Saturday, February 28, 2009

Certification: Benefit or Just Drinking the Kool-Aid?

I have had certifications from Microsoft for 10 years now and have heard many people think that it is useless. Others think it's a good thing. I wanted to share some of these thoughts and how I got started in certifications. I was a software developers with a BS and wanted to continue my education. I worked hard and got an MS in Software Development and Management. I thought it was a more useful MS than the other ones I looked at that had topics like A.I. and graphics. It had classes and topics like requirements, managing teams of developers, and understanding the entire software lifecycle. At this time in history, not many computer science programs had those classes. After I got my MS, I was asked if I wanted to go for a PhD. But Microsoft started a certification program for software developers. This was cool, this was something that would really help me in what I did day to day - a PhD would not do this.

Soon after this I changed jobs. When my new boss asked for me to make a career plan, I mentioned the new certification program. He was excited by it and looked the plan over. Originally I was looking at use Frontpage for my elective, but my boss suggested SQL Server instead. This would be more useful than Frontpage and would apply to what we did at work. From there I started doing alot of certification and SQL work. Just want to say thanks to Steve Z. for that.

Ok - fast forward to closer to today. I look at many different programming sites, like CodeProject and some people that are regulars hate the idea of certification for programmers. They think that it is a waste of time and pretty useless. Some have commented that why should they let Microsoft dictate what is a good thing for programming or SQL Server. For example, the exams wanted to cross reference tables in SQL to have an identity index instead of just a composite. If you answered with a composite it was the wrong answer. But this type of thing is a choice for the DBA to setup and recommend. It is a personal choice, but for this type of exam it makes you to HAVE to follow what Microsoft says. I argue with them and tell them that I have learned alot by working on my certifications, but they don't listen.

Now on to today - well a year or so ago now. I got a promotion partly due to my certification. It is not the only thing that gave it to me, but it is definitely a part of it. Plus all of the things that I have learned on my way to getting all of my certifications. I have talked with that manager that encouraged me to get a certification in the first place and I asked him if it would help someone to get a job with him, he said, no it would not help. Talking a bit more, he said that it would help a person to get into the short list, but it would not be a deciding factor in who gets the job. Just who gets a phone call or an in-person interview.

Of course if you are not looking for a new job, how does it help you? Many people have asked this question. One guy that works for me has said that he has learned so much with studying for the certification exams that he did not learn with day-to-day use of the technology. This allowed him to use other techniques or classes that he would not have used before studying for the exams. So this as definitely helped him. Not just because I promote certifications, but because he is learning and working with these things on his own.

So if all the certifications and exams do is to make you drink more of Microsoft's Kool-Aid, I say, pour me another large glass.

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