The Value of a Certification

Originally Featured on The Champion Community Blog

“What’s in a name?”  Who would have thought that Shakespeare’s observations about names in Romeo and Juliet would still have relevance almost 400 years later, especially in the tech field.  These were two star crossed lovers who could care less about names and identification, but not the rest of the world.

The rest of the world needs a way to pick you out of a crowd.  They need a way to identify you with a “group”, to classify you or “put you in a box”. A Capulet was one thing and a Montague was a completely different thing. Today, a network analyst is one thing, but a network analyst with certifications is a completely different thing.

Does a certification teach you anything? No.  Sure you may learn a few different ways of doing things or about protocols you’re not using in your company while studying for the tests, but that head knowledge only goes so far, and lasts for only so long.  The certification process isn’t meant to teach you.  It’s meant to make sure you know it already.

Does a certification mean you’re better? No. A certification doesn’t make you a better network pro.  I’ve met people from both Cisco and Juniper backgrounds with advanced certifications that couldn’t explain what an MPLS LSP was.  I’ve also met quite a few Sr. Engineers without certifications that could dive into advanced topics with ease.

So what is the point of a certification? What makes a network analyst/engineer with a certification completely different?

When you hire a certified pro, you’re hiring someone who isn’t happy with the status quo and will find ways to make the network better. The first thing a certification shows is motivation.  The candidates want to get ahead in their career.  They want to learn new things and grow their technical know-how. They’re not happy with doing the “same ol’, same ol'”.  I don’t normally quote Oprah, but the following quote shows the motivation behind going out and getting certifications: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment”. 

When you hire a certified pro, you’re hiring someone who’s seen the majority of typical issues out there and knows the answers already.     Of course a certification shows prowess of the tested technology.  It shows that the candidate can configure, troubleshoot, and maintain complex systems in multiple ways.  The way these tests are set up today, it actually shows that the candidate has done this before.  Many questions are worded in such ways that only those who have seen the problems first hand would know the answers.

When you hire a certified pro, you’re hiring someone who went that extra stamp to get an “official” stamp on all of their work.     Another key differentiator for those with certifications is pride in their work. One of the main reasons people are certified is to differentiate themselves from their peers.  They want to gain that advantage. They want to show they’re more than qualified.  In getting certified, they show that what they know lines up with industry standards.  By going the extra mile and certifying in technology they are putting themselves “above the fold”.  They know the certification is something to be esteemed.  Someone who knows they’re “above the fold” will go that extra mile to ensure their work is also “above the fold”.

When you hire a certified pro, you’re not just hiring that pro, you’re hiring that pro’s network as well.      Certification also shows the value of community.  There are countless forums, study groups, and mailing lists dedicated to certification study and topics.  Typical candidates aren’t the frequent posters, but they are visitors.   The certification process is a huge “word of mouth” business.  Certified professionals aren’t the only certified professional they know.  This means they have a network of other certified pros they ping when they run into unusual problems in their day to day work.

When you hire a certified pro, you’re hiring a pro that the vendor has approved.     Hiring a certified pro may bring monetary value in terms of partner status, benefits, discounts, etc.  But the only reason they bring those benefits is because the vendors know the certified pro is a “cut above the rest”.  They have that “official stamp” on their work.  The vendors can give you a benefit when they know your engineers are deploying the network in ways that fit the industry standard.

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Responses to “The Value of a Certification”

  1. Well said Ben