What’s It Worth?
This month, Greg and Steve address the value and importance of certification vs. good, old-fashioned experience.
- By Greg Neilson
This month we’re looking at certification. Is it worth it? The reality
nowadays is that certification has its place, but it no longer can be
seen (if it ever was!) as the sole ticket to career fame and fortune.
I’m going to look at a number of different scenarios and make some suggestions
as to what certifications, if any, are appropriate.
For entry-level people who want to get into the IT field, an MCSE is
a complete waste of time and money. With the depth of material in the
Windows 2000 program, there’s no way that you can really comprehend the
material with no previous IT experience. Completing a single exam—such
as Win2K Server (70-215) or Win2K Professional (70-210)—to earn your MCP
certification first demonstrates to potential employers that you have
some basic level of knowledge, are enthusiastic about IT, and are willing
to educate yourself. (At the same time, these potential employers will
be under no illusions about your abilities—you’re going to have to start
at the bottom and be trained from scratch.) The other advantage of this
approach is that you have more time to work on getting yourself hired,
which is still going to be an uphill battle in the current IT market.
If you’re in the early stages of your career (the first couple of years),
it may make more sense to complete the new Microsoft Certified Systems
Administrator (MCSA) certification. This is especially true if you don’t
see yourself doing any design work in the next one to two years. With
this approach, your certification better matches your daily work and leaves
the more complex material (if you elect to upgrade to an MCSE) for later,
when you are better positioned to absorb and use the material.
For senior IT professionals working with Microsoft technology, it’s pretty
much expected that you’ll have an advanced certification such as the MCSE
or MCDBA. You’re competing with those who do have it, so why give someone
else the advantage? There are people at this level who elect not to attempt
to get certified, but often the reasons don’t make sense. Phrases such
as, “I don’t want to make Bill Gates rich,” often mean that life is too
comfortable to bother with the exams. The truth is, at this level you
need to know the material (and a good deal more!) to do your job, so preparing
for the tests isn’t going to be a huge stretch.
During the past month, the topic of braindumps has come up at MCP
Magazine’s sister Web site, CertCities.com;
I’m flabbergasted at the number of people who consider it OK to use braindumps
as an exam-preparation technique. I’m not going to make any moral judgments
other than to say I don’t use these myself. However, for those of you
who do use these sites, I’m not convinced that your time and effort are
well spent. Once you complete a certification, employers and clients expect
you to know and understand the material, not simply be able to answer
memorized questions. The value of the certification is really the knowledge
you gain while getting certified—not in the certification itself. I’ve
often found that some of the most interesting things I learned while preparing
for exams were never addressed in the tests.
If you elect to get certified, remember that you need to keep upgrading
your skills and your certifications as your career progresses. Of course,
upgrading skills is something we all need to do regularly, but keeping
your certifications current always means more exams. Unfortunately, too
many feel that once they complete their MCSE, they should have a “sheep
dip” approach to certification—once it’s done, it’s done for life. I’m
afraid that the rate of change in IT is too fast for that.
The most important thing about certification is to have a realistic view
of what it will and won’t do for you. It’s an important addition to your
career toolkit, but certification alone isn’t going to do it.
Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).