Is there really value in an IT Certification?

What is the real validation that you are knowledgeable in a field you’re claiming to be an expert in? Expert is a very dangerous and overrated term and usually lambasted by Powerpoint consultants. I agree that experience is the best teacher but it becomes helpful if the experience is ‘fruitful’. I had a conversation with a former colleague of mine who told me that it doesn’t matter if you have 10 years of experience if the function is just the same. You become knowledgeable about this specific work in the first year and repeat it in the next 9 years. Is that 10-year experience then significant? Or this experience only has the same weight as an employee in its second year doing the same job?

There is a perpetual debate whether there is value in an IT certification. Some say that certification validates your knowledge of the subject matter while others say that it is just a marketing strategy of vendors. Some say that you can pass certification by just memorizing stuff or worse, cheat to pass. However, I think we have to put into perspective the reason why these certifications are created.

I think the reasons why certifications exist are to standardize, validate and educate. Now, I know for a fact that nothing beats experience. It invalidates, however, this fact if you just ping the servers, assign IPs to computers and create an Excel report using the Pivot table for the next 20 years. Certification is a qualification. If you say in an HR interview, “I’m an expert in database management.” but you don’t have any certification to support that, then how can you claim this assertion? Probably you will answer, “My peers, friends, and parents can vouch for me.” Unfortunately, HR won’t take your parents’ word for your skill something objective. Looking at the other side, the good question could be, “If you are good in Database, why don’t you just take a DB2 exam to validate it?”

Lastly, I think certifications try to cover all the topics, not just some points you’re expert in. Because it is a standard, it teaches you how to, for example, program properly and efficiently. It teaches you other techniques that you may not have known or tried yet.
Experience and certification complement each other. However, you cannot discredit the benefits of having a certification. Similarly, most IT jobs require that you are a graduate of a 4-year course. That is the first qualification. Regardless of whether you have 10 years of experience, you need to be a graduate to be qualified. It might just be a piece of paper, but that is the qualification.

I encourage my students in college to take certification exams as early as possible if they think they are ready and prepared. This helps them build their confidence and portfolio. Once they graduate, probably tens of thousands of IT graduates will be competing for jobs available. How will you stand out if you’re competing with students from top schools or those who graduated with honors? I strongly believe certifications will be of great value.

Admittedly, I had horrible experiences with “certified professionals” who are incompetent with their areas of expertise. I had an experience where I asked what protocol is ICMP (ping) and he insisted that it is using TCP. He was a Cisco Certified Networking Professional (intermediate certification). Of course, he didn’t get the job. But these scenarios happen in different venues. In the academe, there are Ph.D.’s who ironically don’t know how to cite sources properly. I mean there are good and bad apples. At the end of the day, the first question is, are you qualified? And the second is, can you verify that you are qualified?

It’s like, you claim you know how to drive because you know how to drive. But no matter how good your driving skills are, you cannot drive without a license.

Similarly… some very bad drivers have licenses.

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