In an industry where professionals are often most concerned with gaining practical experience, are vendor certifications still of value? The "Certification Table of Enlightenment" can help you find out.
Hardware picture from Shutterstock
I've been working in the technology industry for over 30 years and in that time I've had to reinvent myself through many industry "paradigm" shifts, just like the shift to cloud that we are going through now.
I've sold mainframe emulators, installed acoustic couplers and worked on the IT strategies of major businesses. I graduated in 2009 from Manchester Met University and on a 30-year trip to get to that degree I picked up certifications in French fry production at McDonalds, an MCNE and MCNI by Novell, XT repair and OS/2 from IBM, an ITIL ticket, NT4, Windows 95, PowerPoint 2010…
My certification profile ebbed and flowed as the technologies and services I delivered changed. OS/2 certifications may be of no use today, but back then they gave me the confidence I needed to work with one of those newfangled graphical user interfaces. Maybe more importantly, it gave my customers confidence as well.
Are certifications worth pursing as an individual? My catch all answer is "yes", but of course it depends on your own motivation.
Would you leave university the day before the exam?
Ask yourself: would you leave university without doing the degree because you had learned what you set out to learn? If you've done the course you know your stuff. You've already done the hard part. Go take the exam. It will make a difference, especially if the day comes when your qualifications are being lined up against other people who didn't sit the exam.
Personally, I'm passionate about certification for a number of personal reasons. If I had to list my top five, I'd go with:
- A way to demonstrate that I have the skills to get the job done
- The personal challenge of me versus the vendor / me versus the technology
- Bragging rights
- I like certificates
- Industry credibility. Actually, let's make that technology credibility
My boss says….
Many organisations recognise the bottom line value certification brings to the business. Some still hold onto the outdated view that if you get certified you'll leave. That is possible, but you'd leave anyway if you are not being challenged, or when you work out you are not being invested in.
Richard Branson has a quote I love: "Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don't want to."
I can't claim to know what Richard Branson's approach is beyond what I hear and read, but as a businessman it's clear he values training and certification. He also said: "If you look after your staff, they'll look after your customers. It's that simple."
Sadly not all bosses are as enlightened. Not all bosses own a spaceship either.
Is there any evidence certifications reduce costs?
Over years working with individuals and organisations about the benefits of certification, I've been able to create my Certification Table of Enlightenment. What's in it for you? For your organisation?
|Show the world I know stuff||Yes||Yes|
|Helps the business attract further good talent||Yes|
|Motivates and rewards staff||Yes|
|Increased employability, greater career growth potential and networking opportunities||Yes|
|Provides stakeholders with confidence in team / individual ability||Yes||Yes|
|Demonstrates capability to stakeholders||Yes|
|Provides a tangible direction for professional development||Yes|
|Mitigation of risk through lack of competency||Yes|
|Decrease risk of poor implementation and / or poor ongoing support||Yes|
|Improved staff retention||Yes||Yes|
Training ROI is hard to qualify, especially on a certification program with several training interventions and exams. How do you measure? When do you measure? In fact, what do you measure?
Fortunately, IDC frequently release the results of training and certification surveys. The most recent survey IDC conducted, of over 3000 people, was for Juniper. Their Network Management Survey from 2014 provides some reusable, fact-based stories. Like how more than one week of training drove an increase in router up time from 78% to 94%.
|Key activity||Key metric||<1 day training||>1 week training|
|Design and planning of networks and integration of devices||% of time networked resources are available||72||90|
|% of changes to network architecture complete||56||71|
|Installation and configuration of routers and switches||Average % uptime of critical routers/switches||78||94|
|% of installations completed to plan||67||80|
|Routing/switching protocol management||% of architecture changes fully documented||57||68|
|Routing policy management||% of implementations which worked first time||69||82|
But that's training, not certification, so let's borrow another IDC stat. From a certification perspective, IDC found strength in numbers. The higher percentage of a team that had achieved a certification, the quicker maintenance activities completed on time. That translates into a bottom line saving -- so that must impress the boss.
Whilst these figures relate to Juniper, back in 2008 IDC did a similar survey across all IT functions and the results are very similar:
We have to conclude from this that there is a tangible Return on Investment to be had by certifying the team. Making it part of the culture.
It is win/win
Certification provides the business with measurable benefits, such as reduced down time. It delivers non-measurable benefits in a motivated workforce. And the individual, you and I, are better placed for career progression and can show the world that we know stuff. Even if it is OS/2.
There is an analogy I like to use when making the case for certification:
Think back to the last time you flew somewhere. Was the pilot of our Boeing 747 certified to fly you across the country? If you could save a few bucks, would you be happy with someone up front flying where the skills were not validated? I wouldn't. I'd take the CBD every time (Certified Boeing Driver).
Rather like modern certifications, pilots have to be certified for each aircraft type they fly and they have to be revalidated from time to time. As we head for the clouds as well, maybe we need to adopt that same model.
A veteran of too many years in IT, Gary Duffield, at the age of 45, suffered a midlife crisis and moved his wife, dog and daughter to Australia. He continues to live the dream as national MS product manager for DDLS, this gives him a great team to work with and fantastic toys to play with. Based in Perth, most weekends you will find him on Whitfords dog beach with Biff, the rescue collie from Manchester.