Even for Late-Career Workers Certification Makes a Difference
Because of the pandemic and its associated (and ongoing) enforced self-isolation at home, I've been in more regular contact with a lot of my friends and colleagues over the past seven months or so. One of those friends — let's call him Sebastian — is a long-time co-author who's also been a full-time software developer since the early 1990s.
He's been working in the IT biz since he finished his master's degree at a prestigious Texas university, and has generally excelled at whatever he puts his hand to. He's been involved in web development since the Web got going.
With a strong and early background in, and exposure to, SGMl — the precursor to HTML, XML, and a whole bunch of other markup and notation languages — Sebastian has always been able to find good, interesting work whenever he has needed it.
Another Pandemic Knock-Back
That all changed earlier this year when the pandemic struck and his then-current employer — a company that built software for, and provided services to, a well-known chain of fitness centers — basically had to cease operations. Along with the rest of the programming and IT staff, Sebastian found himself suddenly unemployed.
At the same time, many other Web developers working for (or with) similarly affected companies and organizations also found themselves looking for work. Given that most programming and related jobs right now are work-from-home positions, our boy Bassy also found himself competing at a national level for what might ordinarily be considered "local" jobs.
To make a long, arduous and tricky story short, my man C-Bass was able to keep himself alive by taking on a series of short-term contract gigs at the same time that he was looking for a permanent position. Said he, "This made job hunting my daytime job, so I could send e-mails, fill out applications, and work the phones during prime-time working hours.
"After 5 or 6 p.m., I'd put on my programming hat and start whacking away at whatever projects were currently in the hopper. The only thing I really lost in this process was sleep, and lots of it."
Sebastian confided to me that he came close to landing at least half-dozen lead developer/designer jobs, but for far too long nothing clicked.
A Little Background Goes a Long Way
Sebastian did notice that, among his various skillsets — which include numerous programming languages, frameworks and IDEs, and development platforms — his decade-plus of Salesforce-related development and testing experience was a constant source of interest and further questions from prospective employers.
After a while, two things begain to stand out: "First, interviewers would ask about my Salesforce experience, and I could see their interest level increase as I explained how I'd used the platform and its APIs in a number of custom and Web-based applications. Second, they would ask if I had any Salesforce Platform App Builder certifications.
"When I answered in the negative, I could see their interest levels crash."
Sebastian had already planned to fund his own Salesforce cert training and testing costs when he caught the eye of a national consulting company that specializes in providing design, development, and application maintenance/enhancement services to state governments across the United States. They liked his background, prior experience, and technical interest enough to offer him a full-time position.
He just started his new job on Oct. 5 as a full-time Salesforce development consultant. That same day, he went through employee orientation in the morning, and then started online Salesforce training to prepare for Platform App Builder certification, which he must take and pass before he can begin working for the company's clients and start generating billing revenue for them.
Obviously, this puts him under considerable pressure to get this done ASAP. The plan is to finish up in two-to-three weeks, with a four-hour per day time investment specifically in training and practicing for the exam.
Back to Work, Back to School
To me, this situation speaks forcefully about the ongoing and enduring value of IT certification, especially specialized job-role focused credentials. Understanding that a company is willing to hire a person with 25-plus years of programming and design experience, pay them a six-figure salary, and immediately put them into expensive training tells its own compelling story, too.
Given that customers impose requirements on those who work with and support them, it makes sense that any employer must seek people out with the right skillsets. For Sebastian's new employer to be willing to train up a person with his existing skills who comes close to fitting the perfect bill tells me that such people are in short supply.
It also tells me that, having done the math, the S-Dawg's employer believes that getting somebody like Sebastian certified ASAP means they can put him to work quickly enough to repay that investment, and still make a profit. That's good news for people willing to take the opportunity, do the training, get the cert, and get to work.
I take a great deal of encouragement from this particular story. It means that even people in the final third of their working lives (from age 50-to-55 and up) should expect to keep learning and growing. They may only be formalizing in part what they already know, but they will also be learning and mastering new knowledge and skillsets as they continue to work and advance in their careers.
It's not just the young dogs that must learn new tricks. The old ones must keep learning, too — and if they're smart they'll look for such opportunities as they present themselves, and do their best to enjoy the heck out of them as well.