Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Does I.T. Certification Matter?

You may have wondered whether certifications matter with computer consultants. From time to time you might hear a technician say something like . . .

- "Certifications don't mean anything."

- "I know technicians with no certifications that can outperform 90% of the people in this business."

- "I know a guy who has lots of certifications and he's the worst technician you'll ever find."

So what really matters? What role does a certification really play? Here's my two cents.


In 1995 I was hired as the Site Manager for PC Software Support at HP's Roseville plant. That means I led a team of 25 people who supported all the operating systems and software on 7,000 computers for 5,000 employees. Every person on my team was required to be certified in Windows 3.1.

I was not required to be certified even though I was the technical lead. But I decided that I would get the same certification required of my employees. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

I'd been using Windows 3.0/3.1 for a few years, so I thought I must know pretty much everything I needed to know. I could click, I could drag and drop, and I had a rock solid process for making it operate in a special way so it would work on the Internet. So without studying, I took the exam.

I failed.


I didn't know what I didn't know.

The exam covered amazing details about different ways to set up Windows, configure it on complex networks, and troubleshoot it. There were five areas of knowledge. I passed one!

Of course I studied and studied and studied. I bought a book and exam practice software. I studied until I could consistently pass the practice exam. Then I passed the real thing.

I'm not sure how many Microsoft (and other) exams I've passed since then. But it's a lot. Maybe close to 20. And I studied very, very hard for every one.

The point of all that is this: Exams cover lots and lots of information that no one can get simply using a product (hardware, software, or operating system). The process of studying for an exam is a huge educational undertaking.

If a technician studies for an exam to the point where he is absolutely sure he'll pass, then it doesn't matter whether he takes the exam. It's not the certification that matters. It's the training and preparation that matters. Big companies like HP require certifications because they guarantee that someone trained enough to know enough to pass the exam. If they had another way to guarantee that, they would use it.

Yes, morons do sometimes pass exams.

Here's the secret about nerds: We're 99% left brained. Success in our society is based on left brain abilities. For example, we know how to pass tests! So we can get certified and know a lot less than someone who's not quite so left-brained.

But even with that, the process of certification puts knowledge and experience into our heads. And someday we might just access that. If we never study for the exams, we might never be exposed to that knowledge.


Point #1: When a Fortune 10 company takes something seriously, it probably has value.

Point #2: When people say that someone knows as much without certification as someone else with certification, they probably don't know what they don't know.

Point #3: Studying for certification is where all the value lives. But how will you know if someone studied enough if she never passed the exam?

What Does All This Mean To You?

I think certifications matter. And I think current certifications matter. They don't guarantee that someone is competent. (Trust me. I have stories.) But they do mean that the person has been exposed to a great deal of information that others probably haven't - no matter how good they are.

Knowledge accumulates. The deeper and wider your level of knowledge is, the more problems you'll be able to solve.

If you have a choice between someone who is certified and someone who is not, I think it is wise to choose the certified technician. Even in the small business space, knowledge brings value to the job.



  1. I disagree with you.

  2. I fully agree with this.

    Having worked in the IT service space for 20 years, with many certifed and uncertifed coworkers, the certifed techs have always been able to resolve complex issues faster then the uncertifed techs.

  3. I believe that certifications are much like college degrees and do not show that a person is qualified to perform a job.

    However, certifications do show that a person is committed to learning, wants to improve themselves, and wants to be perceived as a professional. For all of these reasons I would hire someone with certifications over someone without.

  4. Thanks, Ken and Steven.

    We have always had a qualification that our employees have at least one Microsoft Certification.

  5. This article is spot on.
    The value of the certification process is exposing the technician to a glimpse of what he doesn't know. That surely does not make him an expert, but it does give the opportunity to expand his field of view to help him make better decisions.
    The certification has value to employers, which in turn means it has value to employees.

    This is no different than a CPA, Attorney, Electrician, etc. Would you want an attorney that couldn't pass the bar? I would also prefer a CPA vs Accountant for a M&A deal. What does the insurance company say to a fire right after electrical work was done? They want proof a licensed electrician did the work, not your neighbor's cousin. There is a difference.

    Experience is important, but all the RPG III experience in the world isn't going to get you a job today. Techs need to stay current and certifications are the proof they are doing just that.

  6. Yes if you wanna make career in IT then yes IT certification does matter as it help to let you grow and make your career more stronger.

  7. The value of certification depends on the vendor. Some vendors use the "certification" process as a marketing tool. Others require it because their product is complex enough to merit having a learning process that involves either face-to-face or online training before being considered competent enough to implement it. As with all other things in life, it's not a simple black and white situation. Each certification program has to be evaluated before it can be determined if it's worth the time and effort to follow through on. And the size of the company backing the certification is the least important of the criteria. There are less and less products that are the de facto best of breed now. So it can be tough to choose a certification based on the popularity of a tool. I think that some of the CompTIA certs are useful because they are broad spectrum and not focused on a particular vendor or tool. But, as I said, sometimes the tool requires a lot of knowledge to be acquired before you inflict it on your clients.