Certifications COULD benefit both employers and employees IF they were administered with an ounce of credibility, by which I mean independence.
There are exceptions, as there are to any rule! The CCIE is almost universally respected in spite of a very narrow focus. That focus is not questioned because in order to even sit for the exam you need to demonstrate a pretty thorough knowledge of internet working sans Cisco specific terminology (ok, mostly anywayG)
There are a handful of other certifications that I think have some value, including most of the Red Hat certs, and unbelievably, most of the IBM Unix certs.
I have worked as a programmer, administrator, and manager of programmers and administrators. I have enjoyed unbelievable good fortune as a hiring manager. I would love to claim expertise here, but I really have no idea how I managed to find, and hire the people I’ve hired!
I can tell you that from big-5 consulting firm to itsy-bitsy startup I’ve used the same criteria…
First and foremost, if you don’t show up to the interview with some passion for the job the interview is over. I had one guy show up for an interview with a well known “button down” company in t-shirt, shorts, and sandals. I did not throw him out because the t-shirt was from a very early perl conference, I was pretty sure he liked writing code! In the end I did not hire him because he would have been miserable in our environment, but we were able to figure that out together. I later hired him at a startup, and he was GOOD!
Second, and nearly as important, bring good organization skills! I don’t mean project management, I mean thinking. My standard test for any technical position is to develop an algorithm for how you got to the interview. No two have been the same, but I learn a lot about how someone thinks, and how they organize their thoughts! Almost all of them enjoy the exercise, after they get over the shockG, and only one candidate ever walked out. Probably best!!!
After that it does come down, to one degree or another, to what you know, but the importance of what you know is seldom a make-or-break issue. It’s more how you know what you know, can you think critically, can you reason things out, do you learn by example or does someone have to walk you through?
It doesn’t really matter to me what the answers are, so much as do the answers fit the job.
Sometimes, if I have a senior person I will sometimes ask really trivial, arcane questions, mostly for fun. If I ask those questions to a junior level candidate it’s just for fun…
And certificates… the topic at hand… I look to see if they have any. Some will get my attention, the RH, IBM, and CCIE especially.
If the candidate has little real experience, and has demonstrated passion and good organizational skills, and has a slew of certs it probably reinforces the depth of their passion. They may not realize that the certs are meaningless, they are trying to demonstrate their competence. Good for them.
On the other hand, if they parade their certs as proof that they are good, well, let’s just say that those interviews are pretty short!
I’d love to see a certification program for programmers that was (a) topical, (b) current, and © independent. It should also be more than a computer based multiple choice quiz.
But I don’t think it will happen because the market has yet to demand it.