Should I Earn a Certification?

There are many different ways to keep your IT career on an upward trajectory.

There are different ways to learn, grow and thrive in information technology. These include project experience, university education, vendor-neutral and -specific certification, online presence, mentoring, and networking. While experience is essential, relevant credentials and other approaches can advance one's prospects depending on the context.

 

Take stock of your aptitude, career goals, background and the big picture. What are your strengths and interests? What do you aspire to become? Are you an independent worker, a team player, or a combination of both? To ascertain how best to take your career forward, consider your individual attributes and objectives against the backdrop of a constantly-evolving industry.

 

Opinions vary about the value of IT certifications. While some say certs can help advance an IT career and boost earning potential, others think certs are a waste of time and money. There's also a nuanced perspective that certifications can make a difference depending on the candidate's level of experience, his role, field of work, and his current or prospective employer's requirements.

 

Certifications are never a substitute for experience, but they can be useful tools in a person's career kit. Given two candidates with similar experience, the one with the right credential could have an advantage over the uncertified contender.

 

The Benefits of Certification

 

Some employers think current certifications can contribute toward enhancing a candidate's knowledge. For example, Jerry Irvine, CIO and Partner at Prescient Solutions and member of US Chamber of Commerce's Cybersecurity Leadership Council told CSO Online that they "look for certifications" when hiring security professionals. He holds several certifications himself.

 

Relevant credentials are necessary, or could weigh strongly in your favour, in cases such as the following:

 

Employment

 

Specific certifications are useful if you work for an employer that needs a certain number of people certified in specific technologies, products and services. For example, Microsoft requires Certified Partners to employ a specified minimum number of Microsoft Certified Professionals (MCP).

 

The U.S. Department of Defense, much like various other U.S. government departments and agencies, requires specific certifications for certain roles. Certification is often necessary if you're looking to be a full- or part-time instructor at a training institute. Training companies look for relevant credentials when hiring trainers.

 

R�sum� boost for a beginner

 

While it's unlikely that certification alone will get an inexperienced worker a job, a valid certification could add some value to her r�sum�. Some employers might consider it an indication of basic skills, as well as a demonstration that the candidate knows what she wants to do and has invested time and effort in preparing for her role.

 

Learning tool

 

All certifications are not the same. You can acquire in-depth knowledge preparing for certifications that require a few years of experience in specific domains and hands-on lab work.

 

Certification can help if you want to learn something new, or assess your existing expertise. One does have the opportunity to gain knowledge in the process of preparing to get certified. Training and performance on the exam help you ascertain your level of progress vis-�-vis other candidates.

 

Also, the more expertise a candidate gains during the learning process, the more confident he is likely to be. People who are confident in their knowledge tend to perform better at interviews.

 

Demonstration of expertise in new and specific technologies

 

Given the pace of development in cloud computing and security, certifications that validate current virtualization skills and knowledge of information security management definitely have value. It's not always easy for employers to find skilled professionals to work in state-of-the-art virtualized data centers, facilities management, and specific areas of information security.

 

Indication of interest and seriousness

 

To some employers, credentials demonstrate that a candidate is serious about his career and understands the importance of keeping in touch with the latest trends in his field. Having a willingness to invest the time, effort, and money required to prepare for a certification exam often indicates commitment and drive.

 

Other Ways to Advance Your Career

 

If the timing's not right for certification, there are many other ways to advance your IT career.

Most IT professionals take more than one approach to realizing career goals. It's helpful to discover your talent and ascertain whether your strengths are in the technical sphere or in management. Once you achieve clarity on this, charting your path becomes easier.

 

If certification is not right for you, then one of these other options may be:

 

Education

 

A degree in computer science imparts knowledge of computer science, discrete mathematics, and the use of algorithms to program computers. A degree in information technology educates students in the installation, management, and maintenance of systems, as well as the design and operation of networks and databases.

 

CS graduates normally work as software developers, engineers, and web programmers. A CS degree program teaches, however, often teaches just one or two programming languages. To be able to code, developers must learn a number of relevant programming languages on their own, such as C++, Python, CSS, PHP and Java, to name a few.

 

IT graduates usually find work in systems and database administration, information security, network design, and systems support.

 

Project experience

 

Work on an open source project. If you have little or no experience, opt for projects that need people to work on relatively simple problems. This is a great way to develop coding skills and prove to prospective employers that you not only know how to code, but are enthusiastic about it. You'll also develop contacts with others in the profession.

 

Employers want proof of practical skills, and performance on OS projects demonstrates actual coding ability.

 

Online presence

 

Blogging, reading articles, answering questions, and participating in discussions on StackOverflow, GitHub, and other programmer communities can be a big help. You will not only learn outside the workplace, but may build valuable connections with other like-minded professionals.

 

Participate in hackathons. Start-ups and smaller companies tend to value performance on hackathons, as well as contributions to open-source projects, because these illustrate hands-on experience in developing real-world solutions.

 

Staying current

 

The company you work for may not have the latest technologies, but you need to keep in touch with recent developments and trends in information technology. It's your responsibility to keep yourself well-informed about the latest technologies, software and operating systems.

 

Attending conferences supported by associations such as AFCOM as well as those organized by vendors help IT professionals keep in touch with current developments and information security threats.

 

Finding a mentor

 

Some experienced and talented professionals are happy to help novices develop their skills. Working with a knowledgeable mentor is an excellent way to learn on the job. A mentor can also help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to decide which track is most suitable.

 

Networking

 

While individual performance is key, being known for your expertise, professionalism, integrity and team spirit is also necessary to get ahead in this extremely competitive profession. The more people in the industry who know what you're capable of, the better your chances of success. Connect with those who are in a position to help you move ahead.

 

Get Started Today

 

In the IT industry, it is experience that is most important. A prospective employer will want to see how you've performed on projects. Experience together with certification, however, can open up more opportunities, particularly in U.S. government departments and agencies, and within the ranks of large organizations.

 

No matter how you go about advancing your tech career, remember the importance of developing soft skills, such as communication, presentation and leadership. Increasingly, employers are also emphasizing adaptability, curiosity and business acumen.

 

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About the Author
Reena Ghosh

Reena Ghosh is an independent ghostwriter who writes promotional, developmental and explanatory content for individuals and businesses. She came to professional writing with work experience in financial services operations and corporate communication. Reena speaks three languages and hopes to learn Sanskrit.