Do Certifications Matter?

I sometimes wish that I had got some certification. Never once in my career I have been offered one, but at the same time I have seemed to need one. Except maybe when applying for jobs, the job recruiters and other non technical people seemed to take the certifications very seriously. But when talking to other developers at job interviews they never seemed to care, they just wanted to see my track record and see what I could do. I don’t know how much the salary are affected by certification, but it is frustrating when you help certified developers over and over and then in the back of your head you wonder if they get paid more? (I know it is crap to think like that)

It is my experience that people whom have taken certificates know all the names and methods of how to get things done, but they often lack the skills to actually do it, unless they have gained their own experiences. Also it is my personal opinion that certified .Net developers know how to do it the Microsoft way and often believe that is the only way. From an outsider it can very well look like the companies are training army’s of developers with the general being a monkey jumping around and throwing chairs. #61514;

But anyway, I think it would help me take a certificate, because I suck at multiple choice tests, because I always forget the name of some class or method. But then again I could train that myself without the certification, but when I have time to study I don’t spend my time remembering names on stuff I already know how to do. I look into future stuff like new development methods, new programming languages, new development software, etc.

For me, it was leave school at 18, skip university, go straight to work as an analyst for a software firm. Gradually I became interested in the development side, and started to do more and more of it. In the following few years that I would have been in uni, I was learning Visual Basic, SQL, PL/SQL, Java, on top of all the analyst tools (Excel, etc). When I eventually left that company, I had 3 years more experience in the industry to take me to my next job. There I learned VB.NET and C#, and now in my 3rd company, C# 2.0 is where I’m settled.

I haven’t a single qualification, and am a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but I’ve decided to settle on C# and try to be really good at something, instead of just okay.

Experience counts for a lot, I think.

Obviously I’m not the most objective witness for the defence :slight_smile:

In studying for my MCSE, it became pretty painfully obvious that despite my own high opinion of myself, I really had no idea about half the stuff in most of the products.

If certification gave me nothing else, it showed me more aspects of the subjects than I’d exposed myself to willingly.

So I’d argue value is at least that from the certificant(?)'s perspective, there are benefits.

Picking an MCSE from a guy without any certification that’s been running a network for years… well, it still comes down to the interview.

Most of the time in IT - especially in Support and in this age of Just In Time learning - it’s not what you know (outdated!), it’s how you learn and process information…

  1. Dilbert cartoon…

“Step away from that network server! I’m certified!
Well, this is embarrassing; that’s all I remember from the classes…”

  1. From “The Illuminatus Trilogy” (Shea and Wilson)…

Hagbard Celine is at a Naval college. He looks around at his fellow ‘students’ and realizes: “they are not here to learn; they are here to get a piece of paper that qualifies them for certain jobs.”

Background: B.SC. in Comp Sci. MS C# developer. No certifications (yet). When I graduated, so did Java. I’m going on 10 years of post-grad experience in software.

I’ve known many coders that have all the certifications and they’re absolutely useless, but here’s the reason why I’m going to get mine soon:

Agencies, HR PHB’s.

I work in London as a contractor and there’s this immense buffer between people who know what they want and people who know how to do it and they’re called agencies. Agencies are keyword obsessed and it’s Chinese Whispers between their client and you. It also doesn’t help that most of them are useless at evaluating your potential worth because they don’t have a clue about technology. If the agency/hr/phb can’t tick all the keywords, you don’t get to the interview stage. So the putz with certification is going to get the interview and be paid more because of it.

So, money is why certifications are valid. You pay for the privilege of saying ‘I might have a clue’ and you also get paid more for it. It saves the agencies/hr/phb’s time because they don’t have to think, they just score your CV for how well it matches keywords and you get the call for the interview because all those long-named certifications sound impressive.

Incidentally this is why networking is still the best way to land a new role, because networking cuts through a lot of layers of BS. It’s seems that half the battle is trying to prove you’re legitimate, and that’s partly what degrees and certifications provide.

Perception is everything. Programming is an art.

In france, there is two exams for the licence driving.
First one is a theoritical test with choise answer:
There is a red light, what do you do:
- I stop.
- I continue.
Second is the pratical test in town with real cars and real peoples. Most people pass easily the first test, and need two or three times to pass the pratical one. Few people who pass the pratical test on their first attemps was the autodidacte (yes there is in france even for car) and the mans-who-pass-anything-and-always-win-at-casino-like-James-Bond.

I believe now that certification are like theoritical driving license: you just have to learn answers. You pass your exams, but you knows nothing for the real life.

Experience is always better, but you’ve got to think that if you’re new to the game straight out of uni or school, how are you going to appeal to prospective employers.

As someone not that long out of uni I found it difficult to land a dream job because they all demand 5 years experience. Certifications and qualifications make you stand out (hopefully) from the crowd of graduates.

I’m considering Java certification now. More as a refresher on the latest changes and maybe move towards Java from my current PHP based job.

Yeah Dan, if they demand 5 years experience, it’s beacuse theorical knowledge is not enought.

In general, those who spout some combination of: “we don’t need no degrees/certs”, “I be self taughtt”, “college is for dummies”, “college is for folks who need timeless knowledge, like engineers”, and the like are the source of the Decline of American Civilization.

There’s a trend afoot: stupid people get paid more to do stuff than smart people get paid to do stuff. Pyramid schemes of various types, plumbers, Wal-Mart managers. These are the folks who vote for Intelligent Design to be taught in schools and G.W. Bush. Bend over, America, and Kiss Your Butt Goodby.

The nice thing about certifications is that the typical entry level person has to study for one.  In studying for some technical cert, your introduced to a wide variety of topics that you may rarely encounter as a self taught techie.  So the cert exists to give you something to study for, the studying gives you the breadth of knowledge you'll need to succeed, and experience gives you the depth of knowledge you need to become a rockstar.

My son is can tell you all about POSTS and GETS because he has been working on web projects since he was 11 years old. He learned PHP on his own by reading various books, talking to other PHP developers, and asking good questions.

He knows JavaScript because he was working on a Webpage and he wanted to put some live content on it. He then used what knowledge he gained to do other webpage designs and learned more JavaScript. He downloads webpage source from sites he likes and studies them. And, he just started High School.

If I need someone to put together a website, I’d hire him in a minute over someone who has a stack of certificates “this high”. Heck, I’d even hire him to be a junior developer although he doesn’t know any real programming language. He shows a willingness to learn, the technical intellectual ability to pick up the needed knowledge, and the hunger of wanting to do the best job he can. Give him a couple of weeks, and he’ll learn whatever language the project requires. Within a couple of months, he’ll be indispensable.

I learned about programming, QA methodology, configuration management, and program architecture because I was in various projects, and I took an interest in learning a bit more than I needed to. I started out as a QA tester, learned shell scripting and Perl, picked up C and C++, and learned quite a bit about networking just because I wanted to be able to do better testing.

Shell scripting and Perl helped me do more thorough testing. Being able to read C and C++ code allowed me to show developers why their programs had bugs. From there, I started writing my own C and C++ test programs to do functional and unit testing. My experience in QA and now as a developer allowed me to start moving over into CM and System Administration.

Oh, I have certification out the wazoo. I am certified in ISO 9000, CMMI, Six Sigma, and MIL-STD-973. I’ve been through mandatory quality training programs, System Administration certification programs, and I even took and passed all the required tests for an MCSE (One company wanted me to evaluate the course work, so I took the e-courses and the tests, but I was not registered, so I didn’t get the certification – although I was offered the option of paying $2000+ of registration fees in order to get the certification.)

Taking these courses only hardened my opinion that certification programs are merely a way for companies to make even more money on the stuff they sell, keep the competition from outsiders out, and to quiet opposing points of view. Who are you going to believe that vagabond ruffian or me – someone who’s certified that he knows what he’s talking about? Sure, he might have a decade and a half experience, but I have a certificate with a GOLD seal!

Well I have a CCNA and a CNAP, both from Cisco. I can assure you that the CCNA had exactly ZERO benefits for me… I tried getting into the networking jobs but no one hired me because my resume stated mostly web development work and no hands-on experience (which I couldn’t get without a job).

Right now I forgot almost all of the cisco IOS stuff and it is even more useless.

Certs are good as a starting point to give you a nice overview of the technologies and make your cv stand out a bit… then you have to complement that with hands-on experience. They’re not useless, but a certification alone isn’t a sign of mastery.


People who know their stuff and/or are Truly Talented won’t be bothered by getting certs 'cos it’s a minor nuisance for them to do so; they can knock an exam out in a week just casually studying in their spare time. They have the brains to do whatever they need to do at any job, so this is just a pass to get by HR types, as other commenters have noted.

I “taught” Microsoft Official Curriculum “classes” for a while, and based on many conversations with many students, I can tell you this: if companies and agencies did not ask for certifications, no one would get them. The whole thing is, as David noted in his comment, an artificial demand. I have seen the profit margins for selling MOC classes, and they can be pretty huge. It’s about money, not learning.

I blame 1998.

Use my example as to why certs are pretty much useless.
I got an MCSE in NT4 back in 97. I had to retake a few of the core tests. I cheated on the IIS test. I had crib notes stuffed under the band of my watch. I was brand new to the field and wanted to make “MCSE money”. It was all the rage back then.
Anyone who hired me was not getting an MCSE. I was an amateur.

Happy ending, clever got me this far.
Today I am very successful working as a Net Admin in a pure Novell shop. The past 9 years of experience is where I got my education.

I just got my CCNA. It seeems Cisco does things very differently than most other organizations that are just giving tests to generate more revenue.

When I left school and college, it was because I wanted to work on real problems for a living.

I certainly don’t want to go back to the drudgery of tests and exams again!

Experience is my teacher and my back catalog are my qualifications.

I have to agree entirely with the views in the article. I’m pretty much a self-taught programmer, starting small with javascript and server side scripting and eventually being employed at a company that uses proprietary languages.

My contribution to this discussion is that I go to continuing education to keep myself current, and I notice that some classes teach memorization. For example, my girlfriend was in a class, learning web design basics. On her in-class exam, they’d ask her (with a multiple choice question of course) which tag you’d use for an ordered list item. That kind of test is so remarkably useless, because if you were a real web designer, you may or may not have a tag memorized, but you can use it on a page to display something properly. Usage is the real test, not whether you pick it out of four items on a sheet of paper.

Certifications mean little if they aren’t backed up by real knowledge and practical application of that knowledge. It is the same as when my former employer was all hot on CMM, CMMI, Six Sigma, Six Sigma Lean, etc. Buzzwords, in the end, and only done because their customer - the US government - was also fooled into believing any of it meant a hill of beans. Yes, in theory, any and all of these might be useful, but in practice they were an exercise in hoop jumping and money wasted. It put the company in a position that was advantageous, based on the requirements of the moment. Not unlike a job that requires certification for certification’s sake.

Now, I’ve got an MCTS study book and it is thick and it does have a LOT of information in it. I have started to read it and found myself saying a few times “oh, I didn’t know that” at certain points, despite the fact that I write C# code all day and have been doing so for maybe nine months now. I’ve got 12 years of C++ experience and maybe 20 years of programming experience, but I certainly don’t know everything. There - that is the value in the exercise of going through the certification process: learning something, especially if it is directly applicable to your job. If it is just head knowledge for the sake of passing a test, it will likely be lost once the test has passed, like those hundreds of Latin words I learned in high school and the theorems and why I care about moles in Chemistry and all the rest of that stuff that I learned for the sake of a quiz grade or a final exam. Maybe it made me think better, maybe it helped me in the long run, but the specific knowledge is long lost, replaced by something else that is relevant for the moment. I suspect that often, certification knowledge falls into the abyss if it isn’t coupled with experience.

Amo amas amat… umm… what did that mean again? :wink:

Certifications are a crazy thing.

I’ve got a SCJD for some reason - yet I’ve never worked on a java project. I got it based entirely on book learnin’. (there was a corporate need for it at the time, although we never did transition to java).

I once got sent out on a contract to fix a dozen IIS webservers that had been infected by the Nimda virus. I, the humble developer, had it sorted in two hours, despite the fact that a room full of MCSEs had been trying for two days. Seems the MCSE exam at that time didn’t really cover Weird Internet Things.

That tends to be the problem, though - usually the cert exams proscribe a very narrow way of doing things. There’s a “right” way to pass your certs. Except most employers and clients don’t do things the “right” way because they happen to be doing silly things like wanting to get all their legacy data off the mainframe or something. People who concentrate on their certs are often paralyzed when thrown into heterogeneous environments.

That said, I’ve worked with some people who went from zero to certified and because of it are pretty decent programmers/dbas/etc. They didn’t have a 4 year university course or anything, they just had a natural talent and through a few months of certification training got a good handle on the tech.

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.