Some Added Insight About CIO Insight's Seven Best Certs
A story that ran last month in CIO Insight clearly shows the perils of picking "top" or "leading" certifications by the numbers. To me, their methodology was painfully obvious as soon as I looked at the list. Check the graphic over before you read on, and see if you can tell what caught my eye:
For those who have been following IT certification even just casually for the past three or four years (or longer), it should stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
What IS Wrong With This Picture, If Anything?
Here’s a clue. The headline of this February 2020 Microsoft Docs story reads as follows: "MCSA, MCSD, MCSE certifications retire(.)" Furthermore, the story goes on to clarify that "all remaining exams associated with [those programs] will retire on Jan. 31, 2021.”
This raises the question: How could CIO Insight include as one of its Top 7 certs a credential that readers can no longer acquire? Answer: Easy. They did it by the numbers, and those numbers are based on the past, and don’t point to the future. That’s the way things go sometimes, I guess?
What About the Remaining Top 6?
I have no problems, per se, with the remaining six items on the list. I must however, observe, that there’s an interesting split in the makeup of that group. CompTIA's venerable Security+ cert, while definitely a worthwhile steppingstone on most any information security career track, is very much an entry-level credential.
In a similar vein, the AWS Certified Solutions Architecture - Associate is kind of a late-early to early-mid-career credential, as it aims at people who already understand general IT best practices, and who have some knowledge and experience of working in the cloud (albeit at a fairly basic level).
As I see it, CIO's remaining listed credentials are typically acquired at or after the mid-career phase of IT employment. This includes Cisco’s CCIE (which is not a single credential, incidentally, but refers to six of the eight expert-level Cisco certs), CISA from ISACA, Google's GCP Data Engineer, and VMware’s VCP Data Center Virtualization.
For the VCP credential, I linked to the 2022 rather than the 2021 version, on the presumption that new pursuants would prefer to chase down its latest and greatest incarnation. From where I sit, 10 or more years of experience is the baseline for chasing after all of these, and CCIE certification usually comes along at 15 or more years, as a kind of career capstone credential.
Please don’t get me wrong: These are all great certs (even the now-obsolete MCSA). And even if the balance appears to be skewed toward those at mid-career or later levels of work experience, there’s nothing wrong with that. The biggest payoffs from certification do typically come later in one’s career.
Earning those payoffs, of course, also requires planning and ascending the rungs of various certification ladders early on in the course of one’s IT career. After all, you can’t typically make it to the top of a ladder in a single bound — unless maybe it’s actually a stepping stool.
My Basic Point: Read Between the Lines
As I’ve written many times here at GoCertify regarding other top cert lists and cert surveys, it’s essential to read what they present with care and a certain amount of skepticism. It’s important to figure out where their data comes from and what they’re trying to present.
This CIO Insight article just happens to put one of the potential gotchas into pretty stark relief — namely that data analysis can’t help but be backward looking. That’s because data necessarily comes from the past. In this case, reports about numbers of certs earned and held didn’t get run through an "Is the cert still available?" filter.
It would have been obvious to anyone who went and looked at the MCSA what was up, but it also provided me with a good hook for a story, and a good example of things to look out for when sifting through the evidence.