Are Certifications Worth It?

About a decade ago, I experienced – what I consider – an explosion of ‘certified professionals’ in the software development world. From programming languages to operating systems – and even software development practices like agile methodology – there was a certification available for everything.

Some of these certificates made sense to me. For example Sun Microsystems issued SCJPs (these are now OCJPs from Oracle). This made sense because Sun maintained Java – so in a sense they were the authority on Java education, so their certification had value. Others – like “Certified Scrum Master”- made no sense to me. Who was giving it out? There’s no authority or regulator for the practice of scrum. And more than one organization was giving out these certificates – raising the question of which one was more valueable. But still, if a certification was merely there – it didn’t even have to be popular – if it was just present, I saw people attempting it, paying their fees, and proudly labeling their resumes with their shining new certification.

When Are Certifications Useful

1. You Don’t Have Any Other Credentials

If you don’t have any other credentials or work experience to put on your resume, a reputable certification would come to your help. Since the software development job market is so competitive, recruiters simply don’t have time to properly analyze resumes and they have to scan through resumes as fast as possible. There are no good systems (yet), to crunch the world’s resume data and help them pick candidates for their team. So when you don’t have any stellar academic credentials, or big-brand job experiences, a popular certification will come to your rescue.

2. You Are Attempting a Rare Niche

There are some technologies, where knowledge on it is quite rare, that your potential employer has no idea how to interview you. It’s true. I’ve come across such scenarios. Especially when the employer is trying to hire you for a contract where they only know the name of the technology you should know. So they advertise with a job description, but how will they know if they should pick you for interview? Even if they have arranged for an interview with a third party, (or their client), they still would like to know before hand if they should even shortlist you for the interview. A certification will help here.

3. Your Job Directly Rewards It

There are a significant number of companies, that design their promotion/reward system upon certifications. If this is the case for you, obviously this is useful. Of course I don’t agree with companies that do this, but to you, it should not matter. If you do a certification and will gain directly by it because of your company policies, you should go ahead and do it. Because in companies that do this, people who don’t do certifications are usually at a disadvantage. But don’t assume your company will reward your certification, ask and find out if there is an official policy.

When Are Certifications Useless

1. You Have Considerable Job Experience

Once you have some job experience (say atleast a couple years), and you are not looking to switch from your existing core competency, you don’t gain much from a certification. Potential recruiters will be more interested in verifying if the work experience you claim is genuine and the work experience is valueable. A certificate doesn’t add as much value when you have already done real work in the real world. Practical experience will overshadow text book knowledge.

2. You Are Learning a New Skill

Certifications have absolutely nothing to do with learning – contrary to general belief. Infact, if you are trying to learn something new, doing it with a certification is detrimental. It will narrow down your focus and teach you only what’s required for passing an exam. The real world will almost always be much different in it’s demands. I’ve worked 12 years as a Java developer, and I hardly needed to know the things I learnt for the purpose of my Java certification. If the knowledge from the certification was all I knew, I would have been atmost an average employee. It’s experience that taught me more than any certification could ever do.

3. You Are Attempting a Popular Technology

Although I do have a Java certification, when I think about it, it really has never served me any purpose. I’m not saying anything about the quality of the certification, I’m just saying it wasn’t much use despite it’s tough demands. Java is such a popular technology that any team looking to hire, knows obviously to check how good I am really with Java. They don’t have any reason to even verify my Java certification. They can simply ask me a bunch of questions and discover my competency. But unfortunately, certifications are mostly sought out for such popular subjects.

What’s the Alternative?

The obvious alternative is work on good projects, with good teams. The job market values how well you work with other people, more than how well you know a technology. At the end of the day, you can simply search the internet for that syntax you forgot, but you can’t search the internet for what your customer wants. You can’t search the internet for what makes a good application.

If you are still not employed, you should do your own projects and put them up as a portfolio. Even just one single such hobby project, will put you ahead of any certification holder who doesn’t. Nothing speaks about your expertise and commitment like a well-done, working software that you’ve shipped all by yourself. Not only will your hobby project be an excellent addition to your resume, it will also teach you abundant things that you can’t learn from any certification course.

A certification adds a check mark to your resume. But a hobby project adds character. Things like that show that you have commitment, knowledge and independence. A hobby project will show your style. A certificate just shows you have good memory and that you’re obedient.

My strong opinion for quite a long time now, is that education should be free. Or atleast cheap. Everytime I look at a certification, it just reminds me how much it is not so. A world where you need to give a ton of money to some third party to prove your worth to a potential employer, can’t really be an efficient world. Save your money. Think what else you can do to add value to your worth.

Author: heppydepe

I'm Heppy Depe. (Read "Heppy" like "Peppy" and "Depe" like "DayPay"). Writing under a pseudonym because .. I dunno I just felt like writing under a pseudonym. I'm still trying to find the perfect picture of a fish to set as my profile photo.

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