Recently, a young IT professional starting out in his career asked us on Facebook: "What is the benefit if I get certified?" In the guest blog post below, MCT Ed Baker responds to this young IT pro's question. If you'd like to connect with Ed for more advice, please leave a comment or check out his Born to Learn profile.
Why do we have to take all these exams?
I am lucky enough to teach for Firebrand Training, a Microsoft Learning Partner in the UK, and for the last 12 months also a Microsoft IT Academy. I split my time between teaching Server and Client courses to corporate delegates and apprentices. For the most part, the corporate delegates are only there for one thing – certification, that’s why they chose an accelerated programme MCSA Server 2012 in 8 days, MCSE in 13 or 14. Talking to these experienced IT folks about certification is, as we say, preaching to the converted. A large proportion pay for their own courses and know just how valuable certification is to a career. I know – because that is how I started on the road to becoming an MCT. Apprentices are a different matter. They're usually younger and working at their first IT jobs, and I enjoy helping them lay a good foundation for their IT career.
What exactly is the benefit of all this certification to young people?
Well, I tackle it from a different angle on day one. I explain that it is my job to help apprentices achieve a certain level of competence and understanding in the technical areas, so that not only can they get a job, but more importantly they can do the job well AND keep it. I am not here to get them certified, but that if I do my job and they do theirs, they will pass the exams, and invariably they do. The 5 weeks of residential training cover Networking, Database, and Server Administration. The IT Academy e-learning also allows them to take the material and study at work or online at home to take those tests later.
If 500 young IT professionals apply for any technical job, all with similar résumé contents, then a hiring manager is going to put the certified candidates right at the top of the pile. In troubled employment times, employers can be very picky. Once you secure a job and prove that you can do the work it entails, you need to progress, show you can learn more and upgrade your skills for more responsibilities. How do you do that? Go and learn the new products with hands-on experience, and prove you can do the job by taking and passing the certification examinations.
Is that what you did Ed?
I started out on my IT journey as a Project Manager who wanted to make sure that all the technical consultants were not trying to add un-necessary days and weeks to my precious project plan. Once I got the technical bug and decided I wanted to teach what I knew, it was essential to be certified. I would not try and tell someone how to use something without being qualified. To be qualified, it is my assertion that a trainer MUST be certified and SHOULD be experienced in using the product in everyday situations, including the bad times when things are going wrong. How to get out of trouble when your Server goes down is a valuable skill.
For those who don’t want to teach, then certifying is just as useful. Microsoft provide access to a whole bunch of useful benefits to its certified professionals. The online transcript sharing tool allows a prospective employer (or current one) to view all of your Microsoft exam passes, current and past certifications and in the case of a trainer, the course you are allowed to teach.
What else does Microsoft give me?
As a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP), you receive access to an MCP-only website with links to the MCP community. In addition, this site offers downloads of Certificates, Logos, links to a Certification Planner and many more useful bits and bobs. If you decides to become a Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) or a Trainer (MCT), the other tabs on the site become available to you, along with their benefits.
So, if apprentices and those starting out in IT should get certified, is it just as relevant for those with many years of experience and practice behind them? In short, it opens doors that are firmly closed without a current certification.
I had spent many years being self-employed and not needed to recertify every time a new version or product was released. I simply learned the products, tested them in a lab and then deployed and used them for my customers. When I decided I wanted to take a different career path, I found more than one prospective employer happy to talk to me and discuss options but not one of them would progress further until I was certified in the subject areas I was interested in.
As soon as I had gone away and gained the certifications for things I already knew I could do, the employers were offering jobs at the first opportunity. It is very difficult to make a hiring decision without some objective markers and certification is an effective marker of ability.
Isn’t it just a bit of paper?
For this reason it is imperative that the integrity of the certification system is maintained, if not, then there will be a larger number of ‘paper-qualified’ people around. Without integrity, the certification process means nothing. As end users, we have to trust that the provider, in this case Microsoft maintains both the integrity AND the fairness of the exams and the process.
Anyone who has taken Microsoft exams in the last 12 months will have seen an enormous number of changes to the item types, just check out the Ask a Certification Expert (ACE) series of video clips to see what’s been happening. They even have their own outtakes video!
These changes have turned the new certifications into excellent examples of current, relevant and challenging tests. There is however a dark side, where the force is strong, sadly.
Some exam centres and administrator are not as vigilant as they should be and there are a number of websites, forums and other communities where the contents of exams are regularly exchanged. This is being tracked and tackled by Microsoft – They have a department and a manager specially employed to do this. Check out this Born to Learn interview, too. It is also up to us IT professionals all to be on the look-out for such things. More importantly SEE it, REPORT it! If you don’t, you have no right to complain when someone else who you know cheated get the job you are after.
In a nutshell.
Certification get you.
You know it makes sense.
About the guest blogger:Ed Baker is an MCT specializing in Windows Server and Client products with 20 years industry experience. He currently teaches for Firebrand Training and the Firebrand Microsoft IT academy Programme in the UK. @edbaker1965 holds three of the new MCSE certifications as of November 2012.