Thursday, September 08, 2005

Being Certifiable

An interesting article in the Management section of 9/5's ComputerWorld hits on a topic that has been home to a pet theory of mine for a long time.

I've not had to adjust the theory much over the 15 years I've been doing this. The theory goes as follows:

  • In technology, education does not equal employability.

This is a "pet" theory, because it's one that I live and prove every day. I am not proud that I dropped out of high-school at 16, but it's the truth. I got my GED, at my then girlfriend & now wife's insistence, at about 20 years old - shortly before my first step off the "IT Worker" platform and onto the "IT career" train. I've never been to college except to see people or watch events.

An employer did send me to training, and I did begin passing some certification exams. Then I failed one, despite knowing my stuff inside and out. It was the stuff nobody used anymore that I wasn't familiar with, and didn't care to spend time learning, that caused me to fail the last exam I ever took.

And that's where the theory was born. I didn't know enough about obscure networking hardware to pass a test, but I did know enough to get hired, promoted, and sent to training by a Fortune 50 company. That being the case, what is the value of a certification?

I still find it to be a fair question, and a difficult one for anyone to answer convincingly.

I went on to enjoy some good success - both at that company, and others - despite my lack of certifications. In fact, Novell hired me to be a field Consultant without being a CNE. They didn't value certifications either - not even their own.

What I have found is that companies - good ones anyway - value people in any discipline that exhibit two primary traits. Attitude, and aptitude.

Degrees and certifications aren't relevant by themselves. Companies or managers that require them before they'll interview someone are nearsighted - period. If you find a candidate who passes the sniff tests - appears apt, is personable, speaks to things such as organization & work ethic, etc., the degrees & certifications they carry should serve to set them above the rest of the crowd. They help to fill in the details of a candidate's overall picture - not draw the entire thing by themselves.

I wouldn't want to work somewhere that pre-determined the benefit a prospective employee might contribute based on degrees or certifications. When I look for jobs and see postings that require Bachelor's degrees, I kind of chuckle to myself. What the hell good is a Bachelor of Arts degree if you want to be a technologist? What if they studied Marine Biology? How can that be relevant?

I've worked beside people with enough certifications after their name to require a 10" long business card - and I didn't trust them to be behind a keyboard. I'll employ someone with boatloads of the right attitude and raw aptitude right this minute, regardless of how much experience they have or certifications they carry in tow.

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