Graham Jones (Surrey, British Columbia, IT Pro)
Graham Jones left a comment in regards to the post on Does Certification Really Matter Anymore? It was a lengthy comment, but very well written and some good insight into why certifications do still matter. Long enough that I turned it into a blog post as I'd like as many people to read this as possible.
As a UG Leader I am often asked about the value of certification. The answer I usually give is "all things being approximately equal who would you choose for employment, someone with certification or not" which incidentally is my belief. However, the advice that you might give to others inevitably has to be somewhat general and couched carefully. In other words you really have to decide for yourself based upon your own instincts and research.
Having said that I am firm believer in certification for a number of reasons, some which are professional and some personal. I studied for my MCSD a few years ago and boy was it a big commitment, much bigger than I expected before I started. But you know what at the end I did well in the exams which gave me tremedous personal pride and even more importantly, confidence. And you know what I also learned a lot in the process! Was it all something that I could go and immediately use? No, and that was never likely because of the breadth of the subject matter.
In other words the process has value as well as the end result. As an employer, I might view it in a positive light because it demonstrates a commitment to an achievement and a commitment to better oneself, which is quite separate from the piece of paper that you get at the end.
What I can tell you is that over my 40 year career if I had a $ for every time that I said "I will never use that" I could have retired a long time ago. Knowledge is never wasted and the value often pops up in the most unexpected places. Notice I used the word "knowledge". The problem with exams is that we have to cram ourselves full of facts which can detract from learning the fundamentals behind them, which is where the real value lies. In fact it reminds me of my math classes at University (my degree is in Chemical Engineering). I often used to sit there thinking "I will never use this heavy duty stuff...". Boy was I ever wrong.
As it turned out early in my career I went to work writing software to solve engineering problems and well I guess you get the rest...From that day forward I had a totally different attitude towards "knowledge". I have done a wide variety of things in my career and I can honestly say that many things carried forward from one experience to the next. Over time you get to realize that the brain has this incredible ability to make "links" between apparently unrelated facts and gives you the opportunity to gain insight into solving a problem based upon your accumulated "knowledge".
So if we didn't learn all of that material which at first doesn't appear to "fit togethor" then our chances of the "light going on" when doing the job would be much less. So one view of certification is that it forces us down a learning path which, of course, never really ends. In other words, on a personal level, certification can be a tool to stimulate commitment to gain further knowledge with the added bonus of "documentation" at the end. Obviously I cannot say that knowledge couldn't be obtained in other ways and this is where the "practical" versus the "theoretical" arguement alway rages!
My own experience is, and I believe the truth, is the "practical" is aided by the "theoretical" and vice versa. So I guess my extended advice to some younger person would be "don't always be looking for everything to be immediate payback. Look further ahead at the bigger picture". Don't look at certification as something for your resume or to put letters after your name but just a "step" on a personal "path".
If I was to critique the existing Microsoft cert system it would be that it might have increased value if it was a combination of exams and practical tests. I realize that presents some challenges but it would go some way to adding value to the end result and possibly silencing the critics who claim that it has little value because it is all theoretical. Perhaps advances in simulation techniques will help to bridge that gap in the future.
The other benefit is that it will begin to raise the value closer to recognized professional accreditations which require a proven practical content. If the IT profession is to become the IT Profession (note the small p and capital P), which it must to obtain greater public recognition and standing, then such changes are necessary. There is a lot going on right now in the importance of the "p" versus "P" debate. So be alert!
Graham Jones, B.Sc.,P.Eng., MCSD, MOS, MVP
Graham Jones is the president of VANTUG going on 5 years now. He is passionate about the user group community in Canada and offers assistance to both newly formed user groups as well as those that have been in operation for years. He is also organizing Vancouver Techfest and is the founder of IT Volunteering two ambitious projects that are set to change both the IT community and the public community for the positive.