Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Importance Of IT Certifications

There is a long standing argument in the IT World about the importance of IT certifications. Some people swear by them and won’t hire someone without them. Others think they are great when you run out of toilet paper. I’m one of those people who is in the middle. Personally, I hold a number of certifications, ranging from Microsoft to Cisco to A+ to my newly acquired VMware certification. I think they are important as a learning tool, yet, I do not think they should be required. Nor, do I think that they are an accurate gauge of someone’s technical skills. The clip below highlights my point exactly.

 When I first started in this industry it was the late 90’s when Windows 98 and NT were revolutionizing the way we did things. Plug & Play (or Pray, like I called it) was everywhere. Microsoft was taking over the world. IT certifications were new at this point and not a lot of people had them. That was until Microsoft unveiled their new MCSE certification for Windows NT. Overnight, it seemed like, people were adding initials to their business cards and signatures and walking with a little more pep in their step. They were official, Microsoft said so. Bill Gates personally signed a document that said these people are awesome. The problem was (and still is) that not everyone was.
As I said earlier, I think certs are a good learning tool. I also think that they are somewhat watered down as an achievement. There are many ways to pass a certification exam. A lot of people put in the hard work and build a lab at home or in their office and actually learn the material. That’s the group that I fall into. I always thought that learning about what I was working on was more important that the signed paper from Mr. Gates. Not everyone thinks that way though. A lot of people study what the book says or what questions will be on the test without actually understanding what the book or question is saying. They just know that the answer to Chapter 3 Lesson 2 Question 7 is B. Some people go even further by purchasing brain dumps or “Real Tests” and they just memorize questions and answers. That’s where they go wrong. When the time comes and they are on the job and are faced with setting up a server, they don’t know what to do. They didn’t put the work in, they just passed a test.
I’ll give you a case in point. The guy that was just hired to work with me is in school. He’s taking an MCSE course and looking to get his certification. He already passed his A+ Certification (Kudos to him on that by the way). He’s done with one of his courses and in the middle of test prep for a Microsoft exam on Windows Server 2008 networking. He’ll be dealing DNS, DHCP, Active Directory, etc. I’ve actually been studying for the same test. So every day I throw a few questions at him. Nothing crazy, just questions to keep him on his toes. I asked him the other day, “What is an A record?” He proceeded to try and regurgitate what he remembered from the book. The only issue was, he didn’t understand what he was saying. Nor did he get what an A record actually is. That’s what troubles me. DNS is a requirement for Active Directory which almost all other Microsoft services are built on. If he can’t get that down, how can I expect him to get the more advanced topics? For those of you who don’t know, an A record is a mapping of a domain name to an IP Address. It’s what allows you to type in instead of That’s all I was looking for. The answer is as simple as "it maps a name to an IP".
The scary thing is he’ll be an MCSE before I will. Yet when it comes down to configuring a server network, he’s going to be lost in the sauce. The moral of the story is when you’re evaluating someone’s skills. Don’t just go off what you read on their resume. Make sure that they can back up what they say they know. Give them a quick exam if you have to. The hands-on type, because they probably have your questions memorized.
I still think that IT professionals should try to acquire certifications. Just make sure that you do it for the right reason. Do it to better yourself as a professional instead of just trying to get that "piece of paper". In the end, if you know what you're doing you'll have more paper than before. It'll be the green kind in your wallet.