The thing about certifications and flowers

By Renegade on Thursday 3 December 2009 16:39 - Comments (4)
Category: Certification, Views: 4.141

0A discussion on Twitter got me thinking about certifications.

The discussion itself wasn't that new, but this was at least the second time I've seen the subject pop up, and more interestingly it were the same people talking about the same subject.

Things kicked off with a tweet from StorageMonkeys asking the following:
"Just curious... why would anyone get a storage certification when employers really don't care about them?"
storagebod and CXI responded and gave various opinions on the pro and contra of being certified.

This whole discussion probably boils down to two main questions, namely:
  • Will a certification add value for me?
  • Is a certification a proof or acknowledgment of my capabilities?
Now, to answer those questions, we need to put some things in perspective. I managed to become a certified ISO 9001:2000 lead auditor some years back. For those who are not familiar with this standard, it's about quality management.

Now, let's use the example of a shipping and forwarding company that transports fresh flowers from Russia to China by truck. Said company is looking to get an ISO 9001:2000 certification.
That's not that big of a problem.

So, let's take it one step further and say that this company actually ships these flowers in three months in a heated truck. The flowers probably won't survive the trip you say. But can they still get or keep their certification?

Yep, no problem at all. As long as they meet the requirements described in the standard and keep to their quality management procedures they will have no problem getting certified. It doesn't mean that business will be booming, or that they deliver a quality product or service. It just says that they keep certain standards for the way they work, and that they try to improve on those defined standards.

It's the same thing for certifications in general, or for IT certifications that were discussed in the start of this blog post. So, to come back to my two basic questions:

Will a certification add value for me?

Let's not be shy here. It can! But your mileage will vary.
For one, your certifications mainly show that you are able to learn the answer to some questions, and you are smart enough to click on some buttons in a test. Some test will actually need you to have had some hands on. For example the Microsoft tests changed a lot from the NT4 age to the Windows 2000 or Windows 2003 era. The new tests require a lot more hands on experience, and the chances that you are able to pass the test by just studying the correct answers has decreased quite a bit.

But that does not mean that all certifications will require hands on. There are plenty of institutes out there that will have you take a test, and they will only show you that you are able to memorize facts. And usually memorizing facts only works for a while. Talk about the same things again in three months and most of it, if not even all of it, will be long gone.

Then there's the fact that most certifications will only be valid for a certain amount of time. Technology evolves and things change. It's good that way, but a certification doesn't always have an expiration date and a certification will not show if people actually updated their knowledge to reflect those changes. Stuff you learned five years back might not be what you need to know on that topic now, which brings me to the other point:

Is a certification a proof or acknowledgment of my capabilities?

No way! Yes of course! Pick one...

There are a lot of people who will have the knowledge required for a job, that haven't even seen a test center on the inside once in their life. These guys and galls are just as able as the certified person. And the same can be said the other way around, where I would not even let a certified person near my systems because their certification isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

This situation is largely based on the institute or company that actually created the curriculum and the test, and is largely dependent on the acceptance of the certification. The MCP program that Microsoft has is well-recognized and will most likely increase your market value when applying for a job. People take one look and recognize the program. And even if it won't upgrade your value, it can help you get picked out of a bunch of applications since the people over at Human Resources usually scan for these type of things.

Something like a Cisco CCIE certification is hard! It's probably one of the toughest certifications out there and can add quite a lot of value to your resumé. But it will also help that Cisco is well-known and a very commonly used IT supplier.

As far as I know there is no such thing as for example a [url=http://www.3par.com]3PAR[/a] certification. And if one were to be created now, it probably won't increase your value one bit, except for the possibility of gaining new knowledge.

So what's it all about?

Well, that one is pretty easy to answer.

For one, you will always learn new stuff when aiming for a certification. Independent from the fact if you perhaps want to know which questions you answered wrong during your test. Or perhaps even trying to find out why someone wants you to give incorrect answers (based on your experience) in a test. Or by learning because you want to prepare for a certification.

Secondly, you will always see that you increase your value. Be it because you have more knowledge than before, even when you should flunk a test, or be it because they just might pick up your resumé when they look at certifications.

I don't think that anybody out there will know how much a certification is worth, and that won't change. It's something dynamic and will usually only give you a certain amount of recognition among those peers who have the same accreditation. But you will benefit from getting certified either way.