One of the main arguments against technical certifications is that they exist to pad a resume (and line the coffers of the companies who offer the exams and preparation). While that may be true, anything you do pads a resume, the reality is that technical certificates are still valuable to obtain if they are considered valuable in your field.
We’ve long held the belief that work experience is better than having a technical certification but having the certification is better than having nothing. If you’re a network administrator and you want to move into doing more security work, you have two options:
- Get more work experience: Expand your current role or shift roles to include doing more security work.
- Get a certificate that helps you get more work experience: Obtain your CISSP and then try to shift roles.
The difficulty of the first option is that information security is not necessarily something that your employer is willing to have you learn on the job. This means that oftentimes, if they support your desire to move into information security, they’d rather pay for you to obtain your CISSP before moving you or expanding your role to include security work.
In the above example, the CISSP is a certificate that directly translates into the work you want to do. It’s also a case where most employers may not be willing to wait for you to learn it on the job. This isn’t always the case.
This next example may seem a little contrived but it illustrates the exact opposite of the spectrum – take the Microsoft Office Specialist certification in Word. While the information you gain by practicing and taking the exam is useful if you use Word on a daily basis, most employers will let you take on a responsibility, in which Word plays a prominent role, without you having this certification. If you’re a technical writer with experience with other word processing software but zero knowledge of Word (like I said, a little contrived!), your employer won’t have you get MOS Word certified before putting you to work.
That’s not to say that the MOS Word certification is useless or resume padding, it’s simply that it’s not as crucial or critical as a CISSP in the sense that you need to get it before most employers will give you the opportunity to gain work experience.
Other certifications will fall in between these two extremes and some employers are more lax than others. If you work with a company that does defense contracts, certifications will be important. If you work at a startup, chances are they want to know if you have the ability and skill to do the job, not the certifications. It’ll be up to you to decide whetherh a certificate is padding or has real value.
Here’s a good tip to know what certifications you should try to obtain in order to move onto your next role – check job recruitment sites. Job descriptions often list what certifications an applicant should have, or requisite job experience, and that list could provide you a checklist of what you should accomplish before applying.
For example, if you wanted to be a Junior Network Engineer at SAIC, you would need to have a Cisco Certified Network Engineer (CCNA) certification plus two years of related IT and network engineering experience (six if you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree). More importantly, you’d need the skills a holder would be expected to have, which are listed, but this gives you an idea of what certification you should try to get before applying for this job.
Not all job listings will include a technical certificate. Some job listings include several, including optional ones. Sometimes they list qualifications that can be bolstered with a certificate. If an employer wants you to have experience creating and managing a VMware-based virtual infrastructure, being VMware Certified could put you ahead of other candidates.
We find that it’s very useful to review these listings because they give you real world requirements that employers have.
Lastly, consider asking your human resources or your manager what technical certifications are valuable for your career advancement. Employers don’t want to lose good people and education reimbursement is often an underutilized employee benefit. Employers are eager to train their people into bigger and better roles, so lean on that.
Steve Yegge works at Google and he penned a post back in 2007 in which he shared ten tips for a less awful resume. Now, just because he works at Google doesn’t make him an expert but I always find it’s important to understand everyone’s opinion, take what you think to be true, an integrate it into your own thinking.
Personally, I enjoyed the ten tips and not every one was equally helpful but #6 jumped out at me. Tip #6 was “Don’t be a Certified Loser” and Yegge goes onto say that “Certification is for the weak. It’s something that flags you as a technician when you really want to be an engineer. If you want to be a television repairman, you can become certified in TV repair.”
Yegge is speaking from the perspective of an engineer and so he was speaking to engineers. If you’re in IT and work on Cisco routers, setup and troubleshoot networks, or do something similar… you’re a technician.
Engineers sometimes forget that they work on computers. Connected to networks. Serviced by technicians. Just like they drive cars that are serviced by mechanics and drive on roads managed by crews who don’t know how to program a line of code. We all play our roles and that’s how it functions.
So why do technical certifications suck? They suck if you get one when you don’t need it. They suck if you get the wrong one. They suck if you get a certification and it doesn’t move you to the next level of your career and exists only to pad your resume.
If you’re a security expert, you need a CISSP or similar information systems security certification that is recognized by your employers and your peers. You don’t need a certification from Microsoft on how to use Word. It’s just not relevant.
So the next time you hear someone tell you that a specific certification is bad or that you shouldn’t pursue something – consider where it fits in your career needs and decide for yourself. There are no rules of thumb.
Microsoft Office has become a ubiquitous part of everyday business life and it’s not surprising that the Microsoft has been certifying Office experts in order to highlight their skills and proficiency with Office products. Microsoft offers the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) family of certifications for individuals who want to demonstrate that they have the skills to maximize the value of their suite of office products.
There are as many MOS certifications as there are products in the suite and each one requires a different exam (as one would expect):
- MOS: Microsoft Office Word 2010 – Exam 77-881
- MOS: Microsoft Office Excel 2010 – Exam 77-882
- MOS: Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2010 – Exam 77-883
- MOS: Microsoft Office Outlook 2010 – Exam 77-884
- MOS: Microsoft Office Access 2010 – Exam 77-885
- MOS: Microsoft SharePoint 2010 – Exam 77-886
- MOS: Microsoft Office OneNote 2010 – Exam 77-853
- MOS: Microsoft Office 365 – Exam 77-891
Each exam is different, since they test you on your proficiency in a different product, but the basic rule of thumb is that you need to demonstrate proficiency in at least 80% of the product’s features. The exams themselves will measure specific technical tasks applicable to the product itself. For example, for the Excel exam (Exam 882), you’ll be required to apply and manipulate hyperlinks, Personalize your environment using Backstage, apply conditional logic in a formula, create charts based on worksheet data, and perform other tasks listed in the syllabus.
It’s a wide range of features that will require you to prepare for, even if you are your Office’s Excel expert. The products themselves have a wide range of features, many of which you probably don’t use on a daily basis, so preparation is essential if you want to pass the exam (you probably don’t use Sparklines in Excel on a regular basis but it’s on the exam.
How to Prepare for the Exams
Microsoft, through the Microsoft Learning store, offers a series of subscription services that give you access to training modules for an 18 month period of time. While these training packages are nice, in part because they’re cheap, I find that a more comprehensive package with videos and tutorials is often better. TrainSignal is a popular training service and they have a whole suite of Microsoft Office 2010 training packages that you can purchase bundled or individually.
For example, the Excel 2010 package is taught by a MOS Master (which is the next certification above the base Specialist certification) and is a 3 DVD package of 9 hours of training in multiple formats (online streaming is one of them, so you can start immediately). Like all TrainSignal products, it comes with a 90 day money back guarantee and bulk pricing, in case you want to buy training for an entire office.
If you prefer a book, you can always turn to the MOS 2010 Study Guide for Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. It’s a paperback book written by Microsoft Office experts and is a massive 736 page tome that can teach you all you need to know to pass four of the exams in the MOS family. It’s far cheaper than a classroom and a training package, as you’d expect, and good alternative if you’re simply looking to supplement your existing knowledge and want to ensure you know everything.
The exams are administered by Certiport and you can schedule it directly with them. They offer testing in a variety of places through authorized retailers and the pricing varies from place to place. The exam itself is a live simulated environment and you’ll be asked to demonstrate your skills in a proctored exam. The best part about the exam is that you get your scores immediately on your screen after you finish the exam and, should you pass, you’ll receive your certificate in 2-3 weeks.
When it comes to technical certifications, it’s all about the money. Preparing for and then taking the certification exams takes a tremendous amount of time and money and we don’t do it for fun, we do it because it makes us a better employee, a more educated employee, and it helps us in our work. If, however, additional technical certifications didn’t result in higher salary, then we go through the trouble doing it because, ultimately, it would mean the skills aren’t valued. Think of the litany of technical certifications that are now no longer valuable, usually for deprecated technology. Would you take Microsoft Exam 70-625 Connected Home Integrator? (no, it was retired)
That said, which are the best paying technical certifications? According to TechRepublic, the 2011 report listed these as the highest paid certifications (any with a salary exceeding $90,000):
- PMP – Project Management Professional – $103,570
- CISSP – Cert Info Sys Security Professional – $100,735
- CCDA – Cisco Certified Design Associate – $97,995
- CCNP – Cisco Certified Network Professional – $97,296
- ITIL v2 Foundation – $96,128
- ITIL v3 Foundation – $93,250
(I know PMP isn’t a technical certification but it was first on the list so I included it)
The CCNA Portable Command Guide is one of the best resources you can get to prepare you for the CCNA 640-802 because it contains all the CCNA-level commands you will need for that exam. The CCNA Portable Command Guide covers the ICND1 640-822, ICND2 640-816, and CCNA 640-802 exams and includes a quick reference guide you can use to memorize all the key concepts. If you need an all encompassing command guide that summarizes all the CCNA certification level software commands, keywords, command arguments, and associated prompts, you won’t need more than this book. Be sure to get the 2nd edition as it contains the most updated information.
The book is broken up into ten topics: TCP/IP, An Introduction to Cisco Devices, Configuring a Router, Routing, Switching, Implementing a Wireless LAN, Network Administration and Troubleshooting, Managing IP Services, WANs, and Network Security. It’s written by Scott Empson, associate chair of the bachelor of applied information systems technology degree program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and he himself has three undergraduate degrees and has the CCNP, CCDA< CCAI, and Network+ certifications. Empson is eminently qualified to write the book.
Finally, the book itself is part of the Cisco Press self-study product family so it comes from the source.
If you don’t have the time or the money to pay for classroom training, you probably want to at least pick up an exam preparation package or book to help you prepare for the CCNA 640-802 exam. With the certification is such high demand, getting this certification can be one of the best moves in your career. Fortunately, if you can’t spare the time or money for the classes, there are plenty of excellent prep books and self-paced courses that can help you pass the exam.
Remember that the CCNA Exam (640-802) was revamped in 2007 so do not waste your time or your money on a preparation package, class, or book that predates this exam format change. The latest books will cover the new versions (anything from 2007 onward will as well) so you’re safe there, but remember this if you go to the library to check anything out. CCNA exam prep costs far less than failing the exam.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question.
Whether or not a technical certification is “worth it” will depend on the field you’re in and the certification. Not all certifications are created equal and some of them are most definitely “worth it” while others are merely cash cows for the certifier, the preparers, and the testers.
If you’re currently working, ask your employer what certifications they value. If you’re a Cisco network technician, chances are the Cisco certifications are going to be very valuable. Microsoft business certifications are going to be mostly useless to you. While not all certifications are so clear cut (which Cisco certifications should you get?), you can get a simple answer from your employer because they know which ones they value.
The 640-802 Cisco CCNA Certification is one of the most valuable technical certifications you can obtain. If you want to get hired for a job working with Cisco network technology, the CCNA certification is required.
To obtain this certification, you need to train for it. When it comes to certification training, there are usually two options – self-paced computer instruction or classroom instruction. The benefits of each are obvious but I believe that self-paced computer instruction, with instructor interaction as needed, is the best approach because it’s often cheaper and more flexible to our busy schedules.
The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) was founded in 1973 with the goal of establishing professional standards for the computing industry. It is comprised of constituent societies and affiliate societies that promote its certification programs, of which there are two – the Certified Computing Professional (CCP) and the Associate Computing Professional. The ICCP also has more specialized certificiations in the Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP), Certified Data Management Professional (CDMP), and Information Systems Analyst (ISA).