Ye olde cyrtification: Don't be too attached to your outdated credentials
Posted on
June 22, 2016
Outdated certifications aren't worth keeping around.

I think that it was five-star World War II general Douglas MacArthur who said: "Old certifications never die — they simply fade away." At any rate, somebody said something like that. In the year and a half since Oracle announced their new recertification policy (which I wrote about here), I have seen hints that this quote may not be appropriate.

Based on feedback that has been posted on LinkedIn and various forums, it appears that many certified individuals associate their IT credentials less with a tongue-in-cheek MacArthur misquote and more with an equally mangled quote from leading diamond seller De Beers: "Certifications are forever."

As the above-linked article above indicates, there was a lot of negative buzz from the community about the decision to require individuals certified in older releases of the database to recertify in order to keep their credentials active.

In a separate action, the Oracle certification program adopted digital badges just a few months after the recertification requirement was announced. The community as a whole embraced digital badges as a welcome enhancement. There was, however, a similar (albeit smaller) blowback reminiscent of the one about the recertification requirement.

A number of people have complained because the program did not create digital badges for retired Oracle certifications on database releases prior to 10g, or for older Java releases. On this issue, I have to side with Oracle. I see little point in creating a new method for displaying outdated credentials.

It is never enjoyable watching something you own lose value year after year. Certainly I would be ecstatic if the cars that I have purchased over the years always maintained a resale value equal to the price I paid to drive them off the lot. Unfortunately, according to the Kelly Blue Book, that is demonstrably not the case.

Mind you, with cars there is some hope of the value going back up after sufficient years have passed — at least for certain models maintained in good condition. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of IT certifications. Once an information technology credential has become an antique, chances are that it no longer has much in the way of real-word value.

I have been pursuing IT certifications for more than 20 years. While writing this article I spent some time thinking about the earliest ones to see what utility they might still have in the real world. One of the first credentials I earned was the Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) for Novell 4.11. I doubt there is a company in the world currently using that OS for their production network.

One of the tests, however, was not on the OS itself, but rather about network technologies in general. I recall that the seven-layer model was part of the test, and that model is still valid today. Of course, the seven-layer model is still valid because it is just a conceptual framework. Beyond helping students of network technologies understand what happens at various levels of the networking process, it has no utility in the real world.

The real-world technologies that were covered by that exam included things like Thicknet vs Thinnet Ethernet (both of which are ancient history today). The test also touched on UTP (Unshielded Twisted Pair), which was just starting to come into widespread use.  I believe the standard for UTP at the time was CAT3.

In 2016, no one would even consider using less than CAT5. I am reasonably certain that the test did not even reference any wireless standards. Certainly it did not reference any of the wireless standards that have begun displacing UTP networks — in much the same way that UTP displaced coaxial networks.

Ultimately, the exams for that certification are of no use because the information they covered is no longer relevant. The few portions that were not specific to defunct software are referencing hardware or computing standards that have become obsolete.

Putting that certification on my resume would have no conceivable positive impact on an employer's perception of my skills for a position today. At best it would be dismissed by an employer as irrelevant. At worst, it might indicate to them that I am so out of touch with reality that I do not realize that the credential no longer means anything. That is why I periodically review my resume and LinkedIn profile and remove anything that I feel has become outdated.

In the IT world, almost every skill has a "sell-by" date. Unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all formula for making the determination on when a credential has moved from the asset column into the liability column. It depends not just on the outdated credentials, but also on the resume. If I had fewer certifications, then hanging on to more of the older ones might make sense.

Outdated certifications aren't worth keeping around.

Because I hold numerous credentials and regularly keep the ones I have updated, removing older ones not only focuses more attention on my more recent credentials but also keeps the certification section of my resume to a reasonable size. For most people, when determining whether or not to keep listing an old credential on your resume, it would be reasonable to ask yourself the following four questions about it:

  • Is this certification for a technology I am using right now?
  • Is this the only or best indicator on my resume for a given knowledge area?
  • Are employers currently looking for people with the skills represented by this certification?
  • Do I want to work for an employer who is still using this technology?

If the answer to all four of the above questions is "No," then that is a fairly good indicator that you should drop the credential from your resume. The fourth question, in particular, is a telling point. If a technology is so old that you would not be comfortable working for an organization that still makes use of it, then there is no point in using the related credential to advertise your knowledge.

As you accumulate years of experience in your chosen field, the need of certifications to provide resume bullet points diminishes. This is a reasonable justification for choosing not to upgrade your existing certifications or pursue new ones. It does not, however, provide a reason for holding on to ancient certifications long past the point at which they are relevant and applicable to your career goals.

About the Author

Matthew Morris is an experienced DBA and developer. He holds Oracle DBA Certifications for every Oracle release from 7 through 12c; Expert certifications for SQL, SQL Tuning, and Application Express; and is an Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Professional. He is the author of more than 20 study guides for Oracle certification exams, as well as a suite of Oracle practice tests that are available at

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