Are IT Certifications Worth The Effort - IT Certification Basics

First there was Novell's CNE, then came Microsoft's MCSE. Then each of those companies upgraded their respective operating systems, and with each upgrade came new curricula and new exams.

In 1999, there was Cisco's CCNA. I knew a 21-year-old who had just obtained that cert, and, around the office, he suddenly became THE GURU. Never mind that he had the people skills of a bull ape and the business sense of a slot-machine addict. He would slam the phone down when users called and he bought thousands of dollars of equipment we didn't need. (Sorry to sound blunt like that, but it's because of people like him that employers are no longer ga-ga when they see certifications on your resume.)

Don't get me wrong. I love going to school, discussing ideas and experiences, and learning new things about what's happening in the IT industry. The better schools tend to have up-to-date computer labs and other interesting facilities. They can even be good places to make business contacts. This is preferable to just "cracking a book" at home by yourself.

But beware of "diploma mills" that guarantee you'll triple your salary after taking their courses. A six-week course in C++, and you'll be writing air traffic control software? (Yeah, right.) Quality schools will allow you to drop a course after a few weeks if you're not satisfied and they will even refund your money, minus administration costs. A good deal, of course, would be to convince your employer to pay for tuition, but you'll have to convince him or her that this will make you a more valuable employee.

Certification does prove that you can learn. However, it can also be expensive and time-consuming, and it does not guarantee you a job, so beware of those schools that claim that holders of such-and-such a cert make $75,000 a year. A few of them might, but not if they've never had any experience!

Yes, certification is worth the effort, if it helps you hone your skills. What's that mean? Well, these days, the information often comes shooting at you like a fire hose, and you have to prune away what is irrelevant to your job situation, or that which doesn't contribute to a solution. Maybe you'd like to take that Photoshop course, and maybe the tech school would like you to take it, but if your job is to build UNIX firewalls, Photoshop just doesn't contribute to that task.

Upon receiving your certificate, you have every right to be proud. You've passed some tough exams and met an industry standard for knowledge. But don't be THE GURU. It stops the flow of ideas back and forth, and that's counter-productive. Don't let your coworkers or other associates consider you a guru, because that means they'll stop thinking about the problems and start depending on you to solve them. Instead, present yourself as a knowledgable person by mentioning that you have such-and-such a certificate, give your input, and then politely ask them what THEY think.

By: Roy Troxel

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