As I look around me these days I see fewer and fewer people in the workplace taking the time to pursue IT certifications.  So why is that?  Is it that everyone around me has been in the business a long time and they have more real world experience?  Is it because they already did so many certifications that they are burned out?  Is it because their employer doesn’t require IT certifications?  Or maybe none of these reasons at all.  Here are my thoughts on the value of IT certification to your job, and help you decide if this should be on your radar in the New Year.

Certification 20 Years Ago

When I was just starting out in the industry almost 20 years ago, IT certification was the rage whether you were in IT or not.  If you weren’t working on your Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer plus Internet (MCSE + I) whether you were working in IT or not, you weren’t the “cool” kid.  As funny as that sounds, within IT in the mid ‘90’s anyone and I truly mean anyone was being told that if they finished their MCSE they could make a lot of money in IT as a career.  Many of these people studied hard, and started careers in IT, but didn’t stay in the field after the year 2000.  Why you ask?  Well businesses spent a lot of money leading up to what was also known as “Y2K”.  This way they were “ensuring” that their computers wouldn’t fail when the clock rolled over into the New Year due to a programming bug with the coding of the day/time.  Businesses replaced PCs, servers and patched all of their applications to ensure that the programming flaw would not impact their business functionality in the New Year.  With most businesses budgets having being spent at that time, and many of them being on 4 year hardware replacement cycles there wasn’t much work or money for IT.  Slowly, but surely I watched many consulting companies go out of business, and many of my dear friends lose their jobs.  It was a sad time in IT.

Jumping ahead to the IT Certifications Today

Certification today is different in the sense that we do not see anyone and everyone joining IT just, because someone told them they could make good money or just because they earned a paper certification.  Typically people join IT, because they are interested in trying something new or they enjoy the work they do in the industry.  Careers in IT are not just limited to one technology, focus or job role.  For example, there are industry analysts, teachers, application analysts, programmers, security analysts, networking engineers, infrastructure engineers and that is only scratching the surface.  You really can do anything that you would enjoy the most in this field.  I wanted to mention that, because I often come across individuals with a preconceived notion that IT is just programming.  It’s not!

So what does that mean for IT certification today?  It means that IT certifications are still valuable for many reasons.

  • It’s a great way to learn something new, or stay up to date on the technology you really enjoy.
  • If you are a consultant, certifications are important to customers to show depth of knowledge. Often times in these roles your salary will improve when a certification is completed.
  • Great way to “get started with a career in IT”. If you are new to the industry and do not have real world experience.  A certification shows that you understand that technology, it shows the ability to see a task through, and that you have a higher probability of succeeding in your new role than the person that didn’t take any initiative at all.

These are just some of the many reasons that create value within IT certification, but what about good old fashioned experience in the industry?

Years of Experience

For many employers if you are not a consultant, the value of years of experience in the IT industry is more valuable than the IT certification.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t consider updating your certifications even if you have been working in IT for the past 20 years.  At that point, it becomes a personal choice or dependent on your employer.  What I am saying though is that working with a specific technology throughout the years, and through many versions/upgrades will often times be more important than the latest and greatest certification.

Conclusion

Whether or not to pursue IT certifications is not a “one size fit’s all” decision.  It will depend on where you are at in your career, your employer, and where you would like to see yourself within the industry in the future.  Stepping back and thinking about what YOU want to do will help you decide what is best for your career in IT.  Cheers!

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