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Disadvantages and Advantages of IT Certifications and Training

When I look at the field of IT and the host of certifications that are available and the learning methods that students have to choose from, it is no wonder that students, career changers, and IT professionals often ask "Where do I begin?" In an earlier article that I wrote for InformIT.com ("Now What? The First Steps Into IT,") I tried to address that question. But when you start to research all the various vendors, the certifications they offer, etc., it gets to be mind-boggling. Some will just throw up their hands and head back to the university setting. I don't think that is the best course for everyone. If you really want to establish yourself in IT, certification is the way to go. There are those who have been in IT for many years who say certification is a crutch. In many ways they are right. It is a crutch that most HR people are using to weed out who they will consider and who they will interview. Anyone can say I have worked with computers for X years, but I have nothing to prove it. Certification is a way to prove a baseline knowledge in a given discipline.

There are many disadvantages and advantages to being certified. There are many advantages and disadvantages to the available training vendors offer toward certification. I would like to briefly list some of the common disadvantages and advantages to being certified in IT and being trained in pursuit of certification.

Disadvantages

  • The certification process can cost a great deal in terms of finances and time. Most of the available certifications can be earned through experience and self-study, while some require high-cost instructor-led training.

  • There are too many certifications. Every vendor offers its own certification and degrees of certification—for example, Microsoft's MCP, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, MCT... There is no controlling authority, standardization board, or accrediting agency to validate that the training and certification have value in the IT world. It is a crapshoot when you pursue certification and the requisite training. Who is to say that Microsoft's certification has more value than Novell's, Oracle's Cisco's, Sun's or Lotus'? Depending on whom you talk to, you will get a different view. Vendors are biased toward their own certification and training. No neutral governing body exists that can offer advice and direction to interested candidates. What makes this even worse is that many Internet companies are now beginning to distribute their own brand of e-certs in attempt to get a piece of the certification pie, while quietly devaluing many of the established certification paths.

  • There is too much overlap in the content that make up many of the certifications. When it comes to TCP/IP and networking technologies, much of the same introductory material is covered by Novell, Prosoft, Cisco, Microsoft, and Sun. Why not have a couple of vendor-neutral courses that satisfy vendor requirements for these topics?

  • There is absolutely NO industry-wide quality control on the curriculum that vendors use for their certifications. I know of too many instances where the curriculum for instructor-led courses leading to a major certification does not prepare students for the certification exams that follow. The vendors are happy to charge students high tuitions for inadequate content.

  • Certifications are not recognized by most universities and departments of education. You cannot transfer certifications and the training needed for those certifications to a university for credit in order to pursue a degree. Universities look at IT certifications with disdain. Excelsior College in Albany, N.Y. is one of a few who accept the training and certifications one has earned toward a degree.

Additionally, classroom teachers who have to renew their certificates every 5 to 10 years cannot use vendor-based training and certification to renew their certificate. The Florida Department of Education, like many throughout the country, does not accept vendor-based technical training when a teacher renews his/her teaching certificate. When I questioned one of the Deputy Commissioners of Education for Florida about this, I was told I could either get the law changed or leave the state. The curious contradiction is that most state agencies, including the DOE, send their employees to vendor-based technical training to become competent administrators.

Educators have to get their heads out of the sand. IT training and certification is not going to go away.

I really believe it is a problem of perception. If you look at the IT certification and training industry today, it tends to be perceived like trade education was in the 1940s and 1950s. Maybe that is why universities look with disdain on IT certifications. IT professionals are perceived by those in the academic world as tradespeople.

Advantages

  • IT Certification brings with it industry recognition, improved job opportunities, and improved pay.

  • Folks who want to self-study for a certification can do so. They don't have to go to universities to get trained. Training that leads to IT certification is cheaper and of a shorter duration than comparable degree programs.

  • IT certifications allow an individual to focus on a topic of interest without HAVING to take non-essential courses. People who have experience in the field and love to teach generally teach instructor-led classes. Most IT instructors are not folks who made a living dealing with the abstract. They are people who have done the job out in the field, and want to share with others how to do the same job.

  • The IT certification process is job- and skills-oriented. You learn how to do a task, how to troubleshoot a problem, and how to reason through a design. It is real-world oriented. It is not an ivory tower exercise in killing time.

  • The IT training and certification industry is open to people of all ages and backgrounds. Anyone who wants to change careers, wants to learn new skills, and is willing to learn and work hard can be successful in IT. If you are 10 years old or 80 years old, you can have a good career in IT through the certification options available.

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