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Summary:

I was just relearning how to work with Google AdWords and noticed that its tutorials include quiz questions. Why? Because you may want to test your knowledge along the way and eventually become a Google Advertising Professional. To do so, you need to pass an exam, […]

I was just relearning how to work with Google AdWords and noticed that its tutorials include quiz questions. Why? Because you may want to test your knowledge along the way and eventually become a Google Advertising Professional.

To do so, you need to pass an exam, which allows you to use a “Qualified Google Advertising Professional Logo” — important, I suppose, if you’re in the search engine optimization or online marketing business. The Direct Marketing Association offers its own certification program covering comparable topics.

But what about the rest of us: Does certification still have merit?

If you’re a freelance technical consultant, it may help new customers feel comfortable knowing that you’ve gone through some form of training that confirms your knowledge of a new technology (at least as it existed at the time you took the test). Service sites such as OnForce confirm your certifications and make that part of your online listing.

If you’re working in the corporate world, certification can help your co-workers look at you in a new light, especially important if you’re trying to break out of the mold of your job title. When the manager comes looking for someone to tackle the new web 2.0 initiative, maybe she’ll give you a second look if you mention your new Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist credential in .NET framework 2.0 web applications or your new Project Management Institute Project Management Professional title.

Want to change careers? Try earning a certification in life coaching, security, even beer judging, then place the logo on your virtual business site and reap the rewards (or calories).

Do certifications still have value, or are they an idea whose time is over?

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  1. Certifications, like the people that take them, are varied in their usefulness. To make matters worse, you can’t just see the certification — you also need to know the date they were certified.

    Take the CompTIA A+ certification, for example. I’ve got one, and I know that anyone who took the test between roughly 2002 and late 2007 (myself included) has a cert that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. The test was so laughably horrible that it made the certification useless. But CompTIA came back and completely revamped the test to make it not just harder but also more relevant, and thus it can pretty much be trusted again.

    But you also have to know what the certification means. Take the CCNA for example. (Yet again, I’ve got a CCNA and I’m working toward my CCNP.) Many people think that the CCNA implies that the person can come in and fix their network. This is a very, very bad and incorrect assumption. All a CCNA guarantees you is that the person has a decent working knowledge of basic networking with IP, and a similar level of knowledge for working with the Cisco IOS. It doesn’t mean anything else. It doesn’t mean that the person understands DNS, HTTP, or FTP. It means that the person will know what NAT is, and what the difference between a switch and a hub is, but not necessarily that they’ll be able do something like migrating a company from an IP block on one hosting provider to another.

    Don’t get me started on the MS certifications. I’ve yet to meet a single MSCE that impressed me. But, again, I know the tests have gone up and down in quality over the years.

    My last example, again from personal experience, is a ColdFusion Developer certification. These have improved in quality over the years from “I have enough knowledge of CF and web standards to be a decent web developer” to “I have almost guru-level CF and HTML/CSS skills, and probably pretty good JavaScript skills”. Even if a job wasn’t for CF but for some other web language, I’d still hire a CF-certified developer in a heartbeat, because I know they’d probably be able to jump in and get working without asking me dumb questions like “why can I View Source in the browser and see my code?”.

    Certifications are not a free pass. In fact, if I’m interviewing you then your certifications can work against you, because I will ask you questions to test your knowledge for your cert. I will then follow up with questions that I know are just outside of the reach of the cert, to see if you were serious about it, or just cramming with an exam guide.

  2. Being certified only looks good, but it never means a person that is certified can do a better more trusted job than a person that is not certified. When it comes to employers, they are always looking at your past work portfolio more than what degrees/diplomas or certifications you have. I am not saying it does not help you through the door.

    Being told what to do or how to do it is one thing, doing it and learning as you go is another. But it personally only applies to the type of company you are trying to get a job at.

    Every time I think about a web developer splashing on a professional logo on their site, I think about all those crazy site awards and how they really mean nothing, except for the attention they got in that period of time the won (if it was real in the first place).

  3. Interesting topic, will check back on this one.

  4. Certifications mean nothing except that you are able to study and pass an exam. It is like the “book-smart” kid you knew in high school. He got straight A’s and graduated at the top of his class.

    Where is he today? Most likely lost in the business world, because out here it is about being resourcefull. You have to know where to find information, then apply it. Certification exams mostly make you memorize syntax and language constructs, not their application.

    If I want to know what the third parameter is for a given function, I look it up. The key is that I know the function exists and explore what I can do with it. I have been certified in languages in the past, but no longer view them with any regard. Past results and how you solved some tough problems mean more to me.

  5. Interesting that you mention both Web 2.0 and certification in this post. Right now I am creating a social network that revolves around certification: help others pass exams if you are already certified, get help in any certification that you are interested in (mainly IT and college entry exams right now, but we plan to add more later), etc…It’s in private beta right now, but anyone that wants to can sign up for an invite at http://www.certifyre.com. I’m really not trying to spam, it’s just that I have never seen anyone else mention web 2.0 and certification in a blog post except me: certifyre.blogspot.comCheers!Jeff

  6. I’ve always had trouble with the PMP designation being used as a qualification for web professionals. The process taught by the PMI is s ill-suited to web projects.

    My experience has been that “PMP-types” managing web projects usually lead to an extremely high level of dissatisfaction by everyone involved (stakeholders and project team), whereas projects handled using one of the various agile approaches leads to much better results, faster, and for less money.

    Your mileage may vary.

  7. Justin Stockton Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    From the other side of the argument, I am a contractor for a small consulting company and we’re finding that industry certifications help sell our services to clients. To be able to tell a client that your project is managed by a PMP certified PM, your network is overseen by a CISSP and your Java developers are Sun certified helps instill confidence that your employees know what they’re doing.

    Maybe the question we should be asking is why are Web/IT workers are so skeptical of certifications? Who doesn’t check to see if their auto mechanic is ASE certified? That the woman taking care of your elderly mother is an RN? These are certifications same as a PMP, CISSP, or MCSE but we don’t question their worth or the people that hold them.

  8. @Justin In my (humble) opinion, the methodology taught by the PMI is ill-suited to managing web projects (I’ve done the training). It’s essentially the waterfall method, where everything gets planned out upfront, clients sign off on the plans and then development proceeds. At that point, any changes are tightly controlled, and occasionally quite costly.

    I’ve seen this turn into an adversarial relationship quite quickly with clients feeling like they’ve been nickled and dimed, and contractors feeling like they’ve been taken advantage of. Based on my education and experience, the only thing useful about PMI training vis a vis managing web projects is seeing it as a model of “what not to do”.

  9. Below is an article debating the issue on PMP:

    PMP – Worth The Trouble

  10. Barbara Saunders Friday, February 22, 2008

    There’s an innate problem with certification, at least in the non-technical arena. The cycle is this: Somebody names something people are doing without naming it (personal training, life coaching, dog training, project management.) It catches on as a potential hot career. Somebody, often a practitioner who can’t make it selling the service develops a certificate program.

    Now, what do you think makes more money, a rigorous certificate program that many people fail despite paying, or a certificate that almost everyone passes? If the certificate grantor is really savvy, they will launch a media campaign warning consumers and employers never to trust anyone without the certificate!

    This process confuses the public and adds a barrier to entry to new people, regardless of their capabilities.

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