IT Certifications are Worthless

A while back, eWeek joined the on-going debate about whether IT certifications are valuable or not. When the job market worsens, the IT certifications are said to not be worth as much as actual experience. When the job market improves, as it has recently, IT certifications are again said to not be worth as much as actual experience. I guess this is how news publishers continue to find things to write about.

Anyway, the eWeek article concludes that IT certifications have become worthless as measured by the pay differences associated with having a technical certification. Not much of a shocker especially with most programs simply requiring people to answer a bunch of multiple choice questions to become certified. No application form, no minimum required experience, and no review board. It’s actually these types of items that have enabled certain certifications such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) to retain their value.

The study which the article references concludes that, “Certifications are losing value because employers are looking for more in their workers than the ability to pass an exam; they want business-articulate IT pros.” That’s a common theme in today’s media discussions about IT especially in publications such as CIO.

Another interesting part of the article was the commentary on the current talent shortage. Namely, “the much-reported talent war and talent shortage is about companies failing to build their own bench strength. They’ve lost their own farm system, and now they don’t have the bench strength to get this stuff done.”

And of course what IT survey would be complete without throwing in a bit about IT salaries? The article notes that salaries are often tied to titles, but goes on to say that titles for many IT professionals don’t accurately reflect the work they actually do. This results in, “most IT pros making well under what they should be for their titles.” Not good for morale and , “when IT professionals are underpaid, there is tension and resentment, and they’re ripe for picking by executive recruiters.” The solution to this issue is going to be a challenge for most companies that can’t get past the standard practice of paying people by their title.

“Everyone with this title in this company are not equal. You have to find some justification to pay them more, to bring them up to market pay so a recruiter can’t come in and lure them elsewhere.” Right on! Anything that supports a pay raise gets a thumbs up from me.

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  1. I think there's a happy medium between the two. Certs are useful, because they tell an employer you've focused on some specific sub-set... eg: oracle vs. sql server db. A college degree is useful, because it lets them know you have an umbrella education, but that umbrella education isn't as specialized as some jobs need. EG: I'm getting a degree in Info Sys. I thought they would have specialization paths ... networking, databases, reporting, etc. Nope. I get one class of each (networking, databases, etc), a few programming classes, and the rest are business classes (accounting, ops mgnt, management, finance, etc). This gives me an overview of business and how IS goes together. However, I'm back in college after 15 years in the working world. I realize this IS degree isn't going to make me an instant-expert at SQL Server databases and start using SQL Reporting Services to crank out quality reports for a company in a week. Only a cert program or a book can teach me that. So, the IT/IS world in a way is a lot like the medical world. A base degree is nice to give you an overview, but you have to specialize in your area and get some certs to back it up. That's why we have brain surgeons, heart doctors, etc... just like we have networking specialists, systems architects, database administrators, reporting analysts, etc.

    Colleges are just now realizing this after their technical degreed folks come back and go "this piece of paper isn't helping me get jobs". So, they started incorporating certs into classes. If I take 3 classes of certain types at my college I will end up with an SAP cert. Not an expert cert, but sometihng that says "this person has had enough exposure to SAP to know how to hit the ground running". I'm in an Info Sec class that basically ends with a cert test to get me a cert in it. These are things I can put on my resume IN ADDITION to my IS degree, because the degree alone won't get me a job.

    However, personally, I'm into databases and data analysis. I'm a bit taken aback that I'm getting ONE SINGLE CLASS regarding the topic for my IS degree, and it only teaches db basics overview and basic SQL programming. I'm ashamed to be taking it.

    What colleges need to do is finally just make the plunge and get rid of this "core curriculum" BS. IE: stop wasting people's time with "music appreciation" and other tripe courses that have nothing to do with their degree program. Make them take some English and Math, obviously, but all other courses should be geared towards their profession.

    They do this some ... when I went to college in the 90's it was 2 years core + 2 years degree studies. But, back then you had degrees in "business", "accounting", ... very simple subjects. These days every degree is sub-sectioned into "business management", "business operations", "business info systems" and so on.

    They do 1 year core + 3 years specialization now... but what I'm saying is they just need to have 4 years of specialization.

    In high school I had plenty of English. If I don't know how to right a flipping paper by now, then I'm not college material! Stop wasting my time with 2 more semesters of English in college. It's a waste of time and it's just a money-grab.

    Don't give me a generic "Humanities" class... give me a class on "Workplace Diversity" or something that is similar, but talks about the pro's and hurdles to overcome with workplace diversity in the 21st century.

    My 4th year studies should be super-specialized into something. I'm in Info Sys, so I should see a break down like this...

    2 years business studies
    1 year general Info Sys studies
    1 year specialized into databases, networking, reporting... pick one.

    If colleges would do that then graduates could enter the working world and fulfill what emplyers are wanting ... someone with a broad overview, but also the specialization to hit the ground running in a specific area.

    That last year should be all about cert courses ... sql server, oracle db, cisco, etc, etc. So, when you graduate in year 4 you get a degree AND certs.

    So, yeah, I agree with what some folks said about college, but I also agree that certs alone don't make a good employee. Certs need upkeep, and certs don't necessarily make you understand how your job impacts the big picture, or how to work well with other segments of the business world.

    As it is, my IS degree is only grooming me to be a business analyst... someone that can translate management speak into technical speak for programmers and sit on my butt writing up req docs all day for programs. Without certs it will be pretty narrow what I can find employment as. Thankfully I've got 15 years Sql server DBA and reporting analyst under my belt. Fresh college grads don't have that experience, so they're struggling.

  2. SANS GCIH certification is a big fat SCAM and not worth paying your money for. My problem is I can do my job, but Im unable to pass a certification that was created by some bullcrap company who's making millions off this meaningless exam. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Zuckburg these guys never completed college. Hell I finished college, served in the military and I can do my job when Im well trained at it. A certification should not be the definding factor if I keep my job or not. There is this garbage certification to be a incident handler called the GCIH and the my Gov agency has been fooled to believe this is needed for a employee to keep his job. The class; no the lecture audio taping siminar is 3000.00 plus dollars and each test is upwards to 400 dollars plus and you can only take test three times in a yearto try and pass it. You have a thrity day hold after you take a test to take another test and you dont get a practice test after the first test. All practioce test are 150 dollars. WOW for a practice test. Finally you will have to retest after ever four years and to get new books you will have to pay for another week of training. This is just a SCAM, SCAM. The government is waisting there money and will lose good people. Just train me to do my job and I will do it well if I dont fire me. Dont have me do my job do it well and I dont pass a nonstandard certification I get fired it crap. People stop the madness. If I go to college for a Bachelors Degree in Information Technology that should be enough. Not these fucking certifications.The government should have its own training and certification not some civilian company who is only in it for profits. Good republican christian people are getting scammed by these fly by night certification companies creating something to fools companies and government agency into beleiving this is what your people need for them to do there job. Well the people were doing there job before these test were invented.

  3. Yeah, my CCIE is completely worthless... what a waste of time :P

    We interview candidates for new openings all the time. A certification won't get you through an interview, but you won't get an interview without the certifications. Typically the spot on the resume that we completely ignore is the section with their college degree.

  4. Funny how these multiple “worthless” certs have opened the door for me to be picked up as a Systems Architect with a company that is in the top ten in the nation for designing and delivering systems with a salary that is quite impressive for only being in IT for 8 years full time. Certainly, my interview skills, experience and breadth of knowledge (I was teaching technology classes) helped, but the certs made the search engine find me and provided the chance to GET an interview. I know all the reasons that many think these certs are worthless and no doubt any idiot that can memorize can pass these tests. But you still have to do a technical interview and prove you know something before you get hired if HR has any idea what they are doing. And why you think a BSIT has any more validity just because you spent thousands of dollars and years of your life drinking and skipping class to get that degree can only be attributed to class warfare and elitism. I would match my technology skills against any college graduate. I know many of them and I am constantly fixing their messes. None of these methods of education really tells what you know. They merely get you a ticket in the door to talk to someone who might like and hire you, in which case, spending less time and money on certs makes a whole lot more sense while getting most of the same opportunities. Enjoy paying that student loan while I am off to make six figures WITHOUT a degree.

    • I have met a plethora of people who have certifications and the majority of them have been worthless. In my experience, certifications are more geared towards people who are interested in a career change but have no formal training or prior relative experience.

      Sorry you missed out on college, and as to your comments about how worthless you think college is, universities have been around for a long time and have resulted in many substantial evolutionary discoveries. Let me say this, obtaining a degree from an accredited university is no easy task, as you obviously do not know. Those worthless degrees carry with them requirements that have been carefully constructed to help a human being become well rounded as well as competent at whatever field of study they may choose.

      "Enjoy paying that student loan while I am off to make six figures WITHOUT a degree."
      Dude, are you serious. Get a life, practice yoga, read a book on spiritualism, and let go of you lame accolades about what you have accomplished in life because no one cares. After reading that comment I would not hire you for pennies a day.

      You should read Zen Guitar by Philip Sudo
      look up "Ego".
      "If I can get out of the way... and become truly who I am...the music can really use me. And therein lies fulfillment. That's when the music starts to happen." Ego while necessary but needs to have a healthy balance.
      "never underestimate the potential of ego to lead one astray... the rush of a new skill, the flattery that accompanies a touch of success- these things can over inflate a persons ego... Measure a compliment. If you think you've arrived somewhere you've that much further to go..."

      • College is hard? I went to college because I made money to go. Getting a degree has put no money in my pocket and no relevant experience in my brain. I worked in IT before going to get a degree and I learned nothing that is of any value in the 3 years I was in school.

        I don't think you can "miss out" on college, I think you may want to read over your Zen pamphlets again and think about your egoism as well. You are not smarter than anyone else because you managed to read some books and pass some tests to get a framed degree and much to your own chagrin, no one cares about your "accomplishments" either.

  5. Certs are worthless pieces of paper.

    Can you can pass a test? Good; now you have the opportunity to find a introductory job. Get on the job, soak up experience, make it happen; fail at this and you are obsolesced. No certification? Why would I take some bumb of the street and spend time teaching them? Meet me half-way, show up in a suit, sign the W-9, get on the job, I'll pair you with a pro, ask lots of questions to the point of annoying the hell out of them, be successful, then we'll talk about the W-4.

    There is a sizable shortage of guys who have certs for introductory jobs; lots of those jobs go out by word of mouth to the uncertified. Does the world suffer? Not necessarily. Sometimes Uncle Bob or Nephew Stephen are pretty sharp.

    Certs Plus Experience, however, shows something different.

    A: You weren't spending your time picking your butt on the job.
    B: You learned something quantifyable on the job.
    C: You're willing to better yourself.
    D: You're successful.

    If you're an IT pro with 10 years of experience and 20 or 30 different certs, that's a track record of knowing your stuff. If an HR department can't pick up on that, you don't want to work for them.

    As far as pay is concerned, employee's are like girlfriends. There are signs they are disgruntled; if you ignore them they'll find something else. Sometimes this is unintentional, sometimes well. Your network admin hands you a sheet of passwords, shakes your hand, cleares out his desk slowly the week beforehand and when he leaves he's gone, not coming back, everyone else is useless; it can cost a lot to lose those people then you go through guys like hotcakes and they can't do anything right. If you don't have a solid retention plan in place, and give excuses instead of raises while hiding the payroll and playing games, good people will leave and that will gut your company. As with everything, there are gold diggers to be avoided.

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