Certification – Why certify
Certification is a bit of a contentious topic. Before you start on a certification journey, you should first determine why you want to be certified. For many, certification is simply a path to more money. For others, certification (and other formal education) is worthless, as the only way to truly learn something is through experience or “the school of hard knocks”. If you agree with either of these viewpoints, you probably shouldn’t read the rest of this series.
Of course, there is an element of truth to both of these viewpoints. Yes, getting certified may well help land you a better paying job. Yes, a worker who has completed a certification path will not necessarily better than one who spent the same time working on non-academic learning. However, both of these may also be false, depending on the situation. So, why should you get a technical certification?
To me, certifications have a value that goes beyond the dollar amount and beyond the daily practicality. Much as a college degree doesn’t really measure one’s level of knowledge in a subject area (it measures dedication and general ability), a certification doesn’t really measure a practical skill-set. Similarly, much as a college degree is worth less than you paid for it (the actual degree probably costs about $5.00 to print and put in the holder) and more (the college experience will alter you for life), a certification is worth less than you pay for training and testing and more in the terms of what you learn while pursuing it.
If you pursue a certification correctly, it will be in an area in which you already have experience. The process of studying for and attaining the certification serves more to round out your knowledge and give you a chance to think about the subject holistically. It’s up to you to take advantage of this opportunity. See, any subject that you work in on a day to day basis is, by necessity, approached on a tactical level at best. Problems and deadlines arise and get handled. The daily ebb and flow of tasks is what is most important. You can get excellent at doing by taking the experiential approach. However, this approach is limited in effectiveness because you can only get so efficient at any job. To get beyond that plateau, you need to take a step back and think about what you’re doing in a different way. The structured academic approach to most certifications is an excellent way to do this.
Also, in any daily job, there are a certain number of repetitive tasks that must be performed. As you do this, you become very familiar with the tools and concepts that these tasks require. Thus, when a new problem arises, you tend to try to solve it with the same tools you already know. Since technology is growing increasingly complex, this can often result in the misapplication of a tool or idea, which can cause problems down the road. The holistic approach that a certification offers exposes you to the rest of the technology so that when these problems arise, you have a better idea of both the problem and some ways to solve it.
Thus, there are only a handful of scenarios in which certification is a valid path.
- If you need a new learning opportunity in your life, to kick-start your brain into thinking about your work in a different way.
- If you know that you have gaps in your knowledge and need to fill them in.
- If you feel a strong need to prove to yourself (or your boss) that you know what you know.
- If the specific certification meets a regulatory requirement so you need it to keep your job (and you want to keep your job, of course).
If any of these four scenarios fit you, stick around for the rest of this series.