Guest blogger Birgir Gunnlaugsson, IT Manager Advisory Council, discusses "Experience Versus Education and Certification"

Deborah Grauer (Microsoft)

This is the second in a series of blog posts authored by members of the IT Manager Advisory Council. We've asked them to share their insights and opinions on topics they are passionate about related to hiring & managing employees, and maintaining skills on their teams.  If you agree or disagree and have a different perspective - chime in and contribute your views.


There is a gap between knowledge from earned experience and knowledge earned from books.  The theory of programming and consulting can be learned from books, but this takes you just a couple of miles down the road towards being a valid IT professional.  The rest of the road you will learn by experince and dealing with various problems, mainly detected by users. This is my experience from managing and working in IT matters for the last 20 years. 


My name is Birgir Gunnlaugsson, and I am CEO of a six-person company in Iceland. I describe my company as being "IT managers for rent and programmers for business solutions." Currently we manage IT for companies that vary from 13 to 960 employees, and so we have to be able to be very flexible.


Do I mean that young people without experience are out of scope for IT teams?  No, but hiring a young employees—we call them "officers" in Iceland—to join an IT team has different purpose than hiring an experienced one.  The purpose of hiring the young one is to create a teamworker for the future. The purpose of hiring an experienced professional is more often to be able to solve a short-term overflow of activities.


Of course, to hire the younger one you need a budget that allows you to have an apprentice on the premises, but there are very good reasons that make good business sense for continuing to hire the less experienced IT people.


The state of the economy (bank crisis) has now tightened up budgets for running IT teams, and in most cases there have been layoffs.  However, in these times it is very neccesary to remember the future and keep on hiring the young ones, or you will either run out of experience in IT or find that it becomes more and more expensive.  If there are no young IT’s to learn from the experienced ones, your company will suffer in the future. Always make sure that all neccesary knowledge is spread out between employees as much as possible.


Young employees are often more keen on trying new stuff,  they are more eager to change things than the experineced ones. Why? My old boss said all the time, “If it works, don’t change it!”  If this was true, we would still be walking or horseriding between places, because that actually worked back then.  But we found a faster way to travel, didn’t we?  In our industry, we must challenge experience with new angles, different approachs, and keep on pushing for better software and hardware. Otherwise, instead of discussing the Cloud, we will be discussing graveyards. 


For example, one of the younger teams created a new open source solution for direct digital invoicing. This solution is pushing EDI out of our Microsoft Dynamics system. In another instance, two young fellows—one is our youngest employee—have been experimenting with connecting Dynamics Ax with online marketing via Facebook.


Besides the experience gap, there is also a gap between real ability and certified ability. Certification alone does not add to your quality as an IT worker, but it states that you have passed an exam. Sorry to say, as an IT manager these multi-answers exams can be learned by heart on the internet and you can actually pass one without ever learned or worked with the related topic. 


Is certification then worthless? Absolutely NOT!  Have you seen Microsoft's funny video about the difference in interviewing candidates that do and do not have Microsoft certifications?


As an IT manager you should have an ongoing schedule for certifying your employees' knowledge.  Make space in your schedule and budget to train and educate your employees in new versions, new ideas etc.  The benefits are mutual: the employee’s feel important and the knowledge on the IT teams stays current.


Hiring a new candidate is always a challenge, but when it all comes together—CV, recommodation, education and certification, and the feel of the conversation is good—you  know you have a winner!


I'd like to hear your views on the experience and the credential "gaps," and what you think about hiring younger IT professionals. What's been your experience? Who's learning the most on your teams?


  • Anonymous
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    A good read Birgir.  I'm completely with you on the fact that certification does not mean that you have the experience, or indeed that you have the knowledge, more that you have studied well for an exam (or two).  I find that in my team, the younger element are more eager to learn and tackle new challenges whilst the older element are happier sticking with what they know. This gives the difficult situation of having young inexeperieced yet knowledgable on new technologies as one group and the older, experienced but unwilling to learn more as another group.  Striking the balance is a real challenge.

  • Anonymous
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    Birgir, thanks for sharing your point of view. I agree that a canditate needs a good combination of Knowledge, experience and education and as you correctly pointed out, teh Conversation is good. I often find people with good conversation but lack of skills, in this case training is key, But when education and skills are in place but the converstion is not good, there is nothing we can do to help them improve and integrate the team on the short term.

  • Anonymous
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    Nice article on the tensions that seem to always be present within a team of IT folk.  I've found that those who don't stop learning like to continue doing so (whatever their age), whereas once people have stopped it's harder to get them motivated to put aside the time to start again.