Certifications: Worth It or Not?

Are certifications like MCSE, CNA, CCIE or A+ worth it -- from the perspective of network managers and other IT management in hiring and retaining qualified network staff? Daniel Dern polled experienced network/IT managers and trainers and shares the story with us.

 By Daniel Dern
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Are certifications like MCSE, CNA, CCIE or A+ worth it -- from the perspective of network managers and other IT management in hiring and retaining qualified network staff? To answer this question, we polled experienced network/IT managers and former trainers.

The short answer: Certifications don't hurt -- but they aren't sufficient. They don't guarantee the kinds of skills and experience a network manager wants their staff to have. (However, there did turn out to be one circumstance where certifications have clear importance to the company.)

"As we go to hire folks, we're always faced with the concern, 'Gee, did this guy go spend two days in a seminar and pass the test but knows nothing, or has he been doing this for years and just waltzed through the test (like I did)?" says Dan Bent, CIO, Benefit Systems Inc.

"I typically make an attempt to ascertain this when I'm hiring. Folks can fool you in the interview process, of course, by knowing the buzzwords, but for those of us who have been around the block, we can tell if they know whether they know what they're talking about.

"Certifications do give us a benchmark, but in terms of on-going value, I have found with my employees and myself that it doesn't amount to a hill of beans," Bent states. "When evaluating candidates, it indicates commitment to a career and professionalism, but given the choice between somebody with certification and somebody who can actually do stuff, I'll take the latter any day."

"I find that certifications are a start but they doesn't guarantee anything," agrees Beth Cohen, Director of IT at engineering firm Foster-Miller Incorporated (fostermiller.com). "I don't necessarily look for them. If I had two equal candidates I might be swayed, but I find the certifications's don't tend to give depth of knowledge in what's important to me, which is the ability to take their knowledge about computers, networks, systems, and apply it to other vendors' equipment. So I tend to look for college courses over certifications. I'd rather hire someone with a good solid background in systems and computer engineering."

"You want people who have experience using their certification knowledge, and who acquired their certification slowly," cautions Howard Marks, Chief Scientist at Networks Are Our Lives, Inc. (naol.com), a independent network architect who was one of the first CNE trainers. "If you went to the five day boot camp and took the test at the end of that, that's only a test of short term memory. But if you look at somebody who's been a router jockey for three years, and over that three years worked their way up through the Cisco certification levels, one at a time, then they have the ability to take the classroom and practical knowledge, and synthesize them together."

"I'm been fairly vociferous on the issue of certifications since I became one of the first nine Novell CNIs (Certified Novell Instructors)," comments Howard Lubert, Managing Partner at SafeHatch LLC, which provides technical due diligence, valuation, business acceleration and remediation services. "My overall philosophy to this entire issue: certification will never replace expertise. And it is not a guarantee of expertise.

This article was originally published on Mar 1, 2002
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