5 Reasons Why IT Certifications Still Matter

Certification

The technology industry is, for better or worse, one of the last “critical industries” of industrialized nations that is not formally regulated by government. In the United States, you cannot practice law, medicine, and most variations of accounting without a proper license. Why is this beneficial? Many reasons, actually. It creates a fairly level playing field among those who wish to partake in these highly-skilled industries. It also generates trust between professionals and the public which enables incomes to stay high and the quality of work to be relatively similar. Is the above always true? No, and I won’t claim this to be the case, but overall such a system works to keep the bad apples out and the excellent ones in (and thriving).

Seeing that information technology is now an industry which most any modern country could not live without and is generally considered a “highly skilled” profession, why is it generally disregarded by government? I can’t answer this in any solid, succinct fashion, but the truth of the matter still stands. Our industry continues to grow in both skill and importance, yet it has no standardized baseline for what should be expected of the professionals like myself that make up the field.

What does the above have to do with IT certifications? A lot. As far as I am concerned, IT certifications fill that gap between what government has failed to regulate and what should be expected of modern day IT professionals. While a portion of IT knowledge workers believe there is no place for certifications for various reasons, I’ve got more than a few justifications for why I think certifications still matter and more importantly, why YOU should be leveraging them selectively to build a better, stronger technology business.

IT certifications build “technical perspective” in a person that is supportive of field experience in very important ways. For those that don’t have any certifications, this is a tough concept to relate to. While it may be sufficient for yourself that most relevant knowledge was gained on the job, many newcomers into the industry have no baseline to judge their starting point from. “Try, try, and try again until you succeed” is a great motto to live by – but does it necessarily summarize how a new technician should approach their first tech job? A great example of an IT cert that online forum-goers love to dump on is the CompTIA A+ certification. And it’s also not ironic how a majority of the heat comes from those with intermediate to heavy experience in the industry.

For many new techs, A+ (and it’s sister certification, Network+) allows for someone to appropriately gauge their ability to take on tasks and solve problems that may be entirely foreign. I won’t lie to the crowd and say that my A+ certification is highly relevant to my line of work today. But I will admit that when I was getting my start, it gave me a level of confidence to tackle problems that otherwise would have had to come from a purely task-based learning process.

Lower level certifications don’t necessarily exemplify content mastery, but do show that a newcomer is willing to, and can be, trained. Many professionals I have spoken with on this topic agree that someone who passes the A+ test isn’t an instant expert on the material or field of work they are entering (entry level tech support, for example). But if that candidate had the will power to learn the content well enough for a passing score, they are more than likely able to take direction and training from a higher up and “hone” their skills to real world applicable context. I’ve seen this to be the case amongst more than a few colleagues who started out with low level certs in their careers.

After attaining a trust in their own potential after passing the A+ or Network+ exams, they exponentially yearned for new knowledge and experience in their new-found field. This is both a win win for the potential employer and the technician alike. I know many readers on Technibble are business owners looking for some great young blood for their shops, and this is a great way to start a good relationship. I personally know of more than a few business owners who helped foster great budding technicians on staff by helping them pay for their exams if they got certified with passing scores.

Career commitment goes hand in hand with technical certification, especially as the specialization and difficulty rises. This point is very straightforward: why would you spend the time, money, and effort furthering yourself in an area that you have no core interest in for the long run? Of all the certifications I have taken so far, I have to say that my MCTS in Windows 7 and my certification as a Google Apps Trainer were the most mentally challenging in terms of content and time commitment.

But even those are considered intermediate exams in pale contrast to daunting exams like the CCNA or even the MCSE. If you think certifications are a laughing matter, just take a look at the pre-requisite list for becoming MCSE certified – a total of no less than 14 exams! The more grueling the exam and certification, the more likely someone is to be committed to their career path in information technology.

Certifications are excellent for boosting your personal or company image on marketing material or even for winning contracts/projects. You choose a great doctor because of their licenses & credentials, and the same goes for your lawyer, car mechanic, and financial advisor. And how do those individuals market themselves? More than likely, they are pointing out their credentials in print or online to merely get your consideration. I’m not saying any given certification is your ticket in the door, but it surely can be your boost to get to the finish line. And in many cases, for today’s competitive economy, that could be the difference between too few and too many good leads.

I’ve been inching more and more into the cloud realm, specifically for the Google Apps product, and my two Google certifications as an Apps Trainer and Deployment Specialist have given my company FireLogic quite an edge. I won’t publicly state how many direct leads I’ve gotten as a result of becoming certified in this new area, but I will say that it was well worth the time investment and I will happily be renewing them for years to come.

Learning on the job isn’t always ideal or professional. This holds especially true for higher level, advanced certifications that cover content which is difficult to master without sufficient hands on experience. Is it appropriate to use a client’s new Windows 2008 Server as the guinea pig for learning how to implement Active Directory properly? If you promoted yourself or your company as being an expert in Windows Server AD, this is even more unprofessional, and could end up costing you a great customer relationship if it goes poorly. I’m not going to say that certifications teach nearly all of the ins and outs of a given technical system by any means – but they give you the knowledge set to adequately approach a situation and make educated decisions from there. Don’t let your lack of knowledge about a technology lead to a burned relationship. Remember, your customer is hiring you because YOU are the professional (and not just filling the shoes of one).

Are all IT certifications created equal? Do they all have the same return on investment when it comes to an increased ability to charge higher rates, land better leads, and hold an edge over your competition? Of course not. DICE Learning released results from a large survey of 17,000 IT Professionals in 2010 that asked which certifications personally gave them the best ROI. Which ones came out on top? Quite a few that I actually hold, including the A+, Network+, Security+, and MCP (now called the MCTS). Other top certs were the known big boys such as the MCSE, MCSA, and the Cisco CCNA. As the IT technician market becomes more and more crowded, you have to differentiate yourself somehow. Why not use the chance to make yourself outright shine?

You can have a look at the full results of the DICE Learning “Top 10 Pay-Boosting Certifications in Tech” survey here: http://learning.dice.com/news.php?articleID=13



Derrick Wlodarz

About the Author

Derrick Wlodarz
More articles by me...
Derrick Wlodarz is an IT Specialist that owns Park Ridge, IL (USA) based technology consulting & service company FireLogic, with over 8+ years of IT experience in the private and public sectors. He holds numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA and specializes in consulting customers on growing hot technologies such as Office 365, Google Apps, cloud hosted VoIP, among others. Derrick is an active member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world. You can reach him directly at derrick@wlodarz.net.

Comments (13)

  • Joe41225 says:

    I agree that certification is very important even if I have never been asked on the job if I am certified. A computer tech is treated like an Auto Mechanic here in the states. You don’t need a cert to work on cars but ASE at least tries to promote the importance of taking your car to a ASE mechanic. Comptia on the other hand does a lousy job of it.

  • When someone asks me if I’m certified, I answer “Yes. I have a 4 year degree, and 20 years of fortune 500 and independent experience.” I’ve yet to hear anyone rebut that. As far as paper mill certs I let my CCNA lapse, and told myself I’d never get back on that treadmill, it’s worthless to me. My reputation for honesty in my skillset, and referrals speak much louder.

  • chuck817 says:

    certification is very important but like going to the garage to get your car fixed you will have no clue as to who in the garage has the correct certification to actually do the correct job or if a junior person is doing the job and the certified person is just checking up on him from time to time to make sure its done correctly.
    government regulation would change the policy of the industry
    the industry policy right now is education first real world experience second.
    no other industry does this they have a journeyman target of a small amount of education followed by on the job training then more education and exams then more on the job training until you pass your final exam and become a journeyman trades person

  • TechLogon says:

    Great article. Depends on the type of employer – at entry level a couple of certs may help you get a foot in the door.

    Larger companies use certs to weed out CVs and then to market themselves based on quality standards and as MS partners etc.

    I hope that governments keep their noses firmly out of the IT industry – formal regulation would cost IT professionals time and money whilst not eradicating the worst ‘techs’ around.

  • Hog Wash,

    This is a load of crap. HR have no real way to measure a person so they come up with false similes like 4 yr degree, certifications and membership in associations.

    The poorest techs I have ever hired had certifications but couldn’t do the work. A+ techs who couldn’t partition, format and re-install Windows. And an MCSE who couldn’t setup a simple 8 node peer network in 8 hrs.

    Verifiable experience (type and duration) is the only true indication of an employees depth of knowledge and skill set.

    Those how can, do. Those who can’t certify.

    30 day wonder’s who are good at memorizing Transender test questions and then pay $$$ to take the tests as many times as needed to pass but show up to be of no help in an IT department.

    IT certifications are a virus that continue to grow on themselves. Now there are so many people who have invested in this myth that they have to self promote for efficacy.

    You may need to get certified to get hired for the best jobs but in now way does certification indicate that you can actually use the tools you are certified in.

    I wish there were a requirement to have 2000 hrs of hands on work with a technology (either in work or class room setting) before you can even take the certification tests. Then they might actually count for something.

    A CPA must have 4 year degree to even schedule to take the test, the Lawyer must have four year college degree plus 3 years of law school to be able to sit for the bar test (with only one exception).

    I am not against a Journeyman system like an electrician or plumber.

    But today any 4th grade educated fool can buy study guides and past the tests and pass himself off as a Tech.

    Microsoft moved towards this Master MCSE program about 3 years ago where you had to have at least 5 years verifiable experience to take the test. I forget what they called it but that was a good idea on MS part.

    I stand against any kind of certification that doesn’t require an experience component.

    An Airplane and Powerplant mechanic has to take 2040 hrs of hands on labs. This time has to be clocked in and signed by instructors before he can schedule to take his certification. Even at that he is not allowed to work on airplanes without super version the first time he performs each task.

    Money and time can be better spent in other ways to improve your business rather than chasing certifications.

  • Jacob says:

    Certainly NOT hog wash, especially when you get into higher level certs, such as CISSP, which force the user to take courses, etc. to keep the cert updated as well as PROVE they have a certain level of experience (which they do audit).

    In fact, there is a new healthcare cert from CompTIA that would fit in perfectly with the recent posts about consulting for healthcare operations.

  • Jacob says:

    When hiring, one should be put through hands-on tests to prove ability or just critical thinking.

    Making a huge decision for a small business should not be made just on credentials, but ability as well.

    And based on personal experience, I am the only one at my employer with higher level certs…and definately the only one able to research and implement higher level solutions for the company.

    Painting with a broad brush to cert chasers as ‘hog wash’ is foolish.

  • Tony Scarpelli says:

    We are talking about its use to an owner of an IT business. Of course as an employee you have to bend down and kiss the feet of whoever might hire you, achieve any certification which might make your resume stand out in the piles of resumes.

    Totally out of context here. The topic is should an independent IT company like those here on Technibble (mostly one man shows) spend the time and resources to chase certifications or can their limited money and resources be better used when starting up their new company.

    I have been in business 17 years and one of the first NT MCSE’s. You want to guess how many times a client has inquired to my certifications?

    You have the typical employee mindset and that is ok since you are an employee. Totally different scenario for a business owner.

  • Jacob says:

    Actually, I have been both for the past 5 years. Being on both sides of the fence, I use certifications and all the benefits that come with them for both my employer and my business.

    What is the point of me working on a second graduate degree? Is there ANY benefit for my business?? MUCH…same situation, you put in the work to learn skills and abilities that are not strong enough in. From my marketing class, I’ve put together two strong marketing campaigns for the biz. From my accounting class, I’ve developed solid books. From my most recent MS exam, I was able to setup RADIUS for my clients that have 10 PCs…something no one else would have done for them. From my CISSP studies, I’ve developed processes for my customers that no other local shops (as their previous service companies) have decided to implement for them.

    Learning new skills and abilities AND BEING TESTED ON THEM, certainly is a benefit to the independent IT company, just like mine. I wouldn’t do it differently if I had to chose to do my certs over or not.

    If you haven’t seen the benefit of a cert in 17 years, but see the benefit of an MBA, your tunnel vision is showing.

  • I think Jacob’s view on certifications and continuing education is very similar to my position on the topic, especially with the direction I tried to take with the article. I believe that judging the value of a certification merely by “what clients ask for them” is very narrow minded and misconstruing the true long term value of the knowledge attained and skills that accompany this knowledge.

    No one today asks for your high school education credentials – but would you go back and skip high school in light of the fact that no clients care about this? I am personally deciding on when to go back and get my Masters in IT or MBA knowing that my direct application of the degree as a small business owner will be minimal. But the skills and knowledge I will be able to fulfill from going through such a program will be second to none and take me to a different level both when dealing with clients and tackling projects.

    I will fully admit that my earnest start in IT was back in Junior year of High School when I took an A+ course offered and my subsequent passing of the exam the summer after classes ended. This was both a jumpstart in confidence for me and a direct chance to hone skills for my new endeavor which otherwise would have been neglected to merely onsite experience.

    And don’t get me wrong, hands on experience is one of the best forms of knowledge attainment, but not the only one. I think one needs to remember that carving out a well rounded education and experience background counts as much as being in the industry for xx number of years. There are things you will learn in each realm that the other does not teach.

    As for the question of whether certs provide direct income potential…. this fully depends on how high level of a cert we are talking about. My higher level Google Apps Trainer certification has led to NUMEROUS well-paid leads which have also in turn brought referrals on top of them. A chain reaction that would not have been possible without the credential. Similar can be said for higher level MS certs and Cisco certs to name just a few.

  • David says:

    Certifications and degrees are good but not always an indicator of the quality of work a person can do. When I’ve picked a doctor I never inquired as to their education, but went with their reputation. I’ve had my vehicles to different mechanics and have found much better quality work done by those without formal schooling and certifications.

    Unfortunately, I can show you people in different professions with impressive degrees and certifications who do poor quality work. Yes, they look good on paper and that’s all.

    I’ll take someone who has proved themselves excellent in their profession by the quality of work they do over a person with a piece of paper proving they can read a book and do well on a test.

    If someone has a certification in a certain area and has shown him or herself to do excellent work then that is great.

  • The biggest benefit I’ve gained from certifications is the knowledge and confidence in my skills that allows me to provide the kind of honest, quality service that my customers deserve.

    Aside from that, I get pieces of paper I can display on the wall of my repair shop – but rarely do people look at them. And I’ve never had anyone ask for our certifications prior to using our services.

  • UK PCWorld tech says:

    Hi here in the UK I work for the largest pc retailer, and let me tell you to work here fixing customers pc’s you need very little in terms of anything. If you can talk to the customer about services that we sell thats great, dosen’t even matter if you have not got a clue how to solve the issue. You work it out later. Technicians here are seen as over paid and a burden on the company. Even the antivirus software provided even struggles to remove a cookie if needed, its a joke when we get people asking for a job they ask can you fit memory and load software that’s about it, then sell them as highly skilled staff. So certificates makes no difference at all here sorry.