Salary Survey Extra: The most effective IT employment preparation
Posted on
March 26, 2016

Salary Survey Extra is a series of periodic dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

What is the most effective way to prepare for a new job in IT?

Anyone who has ever cashed a paycheck can probably relate to the anxiety of starting a new job for a new employer. No matter how well prepared you think you are, there's always a "settling in" period where job responsibilities and relationships with coworkers gradually slide into focus. It takes time to get up to speed on how things work at the new company, what each day will bring, and how to make an effective and impactful contribution.

It's rare, of course, to step into a new job, especially in the complex and technical IT realm, as a blank slate. Most new employees show up for work having undertaken at least some degree of preparation. That could be in the form of a college degree, or technical training, or experience gained by doing similar work for a previous employer. Some people may rely  heavily on one particular form of  job preparation, while others equip themselves with tools from a variety of sources.

For many people who work in IT, or aspire to work in IT, certification is a vitally important means of gaining the skills and knowledge required to succeed at a new job. There's certainly a degree of debate, however, about whether it's the most effective means of job preparation. That's why in our recent annual Salary Survey, we asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of various different methods of preparing to achieve success in the workplace.

Many IT pros don't gain all (or even most) of their work background and employable skills from a single source, of course. On the other hand, even those who, over the years, have perhaps added certification, or professional training (or both) to a university computer science education, for example, probably have preferences. Most people develop a feeling, over time, for what works best, and often stick to that mode of acquiring new information.

We offered five fairly standard approaches taken by those who end up successfully employed in IT. Those surveyed were asked to rate them each individually. Are the college degrees on your résumé the most essential building blocks of your present career? Or did you learn everything you know from figuring things out, creating a mosaic of self-taught skills that stretches from the old TI-99 your parents brought home when  your were 5 years old, all the way up to the YouTube video on circuit board etching that you watched last week?

Certification, it would seem, can certainly have a positive effect, but it's far from being the only path to success. The following table provides a snapshot of what we learned:

Extremely Effective Very Effective Effective Somewhat Effective Not Very Effective
College Education 14.7 percent 22.2 percent 37.8 percent 18.6 percent 6.7 percent
Certification 15.2 percent 36.3 percent 31.7 percent 13.8 percent 3.1 percent
Specialized Technical Training 21.1 percent 44 percent 26.7 percent 6.9 percent 1.2 percent
Prior Workplace Training 32.5 percent 42 percent 19.2 percent 5.4 percent 0.9 percent
Self-Instruction / Learn by Doing 30.7 percent 36.9 percent 24.0 percent 7.2 percent 1.2 percent

This is arguably a personal question, and individual aptitude undoubtedly plays a significant role in determining where most IT professionals find the greatest degree of effectiveness. IT professionals who haven't yet sussed out what works best for them, however, may find some valuable guidance in knowing what has worked well for others.

BUILT FORD TOUGH  So we all just watched Harrison Ford give his (presumably) final performance as Han Solo, in the new film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And the internet was abuzz with news a couple of weeks ago that the ageless actor (OK, he's 73) is now preparing for what may well be his last time donning the distinctive fedora of archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones.

Many Faces of Harry Ford

Ford has played a number of iconic characters in the course of a long career, but who stands tallest? Which of the many memorable screen roles is the one that stands tallest? Certified IT professionals have as much say as anyone else, so we included the question "Who is the best Harrison Ford movie character?" in the Not-So-Serious section of the annual Salary Survey. Here's how things played out:

Indiana Jones — 45 percent
Han Solo — 18.6 percent
President Jim Marshall from Air Force One — 7.6 percent
Rick Deckard from Blade Runner — 7.4 percent
Jack Ryan — 7.1 percent
Richard Kimble from The Fugitive — 5.3 percent
John Book from Witness — 2.2 percent
Didn't he do Hollywood Homicide with the kid from 30 Days of Night? — 3.5 percent
Anything where he has to do a bad accent, like The Devil's Own or that Russian submarine movie with Liam Neeson — 1.5 percent
The crusty Wall Street guy who's way too old for Julia Ormond in Sabrina — 1.1 percent
The guy who gets shot in the head and forgets he cheated on his wife in that sappy drama by Young J.J. Abrams — 0.7 percent

About the Author

Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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