To cert or not to cert…

I have been pondering the thought of gaining some additional certifications for quite some time now. My good friend Shane recently asked what my thoughts were on certifications. I currently hold only two certificates myself. The first is Enterasys Switch Specialist and ITIL foundation certification. Both tests and training were funded by my employer. If your employer offers to pay for classes and for the test, then by all means do not pass up the opportunity.

I think the real question in everyone’s mind is how much will a certificate help me out? This thought may come to us when we are thinking about seeking different career opportunities or maybe when we receive additional job responsibilities. Now as far as discussing the first scenario, I have been on both the hiring/seeking spectrums within the IT industry. Certifications definitely help solidify choices. Although I truly believe that experience trumps certificates. Here’s why. For instance, you can have someone that barely knows networking. They have tinkered around with home networks and possibly the one switch/router at work. They go home and study for 6 weeks straight. They practice hammering away at the cisco cli. They take the CCNA test and pass it. I’m not dismissing that accomplishment. It’s a difficult task and deserves recognition. I don’t even have CCNA status. Here’s my point, if you don’t use it, you lose it. If that person doesn’t work with cisco every day, chances are that they will lose it. Which one would you hire? The guy with 10 years of reputable experience or a guy with 1 year of experience and their CCNA?

Now I know I’m probably getting criticism on that one, but hey, that’s just my opinion. Ok, now you’re asking why doesn’t the guy with 10 years of reputable experience just go out and get the CCNA? Valid question. If you work with cisco all day long, then that’s probably a good idea. If you’re not a cisco shop, you’ll have to study a little. Bottom line is value. If you’re starting to look for another job, then getting your CCNA won’t hurt. If you’re crunched for time with work, family, and other things like me and are content with where you’re at, then maybe you don’t want to spend the extra money, time, and pressures of test taking going after your CCNA right now.

This same theory can be applied to other certificates. Now if your job is ramping up your responsibilities, then it never hurts to ask them to pay for a boot camp course. It will benefit both yourself and your company. If you’re feeling froggy, study the material a little more and go take the test. You can’t lose at that point. Your new job responsibilities will get you the solid experience you need. If you fail the test the first time, don’t get discouraged. You’ll at least know where to brush up and you’ll continue to build your skills at work.

In the meantime, have fun learning. It never hurts to learn or push yourself with a challenge of obtaining a cert. If you can’t afford those expensive books like me, then try using safaribooks. There are also lots of trial VM solutions out there now that can help you create a nice lab environment relatively cheap (F5 Virtual Edition/brocade vyatta/cisco csr1000v). GNS3 is also a nice tool to have, just remember to buy yourself a cheap router from ebay with an iso image. I’m not going to condone any illegal practices. Have fun!!!

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