Friday, October 19, 2018

The benefits of certification

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I’m seeing a growing number of progressive IT Professionals wanting to become certified so they can differentiate themselves from the crowd. I’m also seeing many of the same tired old responses to why people won’t get certified. Most of these are really just based on fear of failure.

The first major excuse people use is around the fact that they believe practical experience is enough. The problem is that practical experience is not consistent across the field. Everyone’s practical experience varies. How do you go about measuring that in a consistent manner? What is the best way to determine that everyone meets certain minimum standards? How to actually ensure that people have some idea about the products they install and support? Answer? Certification. Complete an independent standard exam to demonstrate your knowledge across a broad range of topics on the product. That provides you with a skills measure against the field. It provides external parties a way to very that you are indeed knowledgeable in what you say you are. It provides a public benchmark.

The next major excuse people provide is that fact that the topics covered in the certification aren’t relevant. Every course will cover both material that is and isn’t directly relevant. It is therefore important to focus on certifications that are most aligned to the profession you are working in or you wish to head. Also, don't forget that technology changes over time, as do the needs for people in their careers. The skills you have today may not be the skills you need tomorrow. They may also not be the skills you require if you desire to change roles down the track. Broadening your knowledge is a good thing because there are many areas where you simply don’t have the experience. Certification forces you to examine and at least learn these to some basic level.

Another common excuse I see is the claim that customers never ask to see any type of qualifications from IT people. This may be because most people "assume" that IT Professionals are exactly that, professional. One of the traits of being professional is the desire to keep up to date and continue to develop knowledge that can be applied to helping those you serve. Doing things the same old way because it has 'always' worked is not being professional, it is being ignorant. Many of the careers we consider 'professional' like engineers, accountant, doctors, lawyer and so on are generally required to complete some ongoing form of professional development. This is aimed at ensuring that they stay current with all the trends in their field. It ensures that appreciate the changes that are happening that affect the people that they serve. If you want to join say the Institute of Professional Engineers, for example, you will need to commit to completing ongoing professional development.

Certification is going to give you recognition from an independent authority that you have competent knowledge in that topic. It is going to make you prepare and broaden your knowledge of the product. There hasn't been a certification process that I have gone through where I didn't learn something new. That is really the key reason for undertaking certifications, they are an excellent way to grow your own knowledge about your profession. This concept of learning is really the difference between those that undertake certification and those that rail against it. Certification doesn't make you an expert but it does ensure you know your subject. If you really know your stuff, then you are more than willing to be tested on it.

My experience is that the people who rail most loudly against the benefits of certifications are those that have the greatest fear of being exposed as not really knowing as much as they think or claim. If you are confident in your knowledge you should welcome the chance to prove whether your knowledge is indeed as thorough as you believe and as current as your believe. You should always welcome the chance to learn more no matter what form it comes in. You should also welcome the chance to push yourself because certification isn't really about external accomplishment, it is about the inner satisfaction of setting goals and achieving them.

There is a reason that people pursue higher learning delivered from places like university and technical colleges. They do this to provide themselves with a greater level of knowledge that can potentially be applied to their career and in turn given them greater opportunities and outcomes. Will they use everything they learning immediately? No. Are they likely to use everything they learn in these higher institutions during their career? No. Are they going to have to continue learning throughout their career? Of course. There is reason they call institutions like universities centres for "high education".

Those who wish to achieve understand that they need to invest in themselves. They understand that they need to invest in knowledge to provide them with a competitive advantage. They also understand that if they continue the lifelong pursuit of knowledge they will continue to lead those that don’t. They understand that technology is now changing so rapidly that there isn’t any other option but to embrace on going learning and development. Failing to do so will consign you to the status of 'has been'.

Are certifications are prefect measure of knowledge? No. Do they have merit beyond the mere academic results they provide? Absolutely. Those that embrace this as a lifelong commitment to learning will reap the benefits. They see certifications as not only an endorsement of their knowledge but also as a way to challenge and lift themselves beyond the mediocre. Those that deride certifications are probably fearful of not living up to where they believe their knowledge and currency is. Remember, as Archilochus said, “We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”