Do Certifications Matter?

The answer is - it depends. Certifications help to differentiate the resume more than anything else, but experience really helps too. I have only been a Unix admin for ~12 years (mainframe before that) and what I have observed is having a certification - helps. It displayed that I was willing to put forth the effort. During interviews when I add on that I am back in school - that also adds a lot of weight. One scenario where certifications come in handy is trying to fill junior positions (this is likely more true for system administration positions) where showing someone should have enough experience to perform the basic tasks is all you need - technical questions in the interview should shake out the rest. When applying for programming (and lightweight at best)/scripting positions I bring a portfolio with examples, noted open source contributions and anything I can think of - which always seems to work.

Nice post!! I totally agree with you that the interviewers should not use certifications as a plus (nor a minus) to a candidate and what important is the real knowledge required to get the job done. I shared similar thinking in my reaction ( to another guy who said that he would automatically fail anyone with an MCSD.NET certification

I’ve been getting certified all my life, at least since earning my Bobcat badge (Cub Scouts, for any unfamiliar). Rank Has Its Privileges. I don’t consider myself a better professional because I have passed some tests. At best, they can be equated to the tests for getting a driving learner’s permit. You knew at one time the minimal to be marginally safe. There’s no question that your portfolio of successful jobs serves as the best credential. However, it is just one more arrow in the quiver, especially for marketing purposes. My business cards have had various logos on them over the years, and it influences some people to believe that you might be more of a professional in this for the long haul, and not a guy who’s just between jobs. It’s not the end-all and be-all and won’t resurect that dead server, but it might get your foot in the door somewhere.

Ted Roche
Former MCP, MCSE, MCSD, Novell CNA, and Water Safety Instructor

… ugly girl said: beauty is in soul … yeah, shure!?

I know that I’m late to this conversation, but I have to add my two cents worth.

After all these years, I’m still on the fence re: certification/degrees/etc. When I was consulting, I started stockpiling certifications because I “had to have them” to get my foot in the door for new projects. Some of them (like the PMP, CISSP, CISA, etc.), I think have some value because they at least ensure that there’s some common terminology and ideas that a certified person will understand. I don’t beleive that they provide any indication of the quality of education or the depth of knowledge in any area. But they do show that the person has a foundation and enough of an understanding that they should be able to find the information that they need if they don’t have it in their heads.

I also agree with the opinion that it’s easy enough to get the cert when you’ve been doing the job for x number of years. It took me about 10 minutes (total) to write both of the required exams for my A+ and about 15 to do each of the Network, Server and Security exams. It took longer to drive there than it did to take the tests. The problem is that it costs money, signifies nothing and more often than not, tags you as an entry-level person trying to cover for a lack of experience.

With that said, I have worked with PMPs that couldn’t manage a project if their lives depended on in, MCSEs that can’t set up a basic server and CISSPs that leave their passwords taped to their PCs. I also have MBAs that can’t create a budget and an MSc that thinks that data can get stuck in a length of network cable. Degrees and certification are not cures for stupidity.

The catch-22 is that you need the certifications to get past the idiots in HR. Then when the resume gets to a hiring manager, they get turned off because they know how meaningless the certs really are. In one case, my 20+ years as an engineer was undermined because I recently got my MCSE. They looked at the date of the MCSE and automatically assumed that the 20+ years of experience was bogus because I couldn’t possibly have done the work before I got my cert. (d’oh!) Another, I got blown out of a technical job because I had my PMP and “obviously was more focused on management than technology”.

As an FYI, I have all of my certs photocopied 4 to a page. The 1/4 inch stack is proudly stuck up in my cube and fondly referred to as my “emergency toilet paper”.

PMP, ASQ SSBB, MCSE, MSCD, MCT, Security+, Server+, Network+, iNet+, A+, CISSP, ITSM-SM, CISA, PMP, CQE, MIC-KEY MOUSE.

Tip #6: Don’t be a Certified Loser

Don’t ever, ever use the word “certified” your resume. It’s far and away one of the most prominent red flags in resume screening, bordering on a dead-giveaway round-file 86-that-bad-boy no-review-required situation, if you know what I mean. (If you don’t know what I mean, well, you know the old saying about not knowing who the sucker is at the poker table.)

Certification is for the weak. It’s something that flags you as a technician when you really want to be an engineer. If you want to be a television repairman, you can become certified in TV repair. If you want to work for Sony and design their next big-screen TV, then you clearly don’t need a busy-working-adults course on how to repair the fugging things.

Same goes for tech certification. It means you had to take a course to learn something you could have read in a book. If you know something, just say you know it, and then be prepared to answer questions about it during your phone screens and/or interviews. If you feel compelled to add that you’re certified in said skill, it’s just broadcasting that you lack confidence in your own self-assessments, which doesn’t help you in the slightest.

Seriously. Take all mentions of certifications off your tech resume. It’s actively hurting your chances of getting an interview.

Its funny how most of the people that say certifications are bad and ‘take them of your resume’ are people that don’t have any.

When I graduated college with a bachelor’s in MIS, it was difficult to immediately find a job. With a suggestion from a friend that was an MCSE, I decided to go for the basic entry level MCP certification. I mean, why not?? I have no experience, and no one is knocking my door down to hire me, so I went for it. During my interview at my current job, the MCP that I had earned was brought up. The interviewer said “I noticed that you took the initiative to get a certification while interviewing for jobs.” While I am not sure the reason that I was hired to an entry level technician job, I’m sure my certification didn’t hurt me at all because other people with my same degree didn’t get the job.

In the 4 years since graduating college and during the course of working for my current employer I have earned: A+, Network+, MCSA, MCSE, MCDBA, and CCNA certifications. I have also managed to get a position as a systems engineer along with several raises and many other perks along the way. As I was taking these tests, most of the time I had to use my vacation time to study. Other co-workers made fun of me and said ‘certifications don’t mean anything’! I kept on studying and learning and taking tests. Tests almost seemed like a reward for learning to me. The same people that made fun of me, don’t say as much anymore since I am in a different department with over twice the salary that I started.

One of the biggest things that I have learned is that there is NO substitute for experience, not school, degrees, or tests. However, why wait till you have 20+ years experience to get a good job? Why not learn and get paid along the way? I might not know anything more than the guy beside me, but hard work and initiative AND something that makes you stand out all go a long way.

I will continue to get ceritifications and continue to get pay increases and promotions and calls from other companys and smile while people write blogs on how they don’t matter and to 'take them off your resume"!

How funny…

Kasmier, I think you are right that the certifications may have helped you. But couldn’t it be that it was more that you learned those technologies and was able to apply the knowledge? It might be that you are just an upstanding individual whose skills and ability to learn is just above average and why you excelled over others. I know quite a few people who have 6 - 10 certifications for various things and are not employed (even though they have 4+ year degrees). Those people are the same ones that couldn’t get a job because when asked anything outside of what was on those tests, they couldn’t even formulate an answer. Nor could any of them deploy any of the material they “learned” by studying for the exams. Conversely, I have managed to land and keep several jobs with no college degree or certifications, and I feel I have done quite well. It hasn’t stopped me from going back to school to get my degree(s) in computer science, however, nor has it stopped me from learning as much and as often as I can, about anything related to what I want my career to be.

I found these posts today when searching for ideas on what certifications meant to people, because I am trying to decide if I want to actually sit down and take the tests for the MCPD. I know I can pass them strictly from work experience, but I don’t know if they would benefit me since I now have over 5 years of experience doing exactly that (with a nice portfolio). Maybe I’ll save the money and use it to just buy books on WCF and WPF…

In order to make the exam easy, one should take many example tests, which are usually available on the Internet. Simply cover the answers (we can use a software like Screen Concealer) and try to guess the correct answer in an acceptable time.

The examples improve our skills with minimum fatigue.

…not to mention that anybody can get one of those brain dumps from the internet, memorize the answers and pass the exam with golden stars. I’m a .net developer with no experience at all in Cisco, but if I want to get a CCNA, all I have to do is pay the $70 or so that cost to get a PDF with all the questions answered before hand. Or even better, keep the $70 and just go ahead and download the PDF from the pirate bay or a BitTorrent site :wink:

Hey actually, i have nothing to add here but to pose a question. I have 5 years of pc support/net admin/web development work at various companies. I have 0 certs and less than a year of college. But now im at the point where people making three times as much as me are pissing me off because i know far more than they do but they have some paper to get the raise. Fair enough, now its mine turn. My question if you dont mind giving me a few opinions, is would it make sense at this point to spend the next 4-6 years in college while working full time or spend that 4-6 years instead working on certs and moving up in a few different organizations. Basically im just to the point where going back to school may not be the best course of action but would like a second opinion.


I’ve got a (UK) BA Hons in Communication IT.
And I’ve (just) got my MCP (Vista) and I’m training towards an MCSE (or MCTS/MCITP), along with a CIW.

And I really need to have those little letters after my name cause I am at a huge disadvantage in the IT world, simply cause I am female and that alone means that despite having spent the last 4 years working in IT, people assume I know nothing about what I am talking about.
My Vista exam wasn’t passed by what I read in the book, but by what I knew already, same with my XP (and to an extent Server 2003) exams (hopefully). The other courses have taught me a lot more about areas which I knew.

Of course my BA degree in IT taught me nothing about IT in the real world (unless my job needs to design a sheep screen saver!) but it does show I can do the university thing, which in UK is most certainly needed.

Many people have made comments along these lines, but I wanted to add my voice to the notion that is not the idea of certification that is bad, it’s the actual certifications we have which are bad.

It’s a sign of computer science’s infancy that we can still hear stories of people without format education and certification who are successful in the market. I’m not saying that as a slur against the uncertified or self-taught - I’m saying the fact speaks for itself. Eventually education and certification will improve to the point that they will so advantageous that they will be virtual screening processes, if not literal ones, for certain types of coding jobs.

Imagine an architect (I.M. Pei architect, not software architect) with no formal schooling. Who would hire such a person? I’m sure some exist but they are the exception that proves the rule. Whereas in construction it is much more common to find laymen with no formal education who begin as apprentices and can work their way up to headmen.

The analogy maps to software architecture pretty cleanly. There are certain principles in design which are learnable through experience but which you would be much more comfortable knowing your master architect had been schooled in. As program design gets more sophisticated and design principles become better understood and formalized, formal education will become more and more useful.

I am a senior enginner for a major search engine and have to add my two cents. Let me ask a few questions?

does bjarne stroustrup have a certification? does sergey brin? does larry page?

Umm… no.

I spent a lot of time earning a PhD in computer science and during that time I was also working at companies like Sun, and AOL. During that time I learned real programming fundamentals and also solved real-world problems in a team environment.

All I know, is that if your resume shows up on Google’s doorstep and its littered with lots of fun letter combinations and not much real programming experience i dont think you’ll get the interview call. and if you did, you would be totally overwhelmed when the engineers from the team you are applying for start bombarding you with questions about things they are really working on. If youre not prepared to sit there and write some code or draw on the whiteboard to help solve the problem at hand you will be dismissed.

My suggestion is to start spending some more time learning the right way to program, spend time programming for fun, yes fun! if you dont love to program then what is the point?

Anyway, do what you will – if you are serious about getting a job at a cool place then i recommend creating some projects on your own. You will always learn more by doing then by cramming some crap into your brain to pass a test.

I totally agree with you, Steven, that it’s the knowledge and experience that will be necessary to actually do the job when the time comes. However, like Cristopher was saying earlier, the fact is (and we all know this, because we’ve all encountered it) that, no matter how good you know you are, and how good you can tell a prospective employer you are, they want to see a piece of paper. It stinks, it may not make sense, but that’s the way it is.
I guess that the best we can all hope for is methods of cutting down on the time that it takes to get certified, so that we’re left with as much time as possible to do the actual practice that you’re talking about, Steven.
One thing that I did see recently that was kind of cool was a chart of information about average salaries based on certification, and how they had changed between 2006 and 2007…kind of gives a little peak into the trends. searching through browser history It was at
Actually, now that I think about it, CareerSaver (the people running the site) was saying that it’s one of those companies that cuts down on cert prep time.
Well, frustrations aside, everyone keep up the good fight as warriors of the working class, adrift in the sea of technological development. (Sorry…felt like waxing poetic, as it were.)

Yeah, I see what you’re saying – maybe it depends on what kind of job you want to go for. If you’re looking for a business Enterprise job then maybe a certification will get you in the door. If you’re looking for a research job where you’re going to be working on new and exciting ways to crawl the web I would recommend staying in school and interning at companies that do really interesting stuff. Getting a PhD was a major commitment and pain in the arse but it’s been well worth it in the long run.

Also what kills me about people that tout their certifications all over the place is that they seldom know anything more than what is in the certification study materials. To be an effective developer you need to master a variety of different languages and technologies. On a daily basis I can use C, C++, Java, Perl, and work on both Unix and Windows to get my stuff done. Anyhoo… this is just my opinion and it could be total crap… just want to maybe open up some eyes.

Code because you love it, not because it pays the bills.

So where do you start? If certification is crap, how are we juniors to start on the path of being a good developer? What’s the career path… Saying “just be good” is a cop out. HOW? Offer a solution please.

According to spolski we should all learn C and write a compiler… great, except noone cares. Noone in the industry is gonna be like “Ohh you wrote a lisp compiler in lisp…” It’s academic CS masterbation.

I knew more about OOP than anyone I worked with for the first two years out of college. In 2007 I’m trying to explain inheritance and why objects are good to a bunch of C veterans trying to write an asp .net app using embeded techniques. Imagine a big web app where every object is just a record and all methods are static functions… have fun debugging.

This industry is an unregulated joke. When I got out of school I read patterns and practices books and considered getting a cert or two. I had NO experience and though Gee this is what OTHER industries do… but guess what, the reading and a cert was a waste of time.

Senior devs sit on their obfuscated code thrones, invaluable to the company because only they and god can read their code. They dont use industry standards. These “genuises” usualy go on and on how coding is some mystic art and how certs are crap, make snide comments about user groups, and say “what did you read a pattern book or something” in a code review. When in reality they have no fricken clue about jack.

If you are a company that throws away resumes of people with certs, guess what i dont want to work for ya anyway. I want to work where people better themselves. Not somewhere with a 90% fail rate.

So again. What is your answer? Anyone can point out a problem. The solution is what counts. What magic fairy dust do junior programmers need? The guru’s say not certs, what then? Make yet another open source rss reader? Write my own language and compiler(give me a break)?

And yah, I do it for love of the game. But coding as a career is a joke.

validate your knowledge

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.

lol. I got my CCNA about 3 years back (could take classes in high school for free and get actual certs) and at the time I could barely have logged on to a router, much less do ANYTHING once logged in.

Whenever I have to hire someone the very first thing I do to the stack of resumes is to remove the resumes with Microsoft Certifications. I’ve found over the years that, 98% of the time, those are the people that are trying to buy a job with a magic certificate. People that actually know what they are doing know because they DO. Not because they took a class.

Of course if they have years and years of experiance I don’t hold the certs against too much them but it is a red flag that simply means, This guy might be more trouble than he’s worth.

Brian, it sounds like you don’t love programming but that you’re in it to make a buck. Nothing wrong with that but it goes to why you’re not understanding how to get experiance. Do you dream about programming? Do you write programs to solve problems that didn’t really need a program just because it’s an interesting problem? Do you think what if? whenever you’re working on a piece of software or hardware? Do you often think about how something physical works and how to build it in code?

So what does that all mean? It means if you love programming you’ll make up stuff to do that YOU find interesting and that will give you experiance. If you can’t think of anything to do just for yourself then you probably don’t love programming and nothing I tell you will mater because it will all just be different version of , Write a compiler.