IT managers have long debated whether an employee with certifications is more valuable than one with degrees from a traditional education program. The debate is usually launched when managers review resumes to gauge the skills of potential hires. Yet, according to many TechRepublic members in a recent discussion, degrees and certs are no match for experience and problem-solving skills.

The discussion stemmed from a recent TechRepublic interview with an IT manager whose ideas about how he hires employees and weighs certifications over degrees or vice versa caused a stir among some TechRepublic members.

Roger Ferraro looks for degreed employees—ones that can back up their IT skills with two- and four-year degree programs.

“I always look for a degreed person, even if it is only a two-year degree, because I want someone who I know is capable of independent thought—indispensable for troubleshooting,” said Ferraro, who manages an eight-person IT department in Hartford, CT.

It is Ferraro’s opinion that IT pros who hold only certifications might have difficulty relating projects and other problems to those of an organization’s entire IT infrastructure. For example, a tech with only developing skills may not understand how a developer’s work affects the work of network administrators or support technicians. A developer with a more rounded education in IT is more likely to understand these relationships.

“Someone who is just certified seems to have trouble generalizing [his or her] learning, in my experience. In summary, I value education more than certification and believe you need to be educated before you take any in-depth product training or certification,” he said.

According to a recent TechRepublic Quick Poll, members who responded said that certification training offers the best value.

How members reacted
Many of you disagreed with Ferraro in the discussion following his interview, saying that you look at a candidate’s experience and problem-solving skills before considering their degrees and/or certifications.

“I have hired both degreed and nondegreed, and at this point, it is not a determining factor. I typically hire the most qualified [candidate] and the one who can use common sense problem-solving skills to meet challenges head on,” said TechRepublic member and IT director Ron Hamilton.

Member John Pepper agreed. “I manage an IT department of seven people and [am] actively recruiting for more. I also find both education and certifications a [moot] point. I’ve hired people with Ph.D.s in philosophy, yet [they] are some of the smartest and creative technical people I know. The ability to problem solve, technical know-how, and motivation are key—not a piece of paper,” said Pepper.

“Certifications or a degree offers no guarantee the person hired is competent to do their job. I look for experience, aptitude, and personality traits first, then education,” said IT manager Tim McClure.

Tell us what you think
The prime candidate for a position in your shop is someone with these four qualifications: holds a degree, has multiple certifications, has extensive IT experience, and has an aptitude for solving problems. However, finding this super candidate is probably difficult. “In Maine, it is difficult to find qualified technicians. Of my staff of four, one is degreed; none hold certificates,” said McClure.

We want to know how you feel about the differences between degrees, certifications, experience, and problem-solving skills.

So what do you do when you can’t locate the perfect candidate? What “resume hit” do you consider first? Second? Do you focus on a combination of the four?

Let’s even take this discussion to a different level. Are you experiencing a budget crunch in your organization? Due to this, are you forced to find the most inexpensive job candidate no matter what his or her background? What do you do then?

Let us know what skills, traditional and otherwise, are important to you when you’re reviewing resumes and hiring employees.

Join in the discussion and let us and other TechRepublic members know how you feel.

Got any hot tips?

The IT Manager Republic will present a series of articles in February about how managers can make their jobs more efficient. Have any strategies that work for you? Any tips you would like to share? Let us know and be included in the article series.