A Short History
For the past 15 years or so I have not had to keep my certifications up to date. My jobs simply have not required it. But that was not always the case. When I started my career in the world of software engineering I worked at getting certified as an MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer) because certifications were a big deal back then, and I was told that it would help me get a job.
It turns out that the certification tests are hard, as well they should be, and I have a pretty good case of test anxiety. But I did earn my MCP and found a job before I completed the MCSD, so I put off finishing it.
A couple years later I had the opportunity to work as a Microsoft Certified Trainer. As you may have guessed, I was required to have a premier Microsoft Certification. So off I went to study, and test, and study, and test, and … it was still hard. But now I had some experience under my belt, and I was able to work my way through the tests. I earned my MCAD.NET, MCSD.NET and MCDBA (SQL 2000).
But since then my jobs (both as a developer and as a trainer) have not required me to keep my certifications up to date. So why would I go through the pain? But I recently decided to go back to my consulting and training business, and have decided to update my certifications to make them current. I started with my MCSD, and as you can imagine, it has changed significantly. After all, the cloud didn’t even exist back then. The MCSD has a heavy focus on Azure solutions. But since AWS is also a major cloud provider, that is where my next focus will be.
I have learned that I still have test anxiety. But there is something else, and more important, that I have learned through this process: Even with nearly 20 years of experience of developing, architecting and teaching software engineering, and with a focus to stay up to date with the latest technologies and trends, I found that I still have some gaps of knowledge and experience in areas where I believed there were none.
Which brings me to why I am writing this post.
Do Certifications Really Matter?
YES! It really is that simple. Certifications are significant to both the job seeker / employee as well as to the employer. Over the years I have interviewed at several companies, and I have also conducted hundreds of interviews. I’ve also spent countless hours trying to come up with test and interview questions and coding assignments to give to candidates who have applied for a position for which I was interviewing. I’ve spent dozens (maybe hundreds) of hours completing coding assignments for interviews which I will never be able to use anywhere else.
I know that I am not alone. And all of this effort culminates in a 1 – 2 hour interview, maybe up to a full day if you are lucky, where the employer tries to determine if you actually know what you claim to know. But no matter how long the interview is, it can never emulate the environment in which you will work. So… your qualifications to do a job, are judged largely by your ability to navigate through set of interviews, which really don’t relate to your job.
Who is more qualified to certify that someone understands a technology stack than the creator of that technology? I have both read and written many interview test questions, but regardless of how smart I would like to think that I am, the questions that I have come up with cannot do a better job of testing skills than the certification tests which cover those skills.
Benefits of Certification
Focusing on certifications benefits both the employer and the employee / job seeker.
- Passing a certification exam shows commitment to growth and learning
- Earning a premier certification shows a significant sacrifice of time and dedication to mastery of your craft
- Certification tests are long and rigorous and test a far greater breadth than a customized interview test can accomplish
- Studying for a certification test will expose you to concepts that you may otherwise have overlooked when designing a software solution
- Certification tests can serve as re-usable proof that a concept/technology has been mastered
- Employers can target specific certifications in their hunt for the right employee
- Technology changes constantly, keeping certifications current helps keep best practices up to date
Back in the early 2000’s certifications were all the rage. The market was flooded with “paper certified” IT professionals. In other words, they had the certification, but couldn’t really back it up with the skills. A certification cannot fully replace a technical interview, and it can never tell you if the candidate is a cultural fit. But the certification can and should serve as a baseline of the qualifications that a candidate has.
There are many certifications worth pursuing. Here are some resources you can use to help you choose which one(s) to chase.
Oracle and Java Certifications: