U.K. Panel Asks: Do We Still Need Certifications?
As somebody who fields a lot of questions about IT training and certification, I chuckled when I saw the subject that U.K. website ITPro chose to tackle at the end of August. They put the question as "Do we still need certifications?" I've also heard the same inquiry stated as "Are certifications worthwhile?" or "Do certifications still matter?"
No matter how this question is formulated, the basic intent is to obtain some reassurance that the time, effort and expense involved in earning an IT certification comes with at least a potential payoff. That is, cert chasers want to believe that they will get a job, a promotion, a better job, better pay, and other forms of recognition and reward that will make it all worthwhile.
Mostly Yes, But Sometimes No
The consensus of the expert team that ITPro assembled to debate this question is almost entirely positive. That team consisted of the following individuals:
Chris Madden — IT and Operations Director, Kreston Reeves
Craig York — CTO for Milton Keynes University Hospital's NHS Foundation Trust
Gerard McGovern — CIO of Guide Dogs
For nearly all subject matters under the IT umbrella — with the notable exception of programming languages and programming problem-solving skills — the panel concurred that IT certification has demonstrable value. In fact, they recognized that there are both management and technical tracks in the certification arena, and that both types of credentials have value for individuals pursuing one track or the other.
Where programming languages and skills are concerned, prior experience and work history — as well as the ability to speak cogently and intelligently about those things — loom larger for most employers than do specific code certifications or certificate programs.
On the technical side of things, the article stresses that a certification's demonstration of "measurable competency in a given area" provides a principal benefit to certification holders. Expert Madden opined that "certifications are rarely necessary (emphasis mine) outside a handful of specialized roles, [but] they can also act as a good indicator to quickly determine a candidate's technical proficiency" during the hiring process.
Expert York observes further that "For digital senior leadership, certification offers organizations the opportunity to validate they're betting on someone with the right skills ... [who] ... can effectively lead those areas of the business."
Expert McGovern stresses the value of focus and technical detail in his assessment: "I value specific certification in (a) specific technology rather than general technology-based certifications." He goes onto observe that certs can play strongly into operations positions and "infrastructure-based roles."
Key Technical Areas Where Certs Count
Of course, cloud computing comes in for immediate mention as a technology arena where certification looms large, with specific mention of Azure and Microsoft 365. The source of credentials is always important as well, and Madden himself prefers certifications from larger vendors or independent trade bodies and organizations.
Non-technical areas that work well for IT pros, according to the expert team, include project and risk management, as well as strategic planning. The team pays particular attention to ITIL- and PRINCE2-based certifications as "always useful for training staff" and making sure that applications do what they should for organizations that use them.
All in all, the team sees certifications as good tools for business, and for the individuals who earn them. They stress their value for personal and profession development for cert holders, and for demonstrating skills, knowledge and competency for businesses that evaluate them.
The idea that encouraging and supporting certs is a good employee attraction and retention strategy also comes in for mention. But they also stress that certifications are not an absolute necessity. Says the story: Certifications " ... are a good way to reinforce real-world experience and skills, rather than a replacement for them, and should be approached at one's own pace."
Gosh! I couldn't have said it better myself. Go forth and certify, if you're so inclined — understanding that certification is a great way to stay on the path of lifelong learning that IT demands of all serious practitioners. Cheers!