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Certification No Longer Means More Money

I have always been dubious of technical certification programs. While they could provide evidence that its holder had a skill concerning a specific product, they were rather useless in determining the adaptability of an individual for a continually changing career field. Just because you know how to administer Windows NT 4.0 did not mean that you understood what you were doing, and how that skill could be applied to other operating systems, or leveraged into a broader understanding of computers in general.

Alas, for years the job market proved me wrong. Those with certification from Microsoft, Cisco, Novell, and others typically saw salaries and offers $5-10K above non-certified people doing the same work.

Not any more. According to a study conducted by Foote Partners and reported in eWeek (,1895,2051272,00.asp), salary growth for various certified professionals has essentially ceased, while salary growth for non-certified professionals continues to grow. While salaries for certified professionals are still marginally higher on average, Foote Partners expects that those salaries of the non-certified will pass them next year.

The study authors offer their own reasons for this trend. Their conclusion was that non-certified professionals may exhibit more of the business skills necessary to successfully apply technical solutions to business problems.

With the disclaimer that I have never worked in enterprise IT, I am dubious of this answer. I do not see any evidence that certified professionals have any more or less business savvy than non-certified ones. My answer is that those with a solid academic and experience foundation in computer science and software engineering see certifications for what they are – a flash in the pan that look good at one moment in time, but have no lasting value.

I cannot get out of my mind all of those Novell CNEs trained in the 1990s to work with one specific product. When that product was hot, they were in demand and well paid. When it was not, many left computing entirely because they had no other skills or knowledge to fall back on.

Although I have been an academic in the past, this is not intended to be academic snobbery. While formal education is the predominant means of getting a career-long foundation, I have known many bright and talented software people with little education in the field. But there are certain foundations of computing which are necessary in order to integrate the new concepts and technologies that are continually coming to the forefront. Of these, I could count formal languages, operating systems, data structures, and processor-level architectures as the primary engines of my own particular growth and development in the profession.

I have been pressured to get certifications in past jobs, and I have always resisted. I would like to think that my time could be better spent building on my foundation, rather than studying a particular vendor's way of doing things. I hope my longevity in the field ultimately attests to that point of view.

Posted by Peter Varhol on 11/07/2006

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