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Certifications and Education

Certifications generally show that the person who took the test has memorized a specific body of knowledge, understands the syntax or grammar of a programming language, finishes what he starts, or can understand specific terminology. All of those skills are good things, but they don’t convey critical thinking or reasoning skills.

Here’s a sample pitch for an educational program. Have you ever heard this line?

  1. Earn a master’s degree in computer science...
  2. From home...
  3. Part time...
  4. In about six months...
  5. Without interfering with your personal life.

My master’s degree wasn’t that easy. It took five years. I could have made tens of thousands of dollars doing contracted programming instead at night, or spent the time with my family and actually been present for my daughter’s first steps.

Some certifications consist entirely of a single written test, often administered only after the candidate attends a course, seminar, or conference. Often those events must be run by the same company that offers the certificate, and are prohibitively expensive. In some cases, the passing rate is extremely high—literally everyone you meet who took the course passed on the first try. In this case, the certificate vendor is certainly selling something—but what, exactly?

When someone promises to improve your salary without a deep investment of time on your part, that’s probably not a good thing. Employers shouldn’t pay more for a degree or certificate; they should pay more for an employee with better skills, and it’s awfully hard to develop meaningful skills in six months, part-time, without interfering with your personal life. If the real goal is to earn more money, have more responsibility, or derive more satisfaction in your career, the way to accomplish those goals is through meaningful improvement—and that takes work.

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