What Certifications Are Not

Rowell Dionicio

My colleague and I had a discussion about the role certifications play in one’s career. Our opinions on the topic were almost aligned. The discussion took an interesting turn when it shifted towards how certifications should not be applied in the workplace.

The topic of certifications can become a heated one and if you’d like to provide constructive input, I’d like you to engage below in the comments.

I believe there is value to having certifications but only when used in conjunction with experience and mindset.

There are people who, in my opinion, take the wrong approach to certifications. I see it mostly with those entering the industry or those trying to advance themselves.

Not a guaranteed way to get a job

Certifications are there to supplement your experience. A way of testing your knowledge is by taking an exam.

For entry-level folks, certifications can be used as a way to display a learning ability in building foundation and a type of experience. This experience is not necessarily real world but a way to get the feet wet.

An example could be configuring network switches and routers in a lab environment. Not real world level of work but still some type of experience.

One should not expect a the job as a network engineer simply by becoming a CCNA. A strong engineer makes his/her way towards the role by gaining experience in previous job roles.

Not a replacement for experience

There are many reasons why a hiring manager will pass on a newly minted CCNA with no experience. One of them being that another candidate has better qualifications making them a stronger person to fill the role.

By stronger I mean, an engineer who has previously configured a specific technology, such as BGP, in the real world rather than someone who has configured it in a lab environment.

Cisco even aims the CCNA towards those with 1-3 years of experience:

CCNA Routing and Switching is for Network Specialists, Network Administrators, and Network Support Engineers with 1-3 years of experience.

Source: http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna/index.html

There are certainly companies out there looking for individuals who have a CCNA with little-to-no work experience with the idea of bringing them up in-house under a more senior engineer.

Not a guaranteed approach for more pay

Don’t get caught up in the yearly salary surveys. They almost mean nothing. Most surveys don’t take into account someone’s years of experience and where they are located.

A salary in San Jose will be completely different for someone in Idaho for the same role and responsibilities. Additionally, each company has their own set of salary ranges which may not compare to the national or even regional range.

An individual who provides valuable contribution and is well-rounded beyond the common technology skill set will be able to demand more pay with or without a certification. A certification will play a supporting role in the decision.

My Take

While I still believe certifications play a big role in our industry, I lean strongly on developing a foundational skill set through experience and certification. My recommendation would be to get that CCNA while working in IT. Once you get that certification, network with your colleagues and volunteer yourself to help out with deployments, even if it means racking and stacking.

Infuse yourself as much as you can with the technology you want to work with.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

2 thoughts on “What Certifications Are Not

  1. Some times certifications are the only way to move out of a dead-end job where the network admin has convinced management he’s the white wizard when he’s really only competent on technology or best practices from 10 years ago. He spends as much time playing solitaire and running his real estate “business” from 8-5 as he does actively managing our significant state-wide network. I would much rather have the real world experience and, even though there is ample opportunity here because of the outrageous work load, our White Wizard has kept several competent people from helping until he retires in 1.5 years. Oops, I guess you know it’s a state government job now… I guess my point is that in my situation the only way out is to get an interview first, and the only reason I’ve been given interviews is because of my CCNA. But you are correct that experience wins out which is why someone with more real world experience typically beats me every time. When your career has been sidelined because the network admin doesn’t want word out that they’re incompetent, and management fails, certifications become extremely important.

    1. Thanks for chiming in Matt. I can relate to your experience and I too have used a certification to get somewhere. In my experience it just becomes a more difficult search.

      You’re left with finding a way to differentiate yourself from the others and show why you should be the one to pick over someone with the experience. Maybe the team fit is a big factor and someone who is more eager to learn and is approachable is a better employee over the one who is very knowledgeable but difficult to work with.

      There are so many other factors in addition to certifications but getting certified should hold some weight. Because if you do say you hold a CCNA I will ask CCNA questions 😉

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