Professionally Speaking

What’s It Worth?

This month, Greg and Steve address the value and importance of certification vs. good, old-fashioned experience.

This month we’re looking at certification. Is it worth it? The reality nowadays is that certification has its place, but it no longer can be seen (if it ever was!) as the sole ticket to career fame and fortune. I’m going to look at a number of different scenarios and make some suggestions as to what certifications, if any, are appropriate.

For entry-level people who want to get into the IT field, an MCSE is a complete waste of time and money. With the depth of material in the Windows 2000 program, there’s no way that you can really comprehend the material with no previous IT experience. Completing a single exam—such as Win2K Server (70-215) or Win2K Professional (70-210)—to earn your MCP certification first demonstrates to potential employers that you have some basic level of knowledge, are enthusiastic about IT, and are willing to educate yourself. (At the same time, these potential employers will be under no illusions about your abilities—you’re going to have to start at the bottom and be trained from scratch.) The other advantage of this approach is that you have more time to work on getting yourself hired, which is still going to be an uphill battle in the current IT market.

If you’re in the early stages of your career (the first couple of years), it may make more sense to complete the new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) certification. This is especially true if you don’t see yourself doing any design work in the next one to two years. With this approach, your certification better matches your daily work and leaves the more complex material (if you elect to upgrade to an MCSE) for later, when you are better positioned to absorb and use the material.

For senior IT professionals working with Microsoft technology, it’s pretty much expected that you’ll have an advanced certification such as the MCSE or MCDBA. You’re competing with those who do have it, so why give someone else the advantage? There are people at this level who elect not to attempt to get certified, but often the reasons don’t make sense. Phrases such as, “I don’t want to make Bill Gates rich,” often mean that life is too comfortable to bother with the exams. The truth is, at this level you need to know the material (and a good deal more!) to do your job, so preparing for the tests isn’t going to be a huge stretch.

During the past month, the topic of braindumps has come up at MCP Magazine’s sister Web site, CertCities.com; I’m flabbergasted at the number of people who consider it OK to use braindumps as an exam-preparation technique. I’m not going to make any moral judgments other than to say I don’t use these myself. However, for those of you who do use these sites, I’m not convinced that your time and effort are well spent. Once you complete a certification, employers and clients expect you to know and understand the material, not simply be able to answer memorized questions. The value of the certification is really the knowledge you gain while getting certified—not in the certification itself. I’ve often found that some of the most interesting things I learned while preparing for exams were never addressed in the tests.

If you elect to get certified, remember that you need to keep upgrading your skills and your certifications as your career progresses. Of course, upgrading skills is something we all need to do regularly, but keeping your certifications current always means more exams. Unfortunately, too many feel that once they complete their MCSE, they should have a “sheep dip” approach to certification—once it’s done, it’s done for life. I’m afraid that the rate of change in IT is too fast for that.

The most important thing about certification is to have a realistic view of what it will and won’t do for you. It’s an important addition to your career toolkit, but certification alone isn’t going to do it.

About the Author

Greg Neilson is a manager at a large IT services firm in Australia and has been a frequent contributor to MCPmag.com and CertCities.com.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Nov 4, 2002 Kavius Calgary

I have to agree with the point that certification should be a means of self betterment. I am looking at taking course for the MCDBA. I am already quit knowlageable about db development, but am looking for small things that I may have missed, forgotten, or just never had a chance to learn about. Having a nice piece of paper proving I took it is just an added incentive to take microsoft's program as aposed to someone elses.

Tue, Aug 20, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Braindumps are cool!
Its not easy trying to keep up to date in the IT industry these days, especially MS. So why not take some of the pain off "us" and make way for braindumps? For the experience IT people, at times we want them quick because 1. we dont have time and 2. we need to keep up so we dont fall behind.
Those who are new in IT and dont have any experience, use them but use them right!, cause if you dont it will bite you back! Get informed with good material & understand all material and some lab hands on for basic experience and them use braindumps. This should get your head & foot in the door.
This my personal approach.

Thu, Apr 25, 2002 Tony Anonymous

Are certifications worth it? You bet they are. I've worked with NT as long as there has been NT - before NT 3.1 was even released. I've done every job from Help Desk to the most visible, mission-critical server/network administration in the company. 18 total years IT experience. I was certified on NT 3.51 by studying the Resource Kits for months! But when I found myself out of work last year, I couldn't get an interview for a decent job until I got an updated MCSE. I know NT/2000 but I had to have a piece of paper because the market is so flooded -employers won't chance a non-MCSE. I've literally forgotten more about NT than many will ever know because I was there in the beginning (not because I'm THAT smart). So, I went to a bootcamp to quickly get certified. I got some very good instruction from someone who knew their stuff - I knew that because I know MY stuff. I was disappointed that they allowed braindumps, but they did have some good hands-on lab work.
I earned my MCSE and MCSA. I've since studied and taken a class and earned CCNA. I'm proud of that because I know they are real and not just paper.
But I get sick to my stomach when I think that someone with NO experience can also have an MCSE. Microsoft should institute EXPERIENCE PREREQs.
It shouldn't matter how many tests you can pass you must have (for example):
No experience - you are MCP ONLY.
2 - 3 years experience = MCSA
4+ years = MCSE
No one with less than 3 years experience, in my opinion, could design, implement and administer a Windows 2000 network with Active Directory and all it's associated services effectively and efficiently.

Tue, Apr 2, 2002 IT PRO LA

Get your MCSE or MCSA anyway that you can. (Do you think that MS gives a rats ass about how you got them$) The tests really do not reflect what is being done in the everyday work of an IT pro. The tests are a way to get in the door, to get a promotion, or for self-satisfaction. If you have a busy life and do not have much time to study use the dumps. (IT people have no life and not much time to dedicate to getting certified.) The dumps will get you there! Use them, get the thing out of the way, get a job and move on.

PS. I am not new to the industry, hiring, or certifications!

Wed, Mar 27, 2002 anonymous Anonymous

hmmm, certifications, are they really worth anything these days? Doubtful. As someone who has worked in IT for almost 20 years, and currently hold 7 certifications (all of which I earned in the last 20 months), I can tell you that nothing beats a quality education and starting at the bottom to learn your trade.

When I got my first job back in 1982, I was a tutor helping college students in fortran 66/77 and basic for a whopping $5.15 an hour, these days with the skill set I have now (mainframes, mini's, PC's, networks, cisco, unix/linux, I make well over 60K a year) which is fine for my area of the country. It seems that everyone has fallen into the trap of 'i'm certified, so I must know what the hell i'm doing". I can tell you that there are a lot of people who have NO business in this industry, and got into it because of the $$$ being tossed about. Is IT a worthwhile career, yes, and if you want to remain in it, you had BETTER plan to be a learner for the rest of your career. The people who don't want to do this should get out of the field right now. There are already too many incompetent people working in it at the moment.

Tue, Feb 12, 2002 Nikhil Pune (India)

hi,
I think these exams are becoming quiet essential.
Because in my college i learned how to implement logic in
general programming language Unix / c / c++ / java / windows
but not exactly about implementting logic about vc++
so in order to evaluate my self in vc ++
So it becomes essential to appear for MCSD.

Tue, Feb 12, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I am in the process of getting my MCSE. And I have to agree that the tests seem to be based on situations that need some experience in the field to be answered. But you have to look at how classes are being taught. You either go to to a boot camp (which you should go to if you already know the technology well) or you go twice a week to classes that are taught in 5-6 months, and I dont feel that's enough time. So what do you do, you scramble and cram and use braindumps to help you get by, because once the class is over your basically teaching yourself.
To bring some sort of high status back to the MCSE certification, I think the training time should be longer so students can get some real hands on lab time. Not just running through a lab once or twice. Stretch the training out and employers will also see that you have a better understanding of the technology.
Would you want a doctor to operate on you if he or she only went to school in a 2 month boot camp....i didnt think so.

Thu, Feb 7, 2002 Jason Anonymous

Brain Dumps are evil. You know how I learned the material for 070-229? I read the books online, and I passed fairly easily. Learn the material. You might not pass by a 150+ point margin, but you should still pass if you know the material. (And who said you have to get MS training materials? I've found that O'Reilly's MCSD in a nutshell book perfect for general study for the VB tests, if you don't expect it to spoon feed you from complete beginner. Even then, it gives a great indication for areas you should be paying attention to.)

Is my MCSD (and likely soon to also be MCDBA) going to help me get a job? Probably not. Of course, I also don't have any "experience" in the IT field and didn't finish college (Hey, clinical depression will do that to you.) It is, and always will be about who you know and being in the right place at the right time when you try to get that first job. My only hope for a better job is that my bid to get put on loan (for a paycut BTW. I'm already only making 10.20 an hour) to my companies' IS department goes through so I can get "experience."

My advice is that job experience is still the best thing to get.

Wed, Jan 23, 2002 Michael Colorado

I mostly agree with what you are saying here. Although, I feel that getting some kind of Certification gets you in the door. Having an A+ and an MCP (and now, perhaps the MCSA), will prove your understanding of SYSTEMS Administration (let's not include Network Admin here, that's the next step). When it comes to finding a job, having the Certification helps. However, having experience AND certifications are still best. I certainly don't think having an MCSE hurts you.

And, for those "Anonymous" folks out there who think that the MCSE is worthless, you really haven't tried to market yourself (or you don't know how). Have you seen the number of IT jobs out there that list an MCSE as desired/required?

My certifications helped me get my last two jobs!

Sun, Jan 20, 2002 mike d pittsburgh PA

Okay I know this is a little off topic to this particular discussion but, I am a high school aged home schooler and I am question after my MCSD specializing in VB6 a SQL programming. When I finally graduate, would that cert be enough to get me that entry level programming job? I also program things now, like chat apps, and utilities,would that help me.

Fri, Jan 18, 2002 Steve Seattle

The value of certification like the value of a house is what any given buyer will pay a given seller on a given day. Microsoft's technical references are quality, their training material is the worst on the market. Braindumps can easily be foiled but working on better training material should come first.

Fri, Jan 18, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

One of the problems is that certification became an industry. Everyone was led to believe that having the almighty MCSE would open all kinds of doors, so lots of people who were simply after more money were enticed into attending schools, boot camps, braindumps, etc., often with no IT experience whatsoever. The result is a flooded marketplace and a worthless certification. I got MCSE certified way back in 1997 because I was genuinely interested in learning my craft in-depth and this seemed to be a good way to do it. I did it all on my own, with a 4-computer test lab at home. I was already working as a network administrator. I am now working on MCSD cert, since I do a lot of software development with Microsoft products, and it seems that the masses are more "scared" of attempting a programming cert. There are still less than 30,000 MCSD's, as opposed to nearly a half-million MCSE's and counting.

Tue, Jan 15, 2002 Ken Calgary

What ever happened to the idea of getting certified for the purpose of gaining useful knowledge? I'm currently persuing an MCSE 2K track. Why? Because I feel it's the best way fro me to gain the knowledge that I need to implement the technology that my company requires. The concept of certification seems to have become some sort of a game with book worms and IT wannabe's. The 'paper MCSE' feels that he's entitled to every right, payscale and position that an experienced MCSE has. Well, let's face facts. It's not the certification alone that gets you where you are in your career. Although your career certainly won't be hindered by the fact that you hold some sort of certification. Career growth is a combination of knowledge and experience. What's it worth? Certification is worth the knowledge you gained to achieve it. Nothing more. What you do with that knowledge is up to you.

Tue, Jan 15, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

excellent

Sun, Jan 13, 2002 Anonymous Washington, DC

While it's true that a certification alone won't get you hired as an administrator, I know from experience that it can get you hired as an intern. Does being an intern suck? Yes. Do they think you actually know anything that you need to know when you start? No. Is there a study guide out there, that can take a person with an intern's level of experience and prior knowledge that can help them pass the MCP exams? No. So, to get that first cert out of the way (Get the MCP so you can get in the door), use the braindumps - its your only prayer. Then, as you learn and grow with the company that hires you on as an intern, stop using them. That way, you MAKE the MCSE worth it when you get it.

Sat, Jan 12, 2002 Chris Brisbane

Why do people always have the argument about whether theoretical experience is more or less important than practical? You can't have one without the other, whether that theory is gained through certification or some other form of study. Anyone who works in consulting will have stories of sorting out bad code/design written by someone who learnt on the job without knowing the theory in depth. Certification is proof of theoretical knowledge, and will always benefit your practical experience. Practical work gives a developer experience of practical application of that theory and baselining of good procedure. Good companies recognise this, those who don't will probably not be so concerned about the standard of work that you produce.

Fri, Jan 11, 2002 T Sweden

Why not make an level above the MCSE were the experience and talent for the job is tested.
I my self is quite new in the game and recently achieved the MCSE on 2K but would appreciate a way to prove my capability in ather ways then a teoretical test.
My suggestion is to make an master MCSE title that is recognized as something special.

Wed, Jan 9, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

I am not slamming on the author here because most people who write for magazines write this way. There is no final point here. The author is attempting to explain our options. We don’t need that. We need a position taken and backed up with more than Microsoft drivel. Is Microsoft certification worth something, yes it is. Is it a really big mess right now, yes it is. Will it be fixed anytime soon, no it will not. Is the MCSA the answer, not even close and don't even think about it. We need position pieces, not middle of the road articles. I don’t care if it’s a want-to-be tough decision. I am not slamming the guy who wrote the article ( once again...its not personal)......I want to make this clear. Certification is a mess and we can only blame Microsoft for that. In the end it will be worked out and there will be some certifications that are backed up and not waffled on.

Tue, Jan 8, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

good advice, I fall within the second category and plan on doing what you suggested

Tue, Jan 8, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

The MCSE is not worth the paper it is written on now...oh I forgot...they gave me a nice shiny gold card now instead of a cert to hang on the wall. Well its in the garbage now...they sent me two. I am more proud of my certification from Seti at Home for my 5000th packet crunched than my MCSE 2K.

Tue, Jan 8, 2002 Anonymous New York

I am an MCSE, and I must say having an MCSE certification is one thing. Knowing what you are doing is another. Employers and CIP's are left to figure out which catagory you are in. The certification is good to have but by itself is not enough.

Mon, Jan 7, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Mcse cert doesnt mean anything. I can train my sister to pass the tests.(anyone can) Hands on is what matters, and many out there dont have it. The piece of paper hasnt helped in furthering my career and i also ask" Is it worth it". But i guess it will help to get in the door somewhere, but dont think youll get 70-80k like some schools say you will with the cert. The market is flooded with MCPs and making it very difficult for people who actually know what they are doing to compete with the lower income seeking "certified" pros (and i use that tern lightly).

Tue, Jan 1, 2002 Anonymous Anonymous

Interesting approach on the priorty certs

Mon, Dec 31, 2001 Erada Chicago

The IT field is overloaded with talent, and you are right every place wants you to have expereince. And even an MCSE without expereince is worthless. I think that people are drawn to the IT industry because of the slick marketing done by some of these companies. Like did you ever hear the radio commercial about how ____jobs in the IT field get left unfilled each year. I know plenty of people who graduated college with a CS or CIS Degree and are out of work because they dont have expereince and/or there isnt any work out there.

Sun, Dec 30, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

If don't use braindumps. studying Microsoft's Training kits thoroughly is far not enough to get certified. And the MCP test is based on real-world computer administration work and designed for those with a bundle of years of admin experiences, but the fact is --- if you don't get certified, you don't bother to dream to be hired as a computer administrator for your company, and then you cannot get computer admin experiences, So, use braindumps to get certified, and get certified to get computer administration job and experiences, then don't use braindumps when you upgrade your certifications to the next level.

Sat, Dec 29, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Show your potential employer the certificaitons in the interview, and show your employer your experiences at work.

Fri, Dec 28, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

Well said!.. I have been working with MS Technology exclusively since MS DOS 1.0 and never bothered to certify in anything other than my Bachelors and Masters in Project Management.

It is only recently I got around to getting my MCSE and MCSD. Why? - because to join the top line consulting firms - they require the credentials MCSE/MCSD.

Mon, Dec 24, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

it's the old catch 22- nobody will hire you to give you experience without certification- nobody will hire you even with certification without experience

Sat, Dec 22, 2001 Anonymous Anonymous

So basically he says certification is either worth pursuing or its not? It depends on the individual's situation. That bit of wisdom tells us nothing...
Sure experience counts but if you cant get experience, exams should be an equivalent substitute.
I changed careers and I dont have ten years to put into entry-level experience.
An exam should be just as valuable if it accurately measures knowledge and proficiency.
Like any "sale", it all depends on what you can convince the buyer to pay for it.
...Start the sales pitches on that Picasso, there is always eBay.

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