Certifications: What's the point?

Summary:COMMENTARY--It was late 1995 when I made my decision: College life just wasn't for me. I had spent the previous four years studying computer hardware and computer networking on my own, and I was rather distraught at the fact that the only thing any local university had was Computer Science degrees that specialized in programming.

COMMENTARY--It was late 1995 when I made my decision: College life just wasn't for me. I had spent the previous four years studying computer hardware and computer networking on my own, and I was rather distraught at the fact that the only thing any local university had was Computer Science degrees that specialized in programming. I didn't want to be a programmer.

That's when I discovered the world of industry certification. It seemed that everywhere I looked, companies were giving more credibility to those who had been certified from various third-party companies. Since my university had nothing that remotely resembled an IT curriculum, I decided my higher education would consist of hands-on work with network hardware and network operating systems, and continued studying of PC hardware and architecture. Of course, to afford the hardware, software and texts, I knew I had to find employment. Subsequently, I began working for a local software company and used whatever money I had while living at home to begin my own studies.

Nearly six years later, here I am. In this time I have earned, at the risk of sounding egotistical, CompTIA's A+ Certification and Network+ Certification and I have earned two Microsoft Certified Professional certifications for Windows NT Networking. I have also passed a myriad of Brainbench exams, ranging from Adobe Photoshop 5.5 to General Linux Administration. But does certification matter anymore? In the past six years there has been a complete shift in attitudes regarding certification, and on some level, I understand why.

CompTIA. Microsoft. Oracle. Novell. Red Hat. Brainbench. IBM. Compaq. Cisco Systems. All of these companies ride the certification train. Someone with enough time, patience, intelligence and money can add a whole slew of acronyms to their name, most times, without even having had experience with the software or hardware. Sure, it's harder to pass these certification exams if you've never used the product, but get enough reading materials, or attend a "boot camp" training session and you don't need the product to get by.

Personally, I worked hard for each certificate I have on my wall, and I continue to work hard to upgrade them. I wouldn't have passed the NT 4 exams if I hadn't used NT 4 as my personal operating system for a few years. However, the work that many of us do to earn our certifications is meaningless, due to the fact that many others can simply buy a book at their local Barnes and Noble, read it five times and then take the exams until they pass--provided that is they have enough money for each test.

Simply put, the IT field has become an over-certified one, with companies swimming through a sea of resumes that have corporate certification logos stamped on them. Is it any wonder why companies have gone back to choosing individuals with a bachelor's degree in Information Technology?

Where has my six years of money, time and work left me? As a direct result of my certifications, I was laid off from my previous job because I was too qualified to be doing data conversion. I was seen as a liability rather than an asset, and shortly after obtaining my first MCP I was sent on a one-way trip to the unemployment line, where I currently can be found every week, like clockwork. Not long thereafter, everyone began to downsize, which has left myself, and many others, high and dry.

I have had a few interviews, and I have gone out of my way to get in touch with others to try to find my career. However, since none of my previous employers would grant me the opportunity to work in a position directly related to any of my certifications, I'm usually turned away not long after the interview.

Is it so hard to fathom that I have experience as a network technician, just because I didn't get paid? I readily admit that the only "jobs" I've ever had have included doing paper-to-electronic data conversion and tech support for Gateway. However, when I mention that for three years I ran a five computer client/server networks in my home (much to the chagrin of the electric company), employers wince and say that I have no experience because I've never gotten paid for what I did. Most times, I even go so far as to give them specifics about each and every server and workstation I had, and the configuration of them. Through my own hard-earned money, time and hands-on education, I achieved what I set out to do. And when my employer didn't give me the opportunities I was looking for, I opened up the opportunities to learn on my own. Does this account for nothing?

I continue to study for my next wave of certifications. Perhaps in the future they may be meaningful again. In the meantime, you can find me at the local community college. Certifications may have been the job seeker's friend at one time, but these days, it's all moot without that BSIS.

Warnie L. Pritchett II currently resides in Newport News, Virgina

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Topics: Microsoft, IT Employment

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