Why IT Industry Certifications?
We are often asked whether IT industry certifications are they really worth the effort it takes to achieve them?”
The short answer: it depends what they are for, and who they are from.
It is always best to select a well-known certification from a reputable provider: Apple, Citrix, CompTIA,
Cisco, CWNP, EC-Council, (ISC) 2 , ITIL, Microsoft, Oracle, PMI, Red Hat, SANS GIAC, Sun,
VMWare, to name but a few.
You also need to consider what your end-goal is. Are you looking to gain expertise in one specific
vendor’s products, or are you looking for generic proficiency? Cisco certifications provide skill training in
Cisco products, Microsoft in Microsoft, Apple in Apple, etc. The problem arises if you select to pursue only
Cisco certifications and you apply for a job, for example, at a company that does not use Cisco, in this
instance, your certifications may not help you very much. Vendor-neutral certifications (CompTIA for
example) are helpful in this situation because they are more “portable” – the skills learned, being generic,
are applicable across a variety of technology families. However, the fact that some vendors products,
such as Microsoft and Cisco, are so widely used throughout the industry, this argument is somewhat
invalidated because an engineer holding these widely-recognized certifications is very unlikely to find
themselves without employment.
If you opt for certifications you will need to keep them current. Certifications often have a “life cycle” for
revisions and updating. Generally, certifications are valid for 2-3 years… some more, some less. This is
something to watch out for as validity can vary depending on the provider.
Do remember, however, that formal certification training is aimed at the certification exam. The exam may
not be current with today’s technology. Technology changes at an amazingly fast speed. Exams are often
written for the specific certification “life cycle” (as discussed above) and may not be in-keeping with the
practical applications that the student may experience in their day-to-day job. Training may be as much
as 2-3 years behind the current standard usage. This is where the student needs to realize that arguing
with an instructor (“This isn’t the way we do it at work.”) doesn’t help. The instructor isn’t stupid. The
instructor is probably aware of as-yet-unreleased new technology that the student may not yet even have
heard of, but he or she is teaching you what you need to learn to *pass the exam*. There may be a
difference and students need to keep this in mind.
The Downside to IT Industry Certifications
One negative aspect of industry certifications is that they have been generally devalued over the years
and had developed a not-so-positive reputation from which they are still recovering. The number of
available cheat-promoting (“brain-dump”) websites has increased many times over the years. The
certification industry is big business for the unscrupulous purveyor of answer sheets and fake credentials.
Many legitimate vendors have tightened up security on their certifications and require that exams are
taken at officially-proctored (physical) testing sites where candidates are not even permitted to take their
watches into the testing room! Many vendors have addressed this. Some vendors have made the exams
more difficult but others, such as Microsoft and Cisco, are leading the charge to prosecute these “brain-dump” sites.
Three Things IT Industry Certifications Prove
In general, IT industry certifications prove three main things: that you have commitment to the industry, an
up-to-date knowledge (or as up-to-date as the certification market permits), and the internal motivation to
be a “go-getter”.
When a student pays money, possibly out-of-pocket, to train and earn an industry certification they are
proving their commitment to their craft. It is important to select a training provider that, as well as
preparing you for the exam, teaches you to adequately use the vendor’s products and, ideally, presents
the best practices, the most up-to-date information available, and the most current practical skills. Then
the student passes the exam and earns the certification to prove their newly-gained skill-set. This indicates
to an employer, or potential employer, that they are serious about their commitment to the industry. To
become certified takes effort, motivation, and (possibly) endurance.
Don’t misunderstand our meaning, certifications alone will not secure a job, but reputable certifications
will help. Experience is a key ingredient in obtaining a position, along with the candidate’s general fit with
the company culture and, potentially, a standard academic degree (which some employers still insist
Up-to-date vendor-centric certification training has the added bonus to the employer of creating an
employee who has the capability to get, for the employer, the most benefit from the technology the
employer has purchased (Return On Investment or ROI). Take, for example, a simple Cisco router. The
employer spends money purchasing and installing the router. The Cisco-certified engineer comes along
and, because they have attended specialist training, knows all the capabilities of the router and can make
it work to its full capacity. The employer is getting full value for the money they spent, and downtime is
reduced, because the engineer knows how the router works, and how to make sure it stays working. The
engineer benefits, too, because they have proved their value to their employer, thus strengthening their
own job security. No employer in their right mind would want to get rid of a valued employee who is
creating a really good return on investment!
IT Industry certifications are great way to prove to an employer, or prospective employer, that you “know
your stuff”. Certification exams test a candidate’s knowledge of current standards and prove that you
have a certifiable knowledge base and skill set. Since most exams are provided under strict proctored
circumstances, it is difficult for any candidates to cheat within the exam environment. This type of
proctoring maintains the integrity of the certification and ensures it retains its value for the candidates who
achieve success. Most proctored exams are hosted at certified testing centers however, options are now
becoming available whereby the candidate can sit a proctored exam from the comfort of your own home.
If you are looking to advance your IT career and would like to learn more about how IT Industry Certifications can help, contact NC-Expert today.