There has always been a debate around this topic, especially for IT folks - To certify or not? There are all sorts of IT folks around:
- Ones who brim with pride with a ton of certificates and badges
- Ones who totally despise certificates
- Ones who have no education at all but are seemingly geniuses (think Elon Musk and Bill Gates)
- Ones who have a few certificates and are currently pondering whether to go for more or not.
Then you have that genius senior in your company who scorns when you excitedly mention you are in the middle of studying for exam XYZ.
So what is right or wrong?
What should we as IT professionals do?
I have seen a lot of articles explaining why and how certificates do bring value. Most of them are correct, but I feel they still do miss some important points that I have come to learn of from my very own experience in doing certification, hence the title - 5 different reasons to get certified
1. Pathway & Direction: Knowing what to learn
To me, if I were to want to learn about something, I would think that with a structured guideline to follow, I will undeniably learn things more efficiently.
To put it into a hiking analogy, will be like hiking to the hilltop. If there were 2 hikers
- Hiker 1 following the proper route and a map
- Hiker 2 taking a different unofficial route and without a map
Chances are Hiker 1 will be the one that reaches the summit first quicker and probably unscathed. That is not to say the Hiker 2 will not reach the top, however, what are his chances? There might be one or two outliers that will reach the summit, and probably even quicker than Hiker 1, but I’m pretty sure the majority of those following the Hiker 2 will end up demoralized and even quitting altogether.
In the IT field, technology moves very fast and comes in all directions (think integrations, overlaps between features, competitor alternatives). It can be daunting and before you know it, is very demoralizing because you do not know what to learn or how much to learn!
With a certification syllabus, especially from one such as Microsoft’s where they regularly refresh to reflect their product advancements, a learner can at least know they are learning what is relevant and systematically learn about something (From beginner concepts to more advanced nuances)
2. Familiarity: Easier to re-learn
Let’s address the elephant in the room right away here.
Certifications DO NOT make you an expert in anything
If it did “make” you an expert, it is not because of the certificate. Chances are you already have some pre-existing knowledge and experience before this, and the certification adds an extra level of validation to it.
How many times have we heard people going “I do not remember anything (Maths, Geography, etc) from school/uni?” Pretty much almost everyone.
We spent a LOT of time in school. Considerably way more time than the time we take to study for a certificate. If we do not remember anything from school, how could it be we remember everything we learned from the short span of studying for a certificate?
Let’s not lie to ourselves. There are just too many nuances and details that are being left out of certifications, just because a certification’s scope has its limits. Conversely, in the real world, you are exposed to anything from A to Z of a product.
So if certificates do not make us an expert, why do we even go for one?
The more exposure you get to a concept or topic, the faster you will pick up each time.
Certifications introduce all the important terms and key details that we should know of. Even though we might “forget” it after a while, when we come across it in the future, chances are you will pick it up quicker than if you have not heard of the term before.
3. Improve Job Prospects
Having a certificate does add a little differentiation to you against the other 100,000 developers who also indicate they know Microsoft Azure in their CVs. How would I as a recruiter or employer know where to start filtering? Certificates might help here.
Certificates also indicate that you know at least something about that technology. What if he/she does not have any hands-on experience with that technology? Even better. Chances are that this individual is one with a growth mindset, and is willing to learn and pick up new skills on top of his full-time job!
Studying for a certificate, going to an exam center, passing the exam to renewing your certificate yearly will tell me something about this individual. He/She cares about his career and wants to do well.
Besides the above, in certain organizations, there can sometimes be criteria of a minimum number of certified employees they are required to have to maintain a certain level of partnership with the technology providers. If you are in a consulting / client-facing business, clients might sometimes have preferences to only select people with certificates!
We, humans, love to be rewarded. That is why there are the Olympics, there are gamifications in everything, and there are rankings and accolades.
Certificates are one of those that can motivate some individuals. Use it to your advantage if you are one of them, to pick up new skills or cement further on what you already know.
Another way that certificates might help motivate, will be, instead of waiting until you are ready to register for an exam, do it the other way round! (This is highly applicable for the chronic procrastinators out there) Select a reasonable date for your exam, sign up, and then start studying. More often than not, this is more effective as it forces you to make time and prioritize studying.
With a deadline, you are forced to be motivated to learn and prepare for the exam.
5. Keeping me up to date
Certifications have an expiry date. For Microsoft, it is a yearly affair. Thankfully it is free and can be done from anywhere. It is less rigid and stringent but it serves its purpose, which I believe is to force and ultimately ensure that you keep your knowledge refreshed.
As mentioned earlier, Microsoft updates its syllabus regularly to reflect their product advancements.
If you keep up with the renewal process, it would only mean you need to and will be up-to-date with the latest happenings. With an expiry date, you are forced to do so even.
At the end of the day,
the one who benefits the most out of a certificate is none other but yourself
The above are my reasons on why I still occasionally pursue certificates. That being said, everyone has their view on certificates and in my opinion, there is no right or wrong.
What is important is we understand WHY we are doing it, similar to anything in life, once you know the WHY, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of your decision