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Are certifications important to an IT career?

by Philip Sellers

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything substantial on the blog.  The past couple months have been an incredibly busy season for me.  Week before last, I studied for and passed my VCP5 certification exam, updating my VMware certification to the latest revision just before the deadline for upgrading it without taking class.

I spent the last week working through classes to help 5 of my co-workers and myself meet the MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator certification.  During the course of the week, I tweeted out about my success in passing a required exam and I got a reply from the “most certified man” in the world, @IT_Certified_, asking “U think having certs is important to your career?”  His question got me thinking.

Up until this month, my only certification was the VCP.  I have had it for a few years and I have tried to keep it up to date with each iteration of the software.  My department does not highly value certifications, and that probably worked to my benefit when being hired, since I did not have any. However, after taking the VMware Install & Configure class, I decided to try for my VCP during the version 3 exams.  It took two goes, but I passed and got the certification.  I wanted this certification as a personal goal.  It was never required by my company.

So, why should people go for certifications?

In general, I think most certifications and exams are marketing heavy and centered around sales and sales engineering staff, not particularly towards the internal IT folks.  I also think that most certifications  are more useful to consultants and sales engineers than to internal IT staff.  The reason – because these certifications represent knowledge and when a customer is shopping for a partner to enhance or recommend solutions, they want a knowledgeable person to guide them.  That would be what I count as reason number one for certification – to represent your knowledge to a potential customer.

As an internal IT professional, you may only be exposed to certain feature sets or capabilities of a particular product or software within your environment.  For instance, an internal IT department is standardized on Fibre Channel storage and may not use any iSCSI, so when testing for a product that includes both, an internal IT professional will be at a disadvantage with any iSCSI functionality on the test.

I believe that certifications are a major plus for all IT professionals during a job search – so reason number two.  While a certification may open a doorway to a job or opportunity, I’m not always convinced that they prepare the person behind the certification can do the actual work required to execute the theory.  But like a masters or doctorate degree, certifications are distinguishing factors among your peers to help set you apart. During a job interview, having a certification on your resume will distinguish you and it will show that you have worked hard and put in your time to achieve the designation.  It also shows that you are not opposed to continuing your education to keep up a certification.  And continuing eduction is incredibly important within the IT field which is ever-changing.

But, as I said earlier, I just sat for a week long class to help achieve an MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Administrator certification.  It was at the direction of my management to do so.  But if they don’t value certifications, then why?  It’s simple and its my reason number three.  Microsoft changed the rules in the past year for Gold Partners and raised the bar to include new requirements for certification.  Reason number three is to meet vendor requirements.   When your employer is a partner with other IT vendors, often it comes with certain requirements for the staff.  And this was my employer’s primary motivator, this time.

I like certifications and training for my own personal development.  As Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.”  As IT people, we must always keep learning.

And, as always, these are my personal views and opinions and not that of my employer.

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