by a British Degree. Of course there is another a third dimension to this argument, experience, neither a degree or certifications provide experience, yet it is left out of this debate, why? Maybe this is a story for another day...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Of course in my case, in my early twenties, when I would have been graduating, and taking a job as a street cleaner just to get some work (1982). I had a full time proper job and two children. Not excuses you understand, choices and reasons.... As for lauding UK education. When my children were doing their O levels, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Hardest math question on the paper, started 'Without using your calculator'. I could have passed that when I was eleven. My son doing chemistry, hadn't done valences, couldn't balance a chemical equation, he could draw a hazard symbol for irritant though. League tables and such have raised pass rates by lowering quality. The diversification of the curriculum, has frittered away any attempt at teaching them enough to be useful about anything. The so called parental right to choose a school has concentrated investment on a political basis. The massive increase in religious schools is balkanising our society and last but not least ... The continuing prejudice against competition and elitism in state schools means those students who would most benefit our society having been educated competently, are in fact the most disadvantaged at school. I'm a big believer in not throwing rocks about when I live in a greenhouse, so I'm not prepared to criticise anyone elses education system, until there's a bit less to criticise in our own. I've mentored a lot of IT gaduates and worked with many engineering over the course of my career, all I can say is edumacashun isn't all it's cracked up to be. Nice intelligent young people. They knew f'all about the real world though. One technical solution to a small mistep they made, was for some guy to run up and down three flights of steps, to type in a six digit number, every five minutes for eight hours....... I must confess I was seriously tempted to let them put that forward to the big hairy uneducated blokes on the shop floor. It would have been interesting to hear their appraisal of the UK education system. Your professional pride is something I cannot comment on, your pride in the UK education system, I can and will.

dm185090
dm185090

@DigitalFrog That is what I'm talking about. What really matters is the end result -- getting and holding a job.

william.relf
william.relf

There has been an instance of exactly that in recent years at my company. The CV details both a wonderful Degree result as well as a number of solid certifications in the relevant field. However, when the individual started to work the world of knowledge was not being applied, he/she simply didn't know how to apply it. The CV wasn't lying, the person did get fantastic results and did hold the perfect combination of certifications for the role, all this proved in this case was the individual was excellent at memorising and expressing large amounts of information, unfortunately for my company he/she did not know what the information meant, nor how to use it. This was a gamble like any other when hiring employees, unfortunately this one did not pay off despite the great odds advertised.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and I've never been hungry enough to taste it. :D I was saying that when a firm takes on a new employee, they are taking a gamble. They might have certs, they might be from a brain dump. They might have degree, it may have come from a diploma mill. They may have neither, but a good cv/resume, which of course could be a total fabrication. However if they pick some bright young people and groom and educate them, in an ongoing exercise where the unacceptable get dumped early, they will know what they've got. They could also get something that many company's want but never get because they don't show it, loyalty.....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's a tried, trusted and very successful method of getting the people you want, and knowing they are. Even those who don't make it tend to find places somewhere initially less exacting, and they've got to be a hundred times better than someone straight out of the classroom who thinks the world owes them a living. I got my first job off the much cheaper version, welfare to work program, called YTS, or was it YOP. Too long ago.... For those companies who think it's too expensive, and admittedly you need to be either very small or fairly large for this to work. How much does it cost you to keep opening these cans with potentially the wrong label on them and then taste the contents to see whether, it's Cambell's meatballs or dog food?

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

When I visited some friends in Red Deer, they showed me a classroom at the College (can't remember which one), where it was completely fitted by one of the local corporations. In this strategy, I believe the local corp hoped to get brand recognition, and probably had an 'in' come graduation day to get the pick of the litter. Intel also did the same thing in St. Lawrence College in Kingston -- providing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipement for the Computer Engineering Technology program. In this case, Intel got a huge benefit through brand loyalty and experience with their development tools and processors. Currently, Microsoft, in conjunction with Microsoft training partners in Finland has formed the "Microsoft Academy" -- a program where students alternate between taking official curriculum programs, and working on-the-job with the partner companies who hope to hire the newly minted graduates. (With certs no less.) Unfortunately, I have seem some abuses of the program. In one company, many of the senior Microsoft developers, after working with the fresh academy graduates, were given the boot. While not an unusual occurrance (such as in H1-B train-your-replacement-from-India programs), this one had a twist. Not only were they getting rid of the senior people, but started billing out the fresh academy grads at full rates they charged for the senior, experienced people. Of course, this was only one case, but an interesting one. The company also opened a small office in St. Petersburg (Russia) and hired Russian developers who would 'commute' to Helsinki and be placed on work assignments at the customer sites. (Billing rate 750 Euro per day -- about 100 to the developer.) I think the military has probably the best program for training technicians -- a combination of classroom instruction, practical hands-on experience (on-job-training) followed by a 'sign-off' process when they can demonstrate the skills to a specified standard. Unfortunately, many good systems are not workable in private industry.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

all the propaganda as well. Besides, I'm well aware that there a parts of the products that I haven't used. Now I could rely on my intuition and general knowse to pick what should be the right answer. But common sense told me you can't print from Office 2007 !. No vibile button = puzzled? Who thought that up by the way, what a f'ing muppet. I'd have to do some sort of prep for an exam, just to be confident that I didn't need it. I aren't one of those people who think youi can walk in off the street and do one. I didn't think that in 96, never mind now they've apparently been beefed up somewhat. So brain dump, Marty's Training, old exam papers and my MSDN license, something would have to be done. Once per year per version, per product per platorm for a guy who remembers earning less than ?25 a week, ?40 is a lot. Especially as I'm never going to see it again. No one is offering to pay me more if I've got them are they?

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

When someone takes a Microsoft exam, the only ones to benefit from it financially are the testing company and Microsoft. Of course, if you'd like to give me loads of money so you can prove you can do your job -- that's a bonus -- but hardly necessary. On Amazon.co.uk, has study guides for most of the exams for between 25 to 35 GBP. Hardly going to break the bank for any working IT professional or even a student. As noted, less than 7% of my exams were passed with the aid of formal training -- the remaining 93% were done entirely self-study. However, self-study doesn't mean just beebling around with something for some indeterimnate period of time -- it means buying some books and cracking down to set up a lab, working through exercises, etc. (I don't get a kickback these either.) People who have actually looked at the exams in the past 5 years would have noticed they have evolved to become much more challenging. Now, instead of purely multiple-choice, you have some very challenging case studies where you may need to read through 4 or 5 full pages of information to answer 3 or 4 very difficult questions. Other question types include simulations, where you actually need to DO the steps to complete a particular operation or task, etc. As a result, there are a lot fewer 'paper MCSE's running around -- the system will never be perfect, but it is continuously being improved to make the testing process and tests themselves more relevent to the job and skills being tested for.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

People read 'em, they think that Marty is well qualified chap, he must know what he is talking about, and he never mentioned any other way to get educated did he? I used to be an I don't need no stinking qualifications chap, until I realised I was actually misleading some new types, because as you say, they almost certainly do. The price of doing business. I can't leave that impression on here though, otherwise I'll have to give you loads of money so I can prove I can do my job. That is hardly in my interest is it?

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

I have quite enough of my own -- and just because they happen to contradict yours (not even all the time -- which is a surprising) is no reason for trying to turn an intelligent discussion into a series of personal attacks on various posters. At no point did I EVER say that, "the only education is formal education". (Scroll up and look real hard to see if you can find that. :) In fact, I think I have only taken 3 formal Microsoft classes -- the rest I did completely on my own. (The only difference is that I DID make the extra effort and spend the hundred bucks or so to get the little piece of paper afterwards.) In my case, I wanted to be able to teach the Microsoft certified courses -- so guess what -- those MANY little pieces of paper were the ONLY way to open that door. (I COULD have stayed teaching non-certified courses for 1/3 the daily rate -- but that wouldn't be so smart -- would it?) One thing that didn't get mentioned in this discussion, and probably is applicable in many cases is the lack of proper certification programs for many non-Microsoft technologies, but this too is changing -- for example, even MySQL has a certification program these days. Teaching is now only a small percentage of my work these days. If I were in a 'self interest' mode as you accuse me of, I'd be jumping up and down with glee to see all the 'hacks' running around and screwing things up. Re-engineering, documenting and fixing problems caused unqualified, untrained, unskilled and unprofessional developers and systems engineers seems to generate the bulk of 90% of my income these days. Of course, you will again note that at no time in my post did I suggest that anything was related to you -- and in fact, I've seen just as many 'fakes' coming out of certificate mills as you probably have -- and these people also generate a nice living too. Many training centers are to blame as well -- promising huge salaries upon graduation as MCSEs (although we see a lot less of this than 10 years ago). I once had a student who had just finished paying $14,000 for his MCSE program. The sad part was that he couldn't log in to the system the first day because he didn't know how to SPELL "Administrator". :)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Why would I whinge about not being allowed in to management, I don't want to be in management, nor do a lot of techs. A lot however buy into the idea that management is a promotion from techie, it isn't, it's a career switch. Of course the qualifying criteria are different! There's the mandatory tech lobotomy for starters. :p "Sorry, but I don't have a lot of sympathy for people who refuse to invest in their own education " I agree wholeheartedly, which is why I did. What you (and Professor Pratt) are whinging about is you didn't get any of that money, and that if the way I did things became popular, you wouldn't. Then all the investment you've put in would be of less value. Why do you think I can't see this, because I have no letters after my name? Everytime you try to say that the only education is formal education, and preferably by Marty (sotto voce). I will pull you up on it. The politest motive I can put behind such an assertion is self interest. Unlike many I trust people who argue out of that, don't start crying when I argue out of mine though, it's irritating.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

May be my lack of educashun is showing , enlighten me oh gifted one. A pice of paper proves nothing but that you have a piece of paper. I've got rolls of it, it's called Andrex ...

Uncle BEEP BEEP!
Uncle BEEP BEEP!

An excellent response - and one I totally agree with - well said

Marty R. Milette
Marty R. Milette

Tony, If you are so smart, then why do you continue to mis-reading and inject your own incorrect interpretations into postings? Surely someone with your wealth of experience, who doesn't need any stinking papers to prove anything to anyone can surely read -- right? You don't need to put words into people's mouths -- most people have quite enough of their own, thank you very much. Please show me a posting where ANYONE says that says that piece of paper is more important than the process? Obviously, you have some something against any kind of testing or formal education process. Maybe someone beat you with their degree when you were young, or you failed an exam and were traumatized from it -- I don't know -- but please try to give it a rest. You may be such a genious that you don't need to prove anything to anyone -- good for you. However, for the rest of the people in the world who actually DO need to prove that they have the slightest clue what they are talking about -- maybe a degree or certification IS important? When you mis-read and inject erroneous interpretations into people's posts -- or just come back with a snyde personal attack -- it makes YOU look like the village idiot.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Twenty years undiscovered incompetence is how I describe it. To what purpose ? Aside from my own personal enjoyment (I would not be studying IT!) . To hold it up as proof that I'm clever. Proof to whom ? You? Why should your judgement matter, you failed to figure out the post you were responding to was a dig at someone who effectively states the paper at the end of the process is more important than the process. Perhaps he learnt that at his diploma mill, did you go to the same one? I don't remember when I started learning and I've never stopped learning. One of the disadvantages of not getting that piece of paper that says you can, perhaps.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If you wanted to contact a large number of over educated buffoons in the workforce, HR is your first port of call. If you say this to one of them they'll agree!

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I mean, only "smart" people go to name brand schools, right? All the dummies go to State schools or don't go to school at all (the horror!). I mean, how can somebody NOT afford to play $40k/year at Harvard or Cornell? I think part of what has happened is that HR has been given the power of hiring and the hiring manager just asks for the position, nothing else. So, the HR drones, come up with a laundry list of stuff they'd like to see on a resume and call it a day. Try this: Publish your resume, and in very small WHITE font put in as many buzz words as you can think of. Tell me how many HR filters you get past, even if you don't qualify for the job. They don't even READ your resume anymore, it's fed through a parser and that's it....If the parse says it's alright, then you get through...if not, then you get trashed.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

for so long, I'm valued for that alone. For IT as a whole? The intention behind external validation, whether it's MS, Cisco, Cambrige or Harvard is sound. However there is too much money involved. The only thing I can come up with is shooting down in flames, the argument that education turns stupid people into clever ones. The idea that if you turned up, you learnt something. The hilariously naive idea that such establishments have no vested interest in as many people passing as possible. For those who want to set their foot on the path to a career in IT. Get the degree, admin or hardware get the certs as well, but for cthulu's sake remember they are just bits of paper. All that boring crap you had to sit through before they'd give you it, you will need a lot longer, unless of course you want to be a perennial f'kup. I didn't make this situation, that was people with degrees and certifications. They had a good theory on paper, but f'ed up implementing it in the real world.