IT pros question the value of tech certifications

Though a recent article argued that the need for certification has never been greater, many members question how much weight certs actually carry. Even in a tough job market, the value of certifications remains a contentious issue.

In spite of the arguments presented in a recent article that emphasized the continuing need for IT certifications, TechRepublic members remain skeptical of their actual worth.

Certifications may help some IT pros land positions in a tough job market, but members argue that certs are overhyped, drive people toward passing exams instead of developing solid skills, and don’t guarantee career success. In fact, some members suggested that certifications may actually close a few doors for jobseekers, as some companies try to reduce salary costs by hiring noncertified IT pros for lower pay.

A career advantage?
Proponents of certification maintain that IT professionals with certs have a better shot at getting hired—and for better money—than their counterparts who don't hold certifications. However, members say that given the current economic climate, that may not always be the case.

As they tighten their belts, some companies are cutting salaries—as well as job requirements. That means that they may not be looking for employees with certifications, because they would likely demand higher pay.

Member apdumas, of TTLC Internet Services, acknowledged that certs can help IT pros get a foot in the door. But at least in his region north of Boston, he reported, IT positions over the past couple of years haven't demanded certifications and starting pay has been low. He sees ads for positions requiring a bachelor's in computer science, database administration skills, and multiple programming languages that offer small salaries.

Member kc2429 agreed with apdumas about IT hiring trends.

“It’s an employer's market, and they are getting mucho talent at a very small price.”

In fact, he took a straw poll among some of his peers that seems to confirm his opinion.

"Off the cuff, I checked with my classmates (graduates in IT), and guess what? Close to 58 percent are not employed in their field of study."

Taking the gloves off
Some members were more openly critical of certifications and their value to employers and IT professionals. Many said that certifications do not necessarily reflect one’s skills and knowledge and won't favorably sway an employer’s hiring decision.

“Let me tell you, these certs mean very little,” Mark wrote. “If you think an MCSE is going to get you a job making $50,000, or even $40,000, forget it. Try $20,000.”

Mark offered examples of acquaintances with multiple certifications who can't find jobs in IT. One person, Mark said, returned to driving a truck for a living because he couldn’t find an IT job in spite of his certifications—and because it paid more than the available IT jobs.

Member Jay Malone also expressed serious reservations about the value of certifications, arguing that few are relevant or demonstrate any level of subject mastery. Countering the article’s claim that certifications show expertise in a particular area, Malone said, “With the growth of the [certification] prep industry, all it takes is good memorization skills and some minimal work, and you've passed an exam.”

The only purpose most certifications serve, Malone added, is to help HR departments screen resumes.

Another member echoed the sentiment that those who focus on passing exams have an easy ticket to obtaining a certification that means little.

“As long as you have training companies selling boot camp certifications, the cert will continue to go down in value. It might get you past an HR type, but once you get to the tech types during your interview process, you're sunk if you don't really know it and have not ever really done it.”

System Integrator Peter Cimino said that certifications aren’t necessarily important to one’s long-term success, either.

“If you have strong interpersonal skills and a desire to stay on top of technology but don’t want to get bogged down in certifications and exams, you still can be successful.”

He pointed out that possessing certifications can’t make up for any professional shortcomings in being able to communicate with others and being willing to work hard.

“You can always learn new technology. But your personality and your job ethics will prove longer lasting than if you have a card that says MCSE or A+.”

Certs + experience
Many members seem to think that the value of certifications has been overstated, but that doesn't mean that everyone thinks they're useless. Most acknowledged that certs serve a purpose and can play a role in helping IT professionals find employment. But success in the IT profession depends on a number of factors, with certifications representing only a single piece of the puzzle.

As member trapman noted, an important part of making it in the industry without certifications is gaining experience and establishing yourself. That often means being willing to stay put at the same company for a long period of time. After 14 years with his current employer, trapman has senior status and a 72K salary, but he's still planning to bolster his experience with certification.

"Unfortunately, employers can be stingy in this market, so it would certainly pay to have certs AND experience."

The upshot
Members offered a considerable amount of feedback questioning our article's premise that certifications are more important than ever. But most acknowledged that certs can be a valuable asset, especially when coupled with experience. The advice of many TechRepublic members to those pursuing IT careers is this: Look beyond the hype associated with certifications and focus on obtaining the skills necessary to do the job.

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