Do you need a Computer Certification?

Many of today's computer certifications require a serious contribution in both time and money, so before you part with either it's important to carefully look at the reasons why you should, or should not, pursue a particular computer certification track.

In an increasingly competitive market, long gone are the days when I.T. workers could rely on just one or two main skills to keep their employer happy and their job safe. With a flood of young I.T. workers entering the marketplace every year, companies in some sectors are spoiled for choice - particularly in times when the I.T. market is anything but buoyant - and employers are therefore demanding more versatility from their I.T. staff. For this reason alone many I.T. workers view certification as not only a means to learning new skills, but more importantly to equip them with a C.V. that will withstand the assault from their peers in the industry.

Although the specific reasons for wanting to achieve a particular computer certification will vary from individual to individual, at the end of the day the decision to undertake a particular certification boils down to two main ingredients: the perceived value to the candidate (what do you expect to get out of doing a particular certification), and the perceived value to the employer (will employers recognise and value this certification). And depending on whether you are already inside the industry or outside, the considerations addressing each of those points will be markedly different.

For people outside the I.T. industry looking for a job within certifications can be beneficial in the sense that they offer a structured approach to learning new foundation skills, but the expectation that a certification alone will lead to employment is often artificially high. There are endless commercials in print and otherwise suggesting that it is relatively easy to enter the I.T. industry with just a few weeks at a training boot camp, and a subsequent certification under your belt. The truth of the matter is that although entry-level jobs do exist, competition for them is very high so an entry-level certification and a few weeks experience alone is highly unlikely to land you a job (although it may be enough to get you as far as the interview stage). Even for entry-level positions employers are looking for a track record of hands-on experience. For many people this throws up the proverbial 'chicken and egg' situation - how to get employed and gain experience, when you need to have experience in the first place to get employed? The answer is to beg/steal/borrow as much experience from wherever you can to complement your certifications. Build home networks, strip and repair PC's, study and work with relevant software applications as much as you can. Work for free if you have to. Even if your experience is limited to fiddling with home networks, if you can converse proficiently with a prospective employer at an interview and demonstrate that you have some real-world experience to go with your certification, then you're more likely to succeed.

For those already working in the I.T. sector the range of certifications available, and the reasons for taking them, are much more varied. Working through a particular certification track while gainfully employed is a good way to learn new skills and to keep your existing skills sharp. Of course gaining a certification or two can be good ammunition for when it's time to ask for a pay rise, and it is also an effective way to signal to your employer that you are serious about your career and keen on progressing or moving into a new area of expertise (but how management respond to such signals is, of course, an entirely different matter). Also bear in mind that I.T. technologies change and develop quite rapidly, so certification is a good way to keep on top of the latest technological concepts. Naturally, if your employer is willing to pay the bills for your I.T. certifications, then you should take advantage of that generosity as much as possible.

Irrespective if you're a seasoned I.T. worker, or just taking your first steps toward an I.T. career, it's worth pointing out that 'computer certifications', as an industry, is big business. Companies make a lot of money out of training, resources, exams, re-certification etc., and they spend a lot of money trying to convince you, and your employers, that their certification is the measure of the industry. These days new certifications and new accrediting organisations seem to appear almost daily (particularly for entry-level, security and forensic certifications), so before you part with your hard earned cash, take some time to research the demand for the particular certification you have in mind, and don't believe the marketing hype. It also pays not to be too easily swayed by salary tables that you often see published in job or industry magazines. If you make your certification decisions based on salary expectations then you may be in for a disappointment when you complete your certification two years later and find that the market has changed dramatically. Try to anticipate trends and think about where the market might be in three years time, and choose certification tracks that are the most versatile and will give you the most career options.

At the end of the day, you're not going to do your C.V. any harm at all by having any number of official letters after your name, but before you invest your time and your money in any particular certification, be sure to do your homework before you study.