The Real Reason Developers Should Get Certified

Chris Gardner (Regional Lead - Eastern US)

In my role as a MCT Regional Lead, I get asked a lot of questions. One of the rapidly recurring questions is "I'm a developer. Why should I get certified?" Most people expect me to respond with something about job security or income increases. However, this is not the typical answer I offer. The real reason you should get certified is to learn your framework.

The .NET framework has been in a state of rapid (r)evolution in recent years. More companies, including Microsoft, are moving to a rapid release schedule. As developers, we have a tendency to start a project with a given framework and a given set of tools. We use these frameworks and tools for months, even years, as the technological world marches forward. I started a project in the later parts of .NET 2.0. By the time the project ended, .NET 4.0 had been released. After 2 years on a project, I might as well have changed my name to Rip Van Winkle.

When a developer stays on top of his or her certifications, he or she keeps a mental inventory of tools that have become available. As developers, we are often not able to keep on top of every advancement in our field. However, the certification tests do two things. First, it proves to your employer or contracting official at you have knowledge of the current trends. I may not have written a Windows Store App that needed Semantic Zoom, but I now have proof that I am familiar with it.

Second, and more importantly, it gives you the tools to quickly merge into new areas. I have often joked that 2% of my brain lives in my head. That 2% is the index terms into the other 98% of my brain, which lives on the web. For example, I was recently working on a side project that required me to access a third-party RESTful service. All of my professional work has used WCF. Since I have stayed current on my certifications, I had an academic knowledge of what I needed to do. Using this knowledge, I was able to effectively find the information I needed to consume this service in a matter of minutes.

There are very few ways to quickly prove to yourself that you really have touched the breadth of knowledge in a specific area. Certification are a way to not only guide you through the roots of emerging technologies, they offer you a way to measure your understanding of these new technologies. As a professional that lives or dies by my ability to stay current, I find great value in spending a little time, money and effort keeping my certifications current. While it does benefit my professional endeavors, the satisfaction I get knowing I'm prepared for any challenge that may come with my next project is priceless.

Related resource: Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) exam prep page

Connect with Chris on Twitter @freestylecoder.

  • RyanRoper
    | |

    I think your post makes some really great points. I think we have all taken time to complete a project and by the time we finished we look around and just marvel at some of the amazing new tools and technology that have come out in that time. I'm a huge believer in staying current and take certifications on a regular basis as part of that. I think it's also important to watch people who work in areas you work in or are interested in working in. Places like twitter and blogs are great mediums for that.

    I think the biggest problem with certifications right now in general is showing businesses why they should care about them. In the past certifications from various vendors where thought of as jokes as where the people who flaunted them. I think some work needs to be done to really press to business owners the value in having employees with certifications and of encouraging them to keep them current.

    I've tried to get various employers I've worked with to see the value in programs like the Microsoft Partner program and it seems like they just don't see it, or they think it's too much work to get existing employees certified. I think there's room for improvement here to really present the value in ways business owners understand.

    Just my .02.

  • Chris Gardner (Regional Lead - Eastern US)

    To RyanRoper,

    I agree that there is a gap between the true value and the perceived value of certifications. By now, we've all see the <a href="" target="dilbertcerts">classic Dilbert cartoon with Certification Man</a>. This stigma is even harder to shake as less reputable companies release "brain dumps" of the tests that allow people to get certified without really understanding the concepts being tests.

    The truth is that certifications alone, much like a brain in a vat, are not sufficient. When my company is trying to get contracts, we don't make a big deal of our partner status or certifications. They are bullet points on a proposal that also includes company history, references, project completed, et al. When you take the entire scope into account, it proves that we are real, committed experts, not people that collect certifications.

    As far as proving the value to employers, I find the best method is case studies. There are plenty of success stories out there. It's a matter of finding the ones that best mirror your business. It generally only takes a few well placed examples to get a business person's attention.

  • 656f6fb5-cae1-4853-9c08-2dbc5cab5d58

    I agree with you Chris.

  • Dancar
    | |

    As I got deeper into IT I learned that it is not that important to have ALL the knowledge you need to do your job.  What is important is have the ability to locate all the knowledge quickly that is needed for the project and the task you are working on.    A certification doesn't mean you will get the task done without needing to consult the documentation or the Internet, but it does make it more likely that you will have a better idea of the best approach to address a problem and be able to consult the documentation or do Internet searches as needed.

  • Damilola Okuboyejo
    | |

    Well said @Dancar

  • David Carr
    | |

    Great Points Chris. I enjoyed reading this

  • Maria Ghaffar
    | |

    Absolutely right and it just not only keeps up-to-date but even if we are already working on latest technologies but most probably don't cover every aspect of each technology so it gives flavor of every aspect and trend available in technology. Best part: knowing best practices and when to use what :)

  • Shaggie
    | |

    I really wish I could go for a certification, but as a Windows Enterprise Level Desktop developer whose primary development language is VB, it seems that I am left without a certification path.  It feels like Microsoft Certification is purposefully trying to push out/exclude developers like myself.  None of the current MCSD certifications seem to apply to me since I do not create small App store applications, Web Apps, or SharePoint Apps, and the fact that they no longer have any certifications at all for VB developers tells me that the certification department, at least, thinks that VB is irrelevant and should not even exist.

  • Dragoslav Milekic
    | |

    I agree with you Shaggie, I am VB primary developer to, but I am forced to use C#. I am sad about MS's pushing aside VB, this is great language.

  • Dragoslav Milekic
    | |

    I agree with you Shaggie, I am VB primary developer to, but I am forced to use C#. I am sad about MS's pushing aside VB, this is great language.

  • Mohamed Mousa
    | |

    Great Points Chris. I enjoyed reading this

    Thank You

  • 85a51aac-2efa-41de-8473-c34a337a966f

    It is even worse now, Shaggie. The current MCSD only covers windows store/web/sharepoint/Azure/lifecycle exams. Microsoft appears to be unaware that Visual Studio and .Net can be used to create Desktop applications, nevermind the choice of language. There are thousands of developers writing and maintaining in-house line of business applications (me included) and we have no way anymore to demonstrate that we keep up-to-date with the .NET framework. Very sad.

  • Craig Peacock
    | |

    @Shaggie, 85a51aac-2efa-41de-8473-c34a337a966f, Dragoslav Milekic:

    I agree completely. In my developer role in financial services we have no use for Windows Store apps. We use desktop apps and the occasional web page.

    I happen to love learning and I think that Certs are a great way to be sure you're keeping up-to-date with the right stuff. They're also a great way to evidence that you want to keep up-to-date. Saying you keep up-to-date is one thing, but being able to provide evidence that you've gone out of your way is another, and even better.

    I like and am equally skilled in both C# and VB.Net, and I would like the choice to certify in either C# OR VB.Net, not forced into C#. In addition I think there simply needs to be a desktop application Cert path too.

    Without at least a VB.Net and Desktop router, convincing my employer that this is money well spent will be nigh on impossible.

    Just my two pence worth.