This feature first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
As I have visited with IT students in classrooms around the United States and in several other countries, I am often asked the following question: Is getting certified worth it? My answer is always the same: Yes, without question.
Let me explain further. In the legal profession (confession: I am a lawyer), there is a saying about specializing in an area of legal practice: "There are riches in niches." It means that the more specialized you are in a given area of legal expertise, the more valuable you become.
The same axiom holds true in the IT field. In my experience, there are few better ways to show a current or prospective employer that you are able to drill down with expertise into a given job role than having specialized training and a credential that shows you are qualified to do just that.
Furthermore, as we have seen over the last several years in the Certification Magazine annual salary survey, those who hold college degrees and at least one professional IT certification tend to make more money than those who hold a college degree but no certification in a similar job.
So, if getting certified is so valuable, how do you get there? What are the steps, and how does it happen? The following are three principles of getting certified.
My 3-year-old daughter loves reading books, or rather, loves being read to. Many evenings, after I have been home for a few minutes, she will come running with a stack of books in her arms. I choose a couple of the options she has brought, and we will "read" them together. Lately, one of her favorites has been the classic Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You'll Go!
If you're not familiar with the book, or can't remember the particulars, give it a read. It has helped bring back the simple but profound "Seussism" I remember from childhood: You have all the talent you need, so get moving! And under no circumstances should you go to "The Waiting Place," where others are in control of your destiny, and you wait for good things to just sort of "happen."
As Dr. Seuss put it: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go(.)"
Don't wait for anything to happen, or for circumstances to change in your favor. You have the ability to chase and catch your dreams. Get started, and get certified!
Understand that it takes a team to help someone get certified. Whether you are relying on a self-study course, a boot-camp through your employer, or a college course, the effort of many will go into you achieving your goal of becoming certified. With fall in the mountain air here in Utah where my office is situated, and a new school year already more than a month old, a football example seems in order.
Legendary University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban said it best: "No one player advances the ball alone. It takes a unit operating together. You need running backs, receivers — a variety of players with a variety of skills to get the job done."
It takes the contribution of many different players to create a winning team. As Saban astutely observed, a great running back, quarterback, or wide receiver will not be able to consistently advance the ball unless the team is working together.
Of special significance in the comparison between a football player and a certification candidate is the work that goes on behind the scenes prior to the moment of performance at the testing center.
In rudimentary phrase, this is what a successful football team may look like: The team has prepared in the offseason, and they take the field. The offense lines up into formation. The ball is hiked from the center to the quarterback. The line blocks, while the quarterback proceeds through his checks.
He finds an open receiver, and throws the ball. The receiver collects the pass, and moves downfield. A fellow receiver blocks downfield, opening up plenty of green space. The receiver with the ball is able to score a touchdown.
Similarly, in order for a student to earn an IT certification requires more than just a great individual effort, although it certainly does require that. If we compare a certification candidate to a quarterback, I would say that while it is possible for him (or her) to break a long run to the end zone all by himself, he is substantially more likely to find success with the help and support of those on and off the field.
Getting certified requires that the certification candidate first master the subject matter for the certification they wish to hold. Access to quality training materials is key to this effort. The final product that students use to study is the end result of creative input from dozens — if not hundreds — of people.
Great training material is made possible through the cumulative effort of authors, subject matter experts, curriculum designers, and in some cases developers and programmers, all of whom take great pride in the final product they put out for the benefit of prospective students.
An instructor (whether in a school setting or forum for working professionals) who can guide and mentor the student through the learning process plays a vital role. Energy and encouragement are also provided by family members, as well as fellow classmates or coworkers, individuals who have either been down the certification path themselves, or are part of a mutually supportive study group.
In many instances, an employer contributes a portion of the study material and training cost, or allows time during work for the prospective cert holder to study.
Understand that there will be those who you can rely on as you work your way along the path of IT certification. For many, there will be multiple certifications. For others, there may be only one. Whatever the case, remember that building a team through quality training material, an employer, a school, family, a mentor, or perhaps all of the above, is of central importance to your success.
Do not quit
If there is one piece of advice, and only one, that I could give to those who wish to change their future through IT certification, it would be summed up in the following three words: Do not quit.
To the person who wants to get an education in IT, but fears they may have started a few years (or 20) too late, do not quit. To the person who thinks that maybe he or she isn't smart enough, or doesn't have the money, the background, or even the supportive concern of others, do not quit.
To those juggling family life, single-parenthood, a losing battle with their bank balance, or laboring under a lack of confidence ... Do. Not. Quit. If you keep getting back to the line, you will make it. Even if it takes years longer than you hoped. That's OK. Enjoy the journey. Don't quit. Keep going. You will succeed.
Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice said it well in the final stanza of his poem Alumnus Football:
Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine, Let every game's end find you still upon the battling line; For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the Game.