Tech Republic Poll: 'Certs Are Good, Experience Is Better'

Does work experience matter more to career progression than certification?

The title of a particular recent story (Nov. 26) from general interest IT site TechRepublic doesn't mince words: "CIO Jury: 83 percent of tech leaders say IT certifications are valuable, but experience wins." Indeed, the CIOs consulted say that IT certs offer evidence that individuals posses certain knowledge and skills


When hiring decisions are made, however, prior relevant work experience trumps certification. One potential conclusion is that IT pros and executives understand that while certifications validate knowledge and skillsets, actual on-the-job paid experience doing the work is the best way to ensure that a potential hire is absolutely, positively able to fill that role in an organization.


Tech Republic calls its conclave of CIOs a "jury" because there are 12 of them involved, as there would be in a typical criminal proceeding in court. Here's the interesting part: 10 of the CIO jury's members answered yes to the question, "Do you think certifications are worthwhile for employees?"


Every single one of those yea-sayers, however, offered caveats to that affirmation: "Certs are great, but — ." Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of those caveats circled around or spoke directly to the subject of actual, on-the-job experience.


Where did those 10 CIOs who answered in the affirmative see value in certifications? One cited exposure to "useful concepts and technology, especially the more robust ones like Microsoft and Cisco" (Dustin Bolander, CIO of Technology Pointe).


Another CIO said that "nothing can replace that practical experience" (Eric Pankin, IT Manager at DMJ&Co.), but added that "certifications give employees something to reach for professionally, while they also serve as a benchmark for employers of the employees' capabilities."


For job candidates fresh out of school, Jeff Kopp, Technology Coordinator at Christ the King Catholic School, observed that "a certification can prove they have the knowledge needed to work on a certain system or project." Kopp went on to observe that, for those already working in IT, "up to date certifications can show that they are keeping up with their education."


Even Kopp, however, weighs experience more heavily: "Job requirements will state requirements but more influence is placed on previous performance."


See the full story for the names and affiliations of all 12 CIO jurors, all of whom were unanimous in believing that real, relevant on-the-job experience is the most valuable asset that any candidate can bring to the job search process. Certs are good, they seem to say, but experience is better.


I still think employers really want both. They want their employees to demonstrate the ability to learn and master new materials, and they also want them to have experience dealing with current, real-world needs and issues. But then, they didn't ask me, did they?


I continue to believe and promote the notion that IT certifications and experience are both important elements in any career-minded IT professional's portfolio. Clear evidence that an individual has both the interest and ability to learn about new topics, tools, and technologies is important to remaining relevant and capable over time.


So, beyond the actual skills and knowledge to which an IT certification may speak, I'm convinced it also says something about the drive, determination, and ability to see things through to completion of the people who hold them. In a world where IT terms, concepts, and technologies turn over completely every 5-10 years, this is an important attribute.


But yes, what kinds of things you have actually done in the past five years or so, and know how to do right now, are also extremely important to employers, too. That's why I continue to assert that the real answer to "Experience or certification?" is "both," while recognizing that employers tend to value the former over the latter for all kinds of good and valid reasons.


[Disclosure: I have written numerous articles for TechRepublic in the past, most recently in 2012 on the topic of HTML 5. I have no current relationship to, or involvement with, that publication.]


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About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.