Certification - the debate rages on

In a debate in CIO (US) magazine earlier this year a rather grumpy professor of computer science in the US complained that certification tests mean nothing when it comes to getting a job done.

In a debate in CIO (US) magazine earlier this year a rather grumpy professor of computer science in the US complained that certification tests mean nothing when it comes to getting a job done.

"At least half of programming involves understanding the business of the company, not understanding the intricacies of multiple choice questions," said Monroe College's Cliff Brozo.

"What certification means is that you studied from a book, or went on to an Internet brain-dump page to cram enough knowledge into your short-term memory . so that you can answer a bunch of silly questions."

His points were disputed by Kewal Dhariwal, from the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals, who said IS employees who have certifications, have been found to solve problems much faster, work better in teams and show a higher level of confidence in their own abilities and solutions than those who haven't.

So who is right? Well this week I spoke to an IT worker, a recruiter and a trainer and all agreed that there were only benefits from certification. What do you think? I'd like to hear from anyone - employers, IT staff, academics or recruiters - about how you view certifications. Email me at the address at the end of this column.

Felix Huang is an Auckland-based information management specialist who has completed three Microsoft certifications: MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer), MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator), and MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer).

He obtained them because he thought it was a good way to learn Microsoft technology, and would also be helpful in job hunting.

He says the obvious benefit is that his understanding of Microsoft technology was improved.

"My professional ability is more convincing."

Icon Recruitment country manager Sandra Luxford says many clients now ask if candidates have certifications, and won't accept anyone without them.

"A few years ago they would take xyxyxy someone and say qualifications don't really count. In this day and age it's a have-to-have."

Com Tech Education country manager Rebecca Hosking also says certifications have a lot of credibility.

"Employers see a certification and see the value because it's a measure of that person's skill-set."

She says it can also help people with salary parity.

"They can then go to their employer and say 'I'm at this level of my certification' or 'I'm totally certified, the market's indicating that people at this level earn 'x amount of dollars'."

Unfortunately, Huang says the certifications didn't increase his pay, but he believes they will make a difference in the long term.

Luxford says people with certifications should get paid a little more - but not a huge amount.

So do you need work experience in the technology to pass the exams? Huang believes that you definitely have to have some experience - although not necessarily work experience - with the product before you take the exam.

"For example, to pass NT or the SQL server exam, you do not have to be a network administrator or DBA, but you have to have an NT server/SQL server installed and play with it a lot."

Hosking says the level of experience needed depends on the exam.

"Some are harder, but some people would be able to pass without having any hands-on experience, depending on the time they spent studying. But most of them do test real-world experience."

Huang trained himself rather than attending a course because he had experience with the technology. He says a Microsoft training CD is a good way to learn the basics, but it's not enough for the exam.

His company paid for the exams (they cost about $180 each), but not for any training (which can cost $1000 to $2000 a course, for one week full-time).

Hosking says her company sees both people whose companies pay for training and/or exams, and private individuals who self-funding their training.

So what about the cynicism expressed at the beginning of this column? Huang hasn't come across such views about certification.

"I found it more useful if you work in technology-focused company such as professional software company [or] consulting company. Or, if you are looking to get into the IT industry."

Hosking says she doesn't think the demand for certification is ever gone to wane.

"There's always going to be that need to be certified and with Windows 20000 out everyone is going to be going down that track eventually."

Hosking says Microsoft and A+ certifications are most popular, but adds that Novell is enjoying an upturn due to the release of Netware 5.0 (with CNE's who are either CNE 3 or CNE 4, needing to upskill their certification). Luxford says MCSE and CNE are in demand.

Email Kirstin Mills.

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