Are Professional Certs a Waste of Time?
In short, no. Professional Certifications are not a waste of time.
Just to be clear you did read the first two sentences of this article right?
Certs are actually really important. However I think we need to talk about certs because they can be misunderstood and misused.
This article will discuss both sides of the topic and you may notice that one side seems a bit heavy. While I may have more personal experience that would give the impression that I feel more passionately about one side, I really want it to be clear reader that I actually do think certs are important.
Why Certs Are Great!
1) Certs are an amazing way to show the world that you know what you are doing.
It is a tangible way to broadcast that you have a achieved a certain level of mastery.
Certs and educational levels hold a certain level of respect. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not we have biases.
Consider this scenario:
You have a rash on your elbow, you go to two doctors. Both have a solution, however the solutions offered are vastly different from each other. Dr. 1 has been a family practitioner for multiple years, and Dr. 2 has a PhD in alternative medicine.
Who do you choose?
I don't care which doctor you chose, however you likely are leaning towards one of them.
The same applies to technology certs. Someone with a CCNA cert must know more about networking then someone with CompTIA Network+.
Uh Oh! (Focus Andrew, this part is why you LOVE certs)
I like certs because they validate your knowledge which can enable you to engage in contracts that you otherwise cannot(should not).
2) Proof of Knowledge
You study, study and study some more. You take the test. You pass the test. Now you are certified. You have something that you can show people that is proof of knowledge. Additionally it proves to yourself that you are skilled.
3) Continued Advancement
As you continue in your chosen field, certs are a logical way to show where you have been and what you have done. Have you learned something new? Certs are an amazing way to show that you know what you are talking about.
Why Certs Maybe Are Not So Great!
1) Book Smarts Only
To put it bluntly I have met some people with PhD's that turned out to be really good at relaying knowledge from books etc, however struggled to be able to tangibly act on technology in the real world.
I have met people with OSCP or CCNA and other advanced certs that are completely lost when handed a pcap file or asked to identify threats in a log file.
2) To Many Certs for the same thing
There are so many tech certs. They have the name security, networking, etc. Yes, there are some places(vendors) that hold a bit more respect in industry, I guess pick those certs?
How do you pick though? Do you attempt multiple? How different can they really be? Is the knowledge demonstrated from cert 1 really that different from cert 2?
3) Favoring certs over Experience
This brings up the issue from earlier, the person with Network+ vs someone with CCNA. In industry I would say people put CCNA up on a higher pedestal. However there are other factors at play. Maybe the person with Network+ has 10+ years of real world experience and the CCNA person has never worked in industry. This is an extreme example but do you see my point?
4) Pay to Win
This one is so upsetting. I couldn't even begin to tell you how many times someone has approached me on LinkedIn trying to sell me there certs. Check out this article where someone confesses to being a scammer. If I pay someone over in India they will do the CCNA for me and I can be certified! No that is garbage. I will pass on your scam.
Let's put the ethics aside for one moment. Knowing that people are paying others to do their cert exams is such a prolific problem, I truly wonder how many people exist out there with their falsely earned certifications?
5) To Many New Certs
Certs have the same problems that crypto coins do, there is a new one every single week it seems. The problem with this is that the market is over saturated. "Oh great you got a cert! Let me look it up, ok it was just created last week! OK I guess we will continue with the interview"
There are so many and they are so similar, that they lose their potency.
6) Overpriced "Valuable" Certs
There are some certs that are so bloody expensive. I kind of get the reason. If you pay an arm an a leg you are likely going to take it seriously. But here is the rub, what makes that one expensive cert better then 4 "cheap" ones? Is the person not meeting the same knowledge level? Or have we arbitrarily given more value to these expensive certs. One things for sure, the expensive cert providers are "bringing home the bacon."
7) Cert Hunters
You know these people when you see them. Their LinkedIn profiles have their name and then 20 different acronyms immediately after.
I'm not saying they haven't accomplished an impressive feat. Spending the time and money to accomplish all of those certs is really something.
However if you are going to share that you have tons of certs, then you should be prepared to defend your knowledge.
Here is a short story.
A number of years ago I interviewed someone for a network security role. They had a TON of certs, I believe even a PhD in Computer Science. Before the interview I thought they were likely going to a shoe-in for the role. During the interview I asked my typical interview question "What is a stateful firewall?"
The person couldn't tell me what it was, anything about it actually.
I made the judgement that a person with PhD in Computer Science should be able to tell me what a stateful firewall was. I assumed that a person with a mitful of CISCO certs could tell me what a stateful firewall was.
I'm not sharing this story to shame this person. In actual fact I am the one who should be embarrassed. I put to much emphasis and value on certs etc.
I still ask this question but I look at experience way more now.
8) Cert Paths for Very Specific Vendors
What is a cert path? In a nutshell it means you start with and introductory cert, from there you can branch off into the category you are interested in. Are you more interested in security? Great! There is a path for that. Are you more interested in dev ops? Great! There is a path that as well.
There are some great cert paths, Azure comes to mind.
In theory I understand the value of the cert path. It allows the cert recipient the freedom to guide their own path, which is awesome. The problem arrives when people learn very, very specific knowledge that doesn't translate to other vendors.
For example I have encountered people in the past who have an obscene amount of Cisco certs. Good for them, they put the time in and now have a lot of knowledge on Cisco products. Problem is they ended up in shops where there were no Cisco products and sadly were completely lost.
I have had colleagues, quite a few in fact, that have told me they wished they had not spent so much time and money on learning Cisco. "Why?" I would ask. The answer was always the same. Cisco was so specific that when they eventually got a job the place they ended up didn't even use Cisco.
9) Actual Hiring Managers Saying They Don't Really Care About Certs
I have a number of friends in industry. A good number of them are actually hiring managers. They interview people all the time.
All would say that they take a look at the certs on the applicants resume, however they also admit to putting a healthy amount of weight on real world experience.
In everyone's career there is a beginning. That moment where you are applying for your first tech job and you don't have 10+ years of experience speaking on your behalf. Certs are helpful here because they can speak for you. "This person is looking for their first job, wow look they put in extra time to cert up"
Professional Certs are good! You should work to obtain them. Just be aware of why you are getting them. Understand how you present them and the impact it has on your industry. Go out there study hard prove to yourself and then the world that you are knowledgeable in your field!
Thanks for reading!