In addition to the “to certify or not to certify” debate, there is the “certification or college” argument that several TechRepublic members have been discussing on the site. A recent article about a forum post, “What’s better: Four-year degrees or certifications?”, showed that members weighed in, for the most part, on the side of undergrad degrees. This exchange prompted several e-mails about the merits of technical, academic, and on-the-job learning.

How about neither one?
Mark L., who is in computer system support, points out that the debate left out a third career path entirely.

“That being on-the-job training and/or alternative training and experience, such as a full military career. Twenty years in the United States Coast Guard provided me with balanced training (leadership, teamwork, management) combined with specialty skills in telecommunications, networking, computer systems, and application support. I have found this background to be just as much a door opener as any cert or college degree could offer.

“It’s not how you got it… it’s what you’ve done with it, and what you’re willing to commit to your new career that is most important. Experience is what I bring to a new career. Commitment and a proven track record are what keep me there. Measure that!”

A college degree never hurts
Michael M., an MCP, said that younger students should go for a four-year degree as well as certifications.

“I am older and never got a college degree. There are many employers out there that won’t even talk to me because of that fact. They don’t realize that my years of work experience and self-study in a multitude of areas would make me an excellent choice for their business. What I am saying is that, if nothing else, that degree will get you in the door.”

Jim R., MCSE and MCP, said he went pretty far with an associate’s degree and an MCSE certification.

“I doubled my salary (really!), leaving one job and going to another. However, I’ve gone about as far as I can without a B.S. degree, so I’m working on it part-time (Information Sciences).

“I feel that having both is very important to maximize your potential. An A.A.S. degree and certification will get you going, but you really need a four-year degree or better to be considered for higher positions. With all of the online colleges and universities out there, there’s no reason not to get your degree.”

Best of both options
Eric F., an instructor of IT and director of distance education at Keystone College in La Plume, PA, can offer the best of both worlds with a new IT program that answers both issues of degree vs. certification.

“Our bachelor’s of science in network engineering offers a four-year degree from a Middle States accredited institution with the entire fourth year of the program devoted to training students for their MCSE, Microsoft’s Network Engineer certification. These MCSE classes are all ‘for credit’ classes that are used toward this degree. This effectively kills two birds with one stone—a win-win for our students!”

Learning by doing is still the best
Otis J., who has CNA, Network+, A+, and MCP certifications along with a paralegal diploma and a recording engineer diploma, wrote that education decisions should be based on what you want to do with your IT career.

“Do you aspire to be a manager in the long run? Well, then to me you aren’t of the technician mindset that certifications assume. If all of your future aspirations lean towards being the greatest engineer you could be, having a college degree is an absolute waste of time. Get your CCIE and have at it.

“Having stated my opinion, let me also say that I am a huge believer in knowledge and gaining more of it in all areas. However, I attribute that to being a former sports/newscaster for nine years, then a researcher, which led me into the IT field. I think the greatest asset you can have over either certification or degree is the experience of doing.

“When I worked as a broadcaster, there was a similar debate going on about getting a general arts degree or one in communications, along with tossing in an associate degree from a technology institute. The interesting thing I discovered over my nine years was that the people who were truly the best at the craft were people who had none of the formal training. They started in the business because they loved it, worked for dirt, and spent 10 to 15 years working their way up the ladder to ‘overnight’ success.

“In short, aspiring movers and shakers get their MBAs while the ‘in the trenches’ techies get their certifications. And let both sides be the best they can be at what they want to be and not try to force those hard drivers to be something they are not.”
Military work, college classes, on-the-job troubleshooting? What one experience had the biggest impact on you? Where did you learn the most? Send us an e-mail with your favorite story of educational success.