Certifications: Why all the hate?


Let me preface this post with this: I currently hold a handful of certifications from SNIA, CompTIA, Microsoft, and VMware (and possibly some others that I may have forgotten).

I was listening to the newest SysAdministrivia podcast which briefly touched on the topic of certifications and whether they have any value. It seems that the common consensus is that they do not hold value and are a waste of money. Although I can definitely appreciate that and respect that opinion, I also disagree with it to some extent.

Let’s start by looking at the easy target: Microsoft. You have likely heard the term that someone is a ‘paper MCSE’ or something like that. If not, it essentially means that someone has studied (or more likely just used a brain dump) to pass a bunch of Microsoft tests to obtain a certification, but they may have no hands on / practical experience. Although they hold a paper that says they are a certified professional / engineer / whatever, they probably couldn’t compose a Group Policy to assign a desktop image if their life depended on it. Yes, these people are bad, they flood the market, and they ruin it for everyone.

Microsoft is an easy target as they are one of the biggest vendors, and likely one of the easiest tests to pass (primarily multiple choice questions), and brain dumps are a dime a dozen. They are also likely the most widely recognized certification when it comes to HR drones scanning resumes of potential hires for buzzwords.

What about the other vendors? Cisco is another popular vendor with their own certification – at least their tests can involve simulators, so you need to have some basic concept of what you are doing. Further to that, if I am interviewing someone who has a CCNA I could probably get a feel for how competent they are by asking half a dozen questions or so (maybe even about Frame Relay if I am feeling nasty).

VMware is another large corporation that is fairly high up on the popular certs list. VMware’s VCP (VMware Certified Professional) is likely their most popular certification and is designed for the professional audience. What is interesting about their approach is they require their students to attend a 5 day course, as well as pass their test in order to obtain the VCP certification. Just doing one of these is not enough. I have heard that their reasoning is that they want to ensure that people who pass the exam have at least had hands on experience with their product, which is technically more than Microsoft can say.

At the end of the day, I see certifications as a complement to a resume. Would I hire someone based on certs alone? Very, very, very unlikely. If I see a newbie with half a dozen certs trying to convince me that they are Senior Admin material, you best believe I am going to grill the guy/gal, and more power to them if they do know their stuff. But if I see a seasoned IT Pro interviewing for a position, and I see that they have current and relevant certs, then at least I know they care enough to stay up to date with the new technologies.

Just my $.02.

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