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The topic of certification surfaces every so often in technical circles--especially when job seekers face tough job competition. The value of such certifications comes into question versus that of years of experience. For experienced technicians and engineers, the opinion is that experience is the most important for landing a job. In the minds of newbies and wannabes, certifications rule. Certifying authorities and vendors, of course, want you to spend the money obtaining the certifications and are ready to cite instances where certification is required for employment.

I, myself, was caught up in the certification frenzy back in the early 90s with Novell's now defunct NetWare product. I took the classes, amounting to about $1,500, for the first certification (Certified NetWare Administrator (CNA)) and passed the exam. While in one of the next series of classes (Certified NetWare Engineer (CNE)), I connected with another student who was a recently laid-off aircraft worker who made $70K/year at that job. He was now taking classes to become a CNE all on the government dollar. I paid for my own classes.

He also informed me that the government was paying for the 3 systems he was leasing to use for study at a whopping $900/month.

Angry? Me? Oh, yes indeed.

I halted my studies at once. Why? Because this guy had absolutely no experience with computers or NetWare yet he would eventually become a CNE and get a job making yet again more than I still do today, some 15 years later.

Chances are that he never got a job as a Novell administrator. My utter disgust was mostly legitimate but what of his certification? The problem with his certification (and all vendor certifications) is that it was with a version of the software that was replaced less than two years later.

With each new software version, you have to re-certify. Isn't that nice for the vendor? They continually extract money from you every time they upgrade their software--that is, if you want to stay certified.

The same thing happened to all those "paper" MCSEs (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers) that were floating around a few years back. They were certified on NT 4.0, then came 2000, later came 2003 and now 2008. And that's only the operating systems, Microsoft also has certifications for developers, database administrators and more.

Others followed suit and jumped on the "you need a certification" bandwagon. Red Hat, Oracle, Cisco, Sun, VMware and others all have their money...I mean certification programs ready to take your money and time with the promise of a better job or first-time employment.

So, what's the bottom line here?

Vendor certifications are a money racket. Don't fall for it. Rarely, if ever, are they required for employment. If they are a requirement, the person who wrote the requirement hasn't a clue and you don't want the job whether you're certified or not.

If you really think that you must obtain a Linux certification, try a vendor neutral one such as Linux+ or LPI.

Your best bet is to acquire experience from working with the product and developing some skills associated with it. Talk to people in the field to find out how Linux, routers and databases are used in the real world. Start small in a small company and work your way up to the big time. If you aren't willing to get some experience first, a certification can at least get you some notice but proceed with caution.

Write back and tell me what you think of vendor certifications. Do you think they're worth anything?

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Last Post by joetraff
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Ken,

Just a small nit to pick.

You mention the 'government paid for' a few times in your article.
I was laid off in a plant closing and took classes paid for through unemployment.

The money for this comes from the unemployment insurance that is taken out of our paychecks every day we work and earn. So it might be better to think of the laid off worker's classes as having been paid for by himself over the many years he worked before he was laid off.

Insurance is something we all grumble about paying into, and all hope to never use. But we are glad it is there when we actually do need it.

I don't want to get into debates over government mandated unemployment insurance, but its probably a good compromise between pure free market and pure socialism.

In my State I got a choice of re-training money or unemployment payments. I took the retraining. My wife worked and I got a low paying job in retail for a few months. If I had kids I might have made a different decision.

The training I took was a 42 week computer programming course at a local college that was the equivalent of the core courses in computer science an undergraduate would take. Classes for 5 days a week and some Saturdays. Intensive stuff.

I already had a Bachelor's degree and I learned to really program. I would advise anyone to stay off the 'certification treadmill'. It costs a lot to stay on it and you never really get anywhere.

Your advice is spot on.

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Sean,

I didn't know about the insurance thing. It seems he had some grant or something. It was a long time ago so my memory of it has faded. I'm glad you got retrained and are successful--congrats. My anger wasn't really directed at him so much as it was the certification thing. People are free to change careers but it just seemed unfair to me at the time that I couldn't afford certification and had experience and he had the opposite problem.

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Ken,

I couldn't agree more. I'm a contractor inside the DOD and worked for many years for the Navy as a civilian. My current assignment wants us to have certs, but usually vendor-neutral (I'm taking the CompTIA Security+ exam this Monday, because I have to). But other than one Microsoft cert from a few years ago, I've been doing this work for over 15 years on what I know.

I realized what a joke the cert exams were back in 1999. I needed one final exam to complete for the Windows NT MCSE. My organization paid for the tests, so I figured what the heck. I scheduled to take the last test, in TCP/IP, at a computer training center in midtown Manhattan during a vacation visit.

Only one person at the test center spoke English. They never asked me for my cell phone, which was hanging on my belt in clear view. I realized this when I sat down in front of the terminal, and just shut it off. There was no attempt at monitoring or security at all. During my test, I heard another person enter the cubicle next to me and begin a test. However, he must not have been well-prepared, since he spent most of the time in there quietly speaking to someone on his cell phone, apparently asking for answers in a language I couldn't identify.

That was the last cert exam I ever attempted.

Some time after this happened, my organization decided to hire an assistant for me (I was the IT department head and was buried in work). I wanted someone experienced in some pretty specific things. I interviewed a small group of people, and was initially impressed by one guy what a regular alphabet soup of certs on his resume: A+, Network+, MCSE, CCNA, and so on. I got the impression that studying for cert exams was all he did, as he turned out to be pretty young, around 23, and had only one year of community college schooling.

The interview went well (for him) and he seemed to have all the "right" answers for the general questions I asked him. Then I decided to give him a real test. We walked back into the server area, and I opened a cabinet to show him some equipment: a three 1U servers, a tape autoloader, and, at the top, a 48-port SMC Ethernet switch. I nonchalantly commented that I was "real happy" with the performance of the "new router" I had just installed. (Our routers were at the other end of the building, near our demarcation point). He strolled over to the cabinet, gazed at the SMC switch (which had about 20 cables plugged into its ports...in the *front* of the unit, where he could see them) and said something like "Yeah, I've hear that these SMC routers were really great. Do you like them better than Ciscos?"

End of interview.

Joe

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Well I think the vendor neutral certifications (certs) like A+ and Network+ do give you a solid grounding in understanding the basic principles. Experience is always preferable to certs no doubt. The only problem is getting your foot in the door to get a junior position, to get experience. Without any proof you have the basics down, you’re screwed, at least a cert will tell the employer you have some knowledge.

Not every employer treats every university degree the same, some have a more prestigious reputation than others, while most certs like the CompTia and Microsoft tend to get international recognition.

As for what joe.attaboy said. You seem to think the guy you were interviewing had good theoretical knowledge but lacked the practical experience. So how is he going to get the practical experience if you’re not going to give him a chance? I agree that mistaking a 48 port switch for a router was not so clever, but he might have just been following your lead as the ‘experienced’ tech and was trying to impress you with brand knowledge etc. One guy making a mistake doesn’t lend any credence to your point that certs are of little value.

Many companies look for certain certs before they will even give you the time of day. People try to match their competencies with the general requirements of the employers. So whether or not you like certs is irrelevant, it’s the market that determines what people do. The real question is, how does one get the experience with a product and prove this to the employer, when they can’t even get that first job?

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Like the way breaker said I would like to ask the same question.
how doesany one get experienced with consumer products and prove
to employers, when they can’t qualify for the first job?
<snip>

Edited by PhilliePhan: spam link removed

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