In this post, I explain why I think that IT certifications are indeed overvalued.
More than 600 IT pros took part in this poll, and the majority (58%) thinks that IT certifications are overvalued. 21% believe that they are undervalued, and the same portion thinks that IT certifications have just the right value.
Usually, 600 is a significant number of participants for such a survey. However, it is interesting to note that it is different this time. When the poll started, even more IT pros felt that IT certifications are overrated by organizations. I am not completely sure about the numbers, but I think after the first 100 votes or so this option got about 65% of the votes. The difference in the result at the time of this writing can’t be explained by statistical variations.
I think, there is only one explanation: Two different groups took part in this poll. In the beginning of the survey, regular readers saw the article about the poll in the RSS feed, in the newsletter, and on the 4sysops homepage. Since the poll is also displayed in the sidebar, it is also visible on all other articles on 4sysops. Thus, the second group of voters was mostly visitors coming from search engines.
Why did these two groups vote so differently? What distinguishes 4sysops subscribers from new visitors? And why do regular 4sysops readers seem to despise IT certifications? I think, in general, it is more likely that experienced admins feel that IT certifications are overvalued. They have to compete with newbies coming from the IT schools with no experience and are therefore more willing to accept jobs at lower pay than seasoned admins just to get a foot in the door. (Nothing wrong with that.)
This implies that the majority of 4sysops subscribers are experienced IT pros. Obviously, IT newbies are less likely to recognize the quality content that 4sysops has to offer, which we can only attribute to their lack of experience. Of course, there are also many experienced admins who have tons of certifications. As some commenters outlined in the original article, IT certifications are a good way to extend your knowledge and also help your career.
However, I think, some readers misunderstood the point of this poll. The question was not whether IT certifications are valuable or not. Of course, learning new things and passing an exam that proves that you really understand the contents of the course is always a good thing. It wouldn’t make much sense to run such a poll.
Essentially, this poll was about the question of whether organizations employing new IT staff overvalue IT certifications and thus undervaluing experience. Hence, this poll boils down to the question of whether experience is more valuable than IT certifications or not.
I believe that IT certifications are indeed overvalued, because I have seen it numerous times in my IT career. And this is not only about IT certifications; it is about any kind of school qualifications and degrees. This is especially true if people who themselves don’t work in IT are involved in the hiring process. I think the reason is that it is quite difficult to assess the value of the experience of a particular candidate.
Even if the candidate has detailed recommendation letters, personnel managers don’t really understand the important parts, anyway. Moreover, it is uncertain if the recommendation letter doesn’t just put the person in a favorable light. Certifications and degrees, on the other hand, are very easy to assess. An official institution confirms that the person has acquired a certain kind of knowledge. So all you have to do is check the reputation of the corresponding schools and count the number of certifications and you are done. That’s quick and without uncertainties.
The only problem with this strategy is that it is the best way to hire the wrong person for the job. IT belongs to those fields where theory alone is insufficient to get the job done. What is needed is not just knowledge; IT is all about skills.
Let me explain my point with a comparison. Imagine you have to hire a lifeguard. You have to choose between someone who passed all theory tests with scores of 100% and someone who didn’t even attend one lifeguard course. The only problem with the certification guy is that he never swam before, even though he knows everything there is to know about swimming. Your second choice is the local swim champion, a natural talent, who never bothered much about schools. Who would you hire for the job? (Before you ask, Pamela Anderson is not among the candidates.)
I know, this example is somewhat construed because lifeguards also learn how to swim in school and their swimming skills are tested before they get their certifications. However, that is exactly my point. It is perfectly possible to pass IT exams without ever touching a single server. All you need is a couple of good books with all the typical multiple choice questions of IT exams. But, just like you can’t learn how to swim without getting wet, you can’t learn how to manage complex IT systems in real-life scenarios without touching a computer keyboard.
Let me give you another hiring assignment. Your organization needs a Windows admin who will be responsible for software deployment with Configuration Manager in a network with 5,000 desktops. Again, you have two choices. Candidate 1 has ten IT certs, all more or less relevant for the job (including the corresponding MCTS certification), but null real-life working experience. Candidate 2 has worked ten years with Configuration Manager in an organization of comparable size, but no IT certs. Too easy? Okay, let’s give candidate 1 a degree in computer science and candidate 2 a mediocre high school diploma. Still too easy? Let’s make the assignment more difficult. Candidate 1 agrees to half of the pay candidate 2 is willing to accept. Who will the personnel manager prefer? And which candidate would you hire? For me, candidate 2 is the clear choice.
That said, I want to end this post with this sentence: I strongly believe that IT certifications are very valuable.