What Drives IT Certifications?

Liberty Munson (Microsoft)

I stumbled across this interesting blog post today (http://scn.sap.com/community/training-and-education/certification/blog/2012/10/11/what-drives-it-certification). Why do employees, employers, vendors, and partners get certified? John Kleeman spoke to attendees of the European Association of Test Publishers (EATP) to find out. (As some background, the Association for Test Publishers (ATP) is one of the key professional conferences in the certification industry. Microsoft Learning typically attends ATP in the United States, but I would love attend the European version at some point!)

I was struck by the reasons that employees get certified and why employers want their employees to be certified.

Employees: Why do you get certified? Certainly, one key driver is to improve your job or career prospects, but it appears that another key driver is to learn and develop skills. Certification is hard--it has to be if it's going to differentiate you from others--so if you get certified simply because you want an objective evaluation of your skills, you're showing some serious dedication and commitment to continuous lifelong learning. Of course, this makes me curious about why YOU get certified? Does the idea of using certification to learn and develop skills resonate with you? What drives you to get a certification and/or maintain one?  

Employers: Why do employers want their employees to be certified? To improve performance, obviously, but it's clear that employers realize that certification is not a guarantee for success. That being said, it certainly improves the odds of success, especially for first time implementations of new technology. To me, that suggests that the most valuable certifications are those in newer technologies and that certifying early--when a new version of a technology is just released--may give you an advantage over those who aren't certified, especially in those in those organizations that are rolling out the latest and greatest. Hmmm... this seems to tie back to that idea of certification as a mechanism to learn and develop new skills. Very interesting, indeed.

What do you think about the key drivers of IT certification that John described? Did he miss why you get certified or why you want your employees to be certified? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

  • SRMcEvoy
    | |

    For me it is a mix. My employer sets goals each year in my APR for what they want me to cover in my learning path. But I can also choose to study and learn almost anything IT related and they will cover the cost if I pass the exam. Last year they bough a corporate Train Signal account and I have completed 4 courses and have 3 more in process. Have done 1 MS upgrade exam and plan on at least 7 more MS Exams this year to get greater knowledge of SQL 2012 and Server 2012. For me it is a great way to learn. And to stay on top of what is new and current. Since I have been working in It I have tried to do at least 4 courses and or exams a year.

  • Jasper Kraak
    | |

    Hi, I also wrote on that, was even published on born to learn blog, you can re-read on http://www.kraak.com/?p=921

    Bottom line is quality, imho.

  • okcdude
    | |

    As an employer, certifications are the only empirical way that I know my staff truly understand the technologies we use to provide solutions to our customers.  In my opinion, having an in-depth understanding of new technologies gives us more options when it comes to solving customer problems with code.

  • Markku Jaatinen
    | |

    For me the key driver is learning since (luckily) in my current job I don't  need so much extra proof of my skills or capabilities. What is however necessary is to learn new things and to certain extent forget old ones at the same time. I do often find it hard to really start digging into certain subject as much as I should do and for those cases I've found out that either giving out training or certification exam gives me enough motivation to really dedicate time to learn something new. Since I don't teach IT any more I've found out that going to exam is a good "excuse" to kick myself into learning something new I need in my job.

    So the benefits of getting certified are that I learn a new skillset I need in my job in any case and get certified as bonus.

  • Adnan Hendricks (Regional Lead - Netherlands)

    To practice what I preach and preach what I practice i'm an MCT ! Its to prove to myself and others that I know what i'm talking about. Living Microsoft tech is not easy otherwise everybody would be certified IT pro's. It's the drive to stay relevant in an ever changing world the landscape of IT is a lot different than just a few years ago. Think how relevant degrees are in that respect something somebody maybe attained more than 20 years ago .. so I regard (re)certification really important.

  • Butch Adams
    | |

    I get certified because, beyond differentiating myself from the pack, it is the most organized way to learn the nuts and bolts of any particular technology I am currently working with.

  • Renzo Patricio Carpio
    | |

    For me to get certified is a way to organize my knowledge. I learn every day different topics from different sources and also from experience, but at then end of the month I noticed that despite I have learned a lot, it was juts a little bit of everything. When I decided to become certified I had to be consistent with certain areas of expertise, and I was able to get deep knowledge and understanding of them. That doesn't mean that I not learning "a little bit of everything" now, I'm actually doing it but in a organized way.

    Secondly, certifications are a way to demonstrate myself my skills.

    And finally, being the first certified on new technologies in my company, it sets the bar for my team, specially the young ones, to be always on the loop of learning.

  • Rogerio Prudente
    | |

    I agree with the “Employees” reasons to get certified: it is a way to methodically study a technology and always be up to speed with that. Surely one could by books, read blogs, take some courses, etc… but the certification exam is a way to not be “relaxed” and increase the learning curve to the sky limits. If one takes seriously the exam, it is not a piece of “approved” paper that one gets in the end, but the knowledge and that my friends, no one (but Alzheimer) can take away from you.

    But I do have also another reason: certifications are a sort of Sudoku game for me! Yes, it is a puzzle that I like to unveil. Whenever I sit in front of an exam screen I feel like a chess player trying to solve all the problems that arise in a game and like that if you do not pay enough attention you lose the game not for the adversary, but for yourself. And I have the same joy as complete a Sudoku puzzle when I finish the exam and get the “congratulations” message (which, by the way, have seconds of suspense till arrive!).

    As one said: the prize of a puzzle is the puzzle solution itself. So I enjoy the exams because they confirm my commitment on a particular technology.

    I am studying for more Sudoku games this year ;)  

  • View
    | |

    I had different reasons for certifications at different stages in my career. When I got out of college I was out of job so I went for NT4 MCSE classes at a Microsoft authorized training center and eventually become certified after 3 months training and hands-on labs. That landed me a job at Microsoft ITG which I think is the best place ever to gain experiences on MS products. Then I had to keep updating my MCSE because I l went for a MS partner as a presales engineer and had to know what I sell. Of course it helped a lot that the employer paid for the exams.  Afterwards, I generally only take certification exams to break into a new area (for example VCP for virtualization) with one exception:  I work for a software company and certifications for company products are mandatory and fully funded by the company.

    I would say it's only worth it getting a product certification if you plan to use the particular version of the product in the near future. Technologies change so fast nowadays that what you learned may become obsolete in just 2-3 years. Also so many things that used to be really difficult to do are now fully documented step-by-step and can be found by using Bing or Google.

    I believe certifications serve different purposes at different stages of the career, and it's probably a challenge for software companies to design the exams for very different audiences. For younger people out of college they have to prove their product knowledge without the backing of real world experiences.  Many experienced IT pros on the other hand take certifications as differentiators against other job seekers.  I think it is far easier to achieve the former than the later because it's extremely difficult to test people's real world experiences using standard tests that have standard answers.  I prefer to ask about real world experiences that could have many different possible solutions and dig out the thought process behind the choices made.

    I see that Microsoft has adopted this to some extent but they still have to ask you "pick the best answer" because that is the only way to do automatic scoring without human intervention...