My take on Certifications

I'm involved in the hiring process at our company and I deal with the certification issue frequently.  What follows is my take on certs.

  • Certifications have been good to me and my family, but they aren't for everyone.
  • I'm turned off by people that try to sell themselves as experts because they are "certified".  
  • I'm turned off by people that completely dismiss certifications as useless. 
  • I like when a person has a certification AND has a good reason for having it.

Let me explain...

I started off with a very poor impression of certifications.  Around 1994 I worked with a Novell CNE who was nothing short of a walking Novell reference book.  Although he had a head full of knowledge, he couldn't write a login script to save his life.  As an employee, he was worth about as much as the red Novell books on the shelf.  Like the books, he couldn't do anything other than offer information.  This was my first impression of IT Certification.  Needless to say, I wasn't impressed!

Until 1999 I refused to get my certifications because of this guy.  But finally I decided I was tired of people with no experience getting more attention simply because of the letters after their names.  So, I decided to get my certification.  Within a year I had my MCP, MCP+I, MCSD, and MCSE.  I followed up with my MCDBA in 2001.  (I actually enjoyed studying and testing.)  These certs opened the door for me to do something I had always wanted to do - train!  So, I got my MCT and became an independent trainer.  I taught the MCSD track for about a year - until the economy and changes to the MCT program forced me to find a "real" job.  Because of my certs I found a great job as a consultant with a Microsoft Certified Partner in Nashville.  Without the certs I wouldn't have had a chance with them.

After being a stay-at-home mom for seven years my wife wanted to go back to school to finish what she started before getting pregnant.  She had helped me on several small contract jobs that I had taken, so she decided she wanted to be a programmer, not a teacher like she had thought in the past.  But rather than going to school, I suggested she let me train her and help her get certified.  She agreed to try it and in about a year she was certified (and knew what she was doing!)

She landed a job after her first interview - not because she was experienced and not because she was educated, but because she was certified.  She stayed there for about a year and then started looking for something more challenging.  Today she is a VB.NET developer for a company that develops legal software.  This time she was hired based on experience and recommendation, not just certification.

She wouldn't have had either of these opportunities without a certification.

So, to wrap it up I'll say that certifications are good if you have a reason to need one.  For me, certification was a requirement to become an MCT.  For my wife, certification allowed her to get her first development job.  Certifications have their place in this industry, and contrary to what most of my job candidates believe, it's not to tag the holder as an "expert".


  • I think the best part of certification exams is that they often make you learn parts of a product/framework that you might not have seen in your daily work, even if you use the product/framework on a daily basis. You won't be an "expert" in that product/framework, but you will know the territory, and will know where to look if/when the time comes that you need some of those more unusual features. I've learned a lot preparing for every single certification exam I've ever taken, even when the exam was using something that I had a year or more experience with.

  • I agree to your comments Brain and I have expereinced the same progress as what your has.

  • Excellent remarks.

  • Wow, that's amazing. I worked with my wife for about two years on a project (I was developing, she was one of the system admins) and that was tough enough. I couldn't imagine in all my days *teaching* my wife! Congratulations to you both!

  • Steven,

    If you are suggesting that certifications are intended to tag the holder as an expert, I would have to agree. However, being certified definitely doesn't make a person an expert.

    I should have finished with this:

    "Contrary to what most of my job candidates believe, a certification doesn't necessarily make them an expert."

    Thanks for pointing out that I wasn't really saying what I was trying to say. :)


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