In our business of IT, we hear a lot of talk about certification, both good and bad. The proponents of certification extol its benefits, including job advancement and more money. Detractors say technical certifications are not based on real world scenarios and only measure an individual’s test-taking ability. In my experience, many of the certification proponents are training companies, book publishers, or vendors who stand to reap financial gain from certification. Conversely, many of the certification detractors are people who don’t hold certifications. It’s easy to get a bit cynical on both sides of the certification question.

Putting cynicism aside, technical certifications do have value in at least three areas:

  • Career Benefits. Some employers do offer job advancement, bonuses, or pay increases based on achieving certification milestones. If your employer offers these types of benefits, the value of attaining IT certifications is obvious.
  • Greater Product Knowledge. The process of preparing for the certification exam forces you to fill in gaps in your knowledge. The first certification I achieved was on Microsoft Windows 98. I thought I knew the product pretty well, but was surprised by the depth of product knowledge required in order to pass the test. I’ve since gotten additional Microsoft, Cisco, and Linux certifications. Each time, as I prepared for the test, I gained new knowledge that has made me a better writer, consultant, and systems/network administrator.
  • Personal Enrichment. Achieving certification, as in any acquisition of knowledge, adds to your overall skill set, helps build self-confidence, and contributes to your general understanding of how things work. I attended a seminar once on the Linux boot process in which the instructor stated that the more you know about one operating system, the more you know about them all. Spiritualists are fond of stating that everything is interconnected. Whether you believe that on a spiritual level or not, in our world of IT, there’s a lot of truth to it. (Don’t believe me? Even Windows has an etc directory, a la Unix.)

I had a boss once who said that he didn’t care if his staff members got certified, but he did care that they went through the process of preparing for the certification exams. He wasn’t interested in people cramming or attending boot camps, but he was very interested in his staff members studying, doing labs, and otherwise seriously preparing for the exams. He understood well the benefits to his organization of having knowledgeable staff members who were actively engaged in the ongoing acquisition of more knowledge.

UPDATE 6/30/13: A Facebook follower also pointed out that she uses certifications to filter job interview candidates. When she’s hiring someone for an IT position, she requires that he/she hold current relevant certs in order to get an interview. Then, she uses a combination of the interview process and reference-checking to ensure that the candidate is qualified for the job.

For those of us who truly care about delivering great customer service, attaining IT certification means we have a better, more thorough understanding of the products we support. It means we’re better able to quickly deliver accurate solutions to help our end-users work more productively, creatively, and efficiently.

In our world where knowledge is power, the more you know, the more power you have. It’s not only about power, it’s about creating greater value for yourself in a very competitive world. So, yes, IT certification has value!

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