Have (IT) certs will travel?

In this special report, we explore whether experience is better than certification.

IT certification special report -- home

Sound education
A decent starting point for an IT degree -- part-time or full-time -- is your neighbourhood university.
 
Another entry point
Apart from universities, private institutions and TAFEs offer more practical IT courses.
 
Where to next?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) development and administration are most in demand. How can you obtain these skills, and more?
 
The tale of two CVs
Analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- share their views on whether certification is better than experience.
 

Which is more valuable? Experience or certification? ZDNet Australia explores the role skills-based paper-qualification plays in kicking off and enhancing one's IT career.

Last quarter, ZDNet Australia profiled the most sought-after IT skills around the nation and established a list to identify the exact expertise in demand, and the corresponding salary range.

Ranked first in the Top 10 tech jobs for 2006 report were SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists, for vacancies in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT (see table below).

There are several schools of thought as to whether experience is more valuable than certification but at the end of the day, your prospective employer has the last say.

Like most professional careers, the most common entry point to information technology is a broad-based course either at a technical college or university. However, with multiple IT streams on offer at no less than 36 universities, and basic programming and networking skills taught at TAFEs and private technical colleges in every state, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Broadly speaking, a university degree will give you a good general grounding, especially in programming, and place you in line for managerial or research roles in the longer term. TAFE on the other hand will give you hands-on networking experience, and some insight into programming languages and procedures.

If you're already in the workforce, upgrading your skills is always a good idea, provided you have the time, money and discipline.

In this special report, we first look at which universities, TAFEs and private institutions offer tech courses.

Based on the top 10 skills reported previously, we show you how to obtain certification in those areas. And lastly, you'll hear from industry analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- on how they rank certification.

Hot technology skills in Australia, 2006
Rank Role State Salary
1 SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists NSW, QLD, VIC and ACT $110-130K
2 PHP developers NSW, VIC $55-$85K
3 C++/CORBA developers NSW, VIC $40-$80K
4 Unix network administrators NSW, VIC, QLD $55-$90K
5 Business analysts QLD, WA, NSW, VIC $80-100K
6 Java and J2EE developers NSW, QLD, WA $64-$105K
7 Lotus Notes specialists NSW, VIC $75-90K
8 C# developers ACT, QLD $90-120K
9 .NET developers ACT, QLD $90-120K
10 Senior testers Australia-wide $90-100K
Data compiled based on information from Ambit Recruitment Group, The Olivier Group, Macro Recruitment, Hays Information Technology, the Department of Employment and WorkPlace Relations, and ZDNet Research 2006.
IT certification special report -- home

Introduction

 
Sound education
A decent starting point for an IT degree -- part-time or full-time -- is your neighbourhood university.
 
Another entry point
Apart from universities, private institutions and TAFEs offer more practical IT courses.
 
Where to next?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) development and administration are most in demand. How can you obtain these skills, and more?
 
The tale of two CVs
Analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- share their views on whether certification is better than experience.
 

Tech training at uni

To pick the course that's best for you, a good place to start is the university Web site (see table below).

As a rule of thumb, any university with the word 'technical' in its name will have a wide range of hands-on IT courses.

Older universities will have more theoretical mathematics-based IT courses, while newer institutions tend to have more creative and practical courses on offer.

In Melbourne, for example, the IT courses at Swinburne are known for the business focus they provide, while RMIT is known for its technical prowess.

In Canberra, the Australian National University is renowned for its mathematics department and theoretical depth, while Canberra University is known for its practical course and good grounding in networking.

A degree at university is a big undertaking, and will take you at least three years full-time, or six years part-time to complete.







Universities with IT courses
Name URL
The University of Adelaide www.adelaide.edu.au
Australian Catholic University www.acu.edu.au
Australian National University www.anu.edu.au
The University of Ballarat www.ballarat.edu.au
Bond University www.vu.bond.au
Canberra University www.canberra.edu.au
Central Queensland University www.cqu.edu.au
Charles Darwin University www.cdu.edu.au
Charles Sturt University www.csu.edu.au
Curtin University of Technology www.curtin.edu.au
Deakin University www.deakin.edu.au
Edith Cowan University www.ecu.edu.au
Flinders University www.flinders.edu.au
Griffith University www.gu.edu.au
James Cook University www.jcu. edu.au
La Trobe University www.latrobe.edu.au
Macquarie University www.mq.edu.au
The University of Melbourne www.unimelb.edu.au
Monash University www.monash.edu.au
Murdoch University www.murdoch.edu.au
The University of Newcastle www.newcastle.edu.au
The University of New England www.une.edu.au
The University of New South Wales www.unsw.edu.au
The University of Queensland www.uq.edu.au
Queensland University of Technology www.qut.edu.au
RMIT University www.rmit.edu.au
The University of South Australia www.unisa.edu.au
Southern Cross University www.scu.edu.au
The University of Southern Queensland www.usq. edu.au
Swinburne University of Technology www.swin.edu.au
The University of Sydney www.usyd.edu.au
University of Technology, Sydney www.uts.edu.au
Victoria University of Technology www.vu.edu.au
The University of Western Australia www.uwa.edu.au
The University of Western Sydney www.uws.edu.au
The University of Woollongong www.uow.edu.au
Data compiled from information on individual university Web sites.
IT certification special report -- home

Introduction

 
Sound education
A decent starting point for an IT degree -- part-time or full-time -- is your neighbourhood university.
 
Another entry point
Apart from universities, private institutions and TAFEs offer more practical IT courses.
 
Where to next?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) development and administration are most in demand. How can you obtain these skills, and more?
 
The tale of two CVs
Analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- share their views on whether certification is better than experience.
 

TAFEs and technical colleges

University isn't the only way to kick-start a career in IT. TAFE courses can be an affordable alternative in terms of both money and time, and can provide a rapid entry into the workforce.

Around Australia, TAFEs offer entry-level certificates, as well as specialists streams in programming and networking, and even graduate diplomas.

Course costs vary between states, ranging between AU$250 and AU$4,000 per year, and the study programs are generally organised into segments which can be completed in six months on a full-time basis, or spread out over time.

In many cases coursework completed at TAFE is being recognised by university faculties, and can count towards the completion of a university degree. Moreover many university graduates find a TAFE course (see list below) forms a handy bridge between their more theoretical skills, and the practical business skills they need for day-to-day work life.



TAFEs in various states
State URL
New South Wales TAFE www.tafensw.edu.au
Queensland TAFE www.tafe.qld.gov.au
Northern Territory DEET www.deet.nt.gov.au
South Australia TAFE www.ait.org
Canberra Institute of Technology www.cit.act.edu.au
Western Australia TAFE www.tafe.wa.gov.au
Victoria TAFE www.tafe.vic.gov.au
Tasmania TAFE www.tafe.tas.edu.au


Private institutions and colleges

Although this is often the most expensive option, private training institutes are more flexible and better oriented towards people looking to slot training into busy careers.

There are numerous private colleges throughout Australia (see list below), which offer both general and specialist courses in IT. In many cases these institutions work in conjunction with technology vendors to offer training in specific areas, and preparation for professional certification.

The professional organisation IT Pro Australia lists institutions which provide training in major vendor certificates, from the likes of Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft.

Some vendors, like SAP and Oracle, offer training courses in their own software applications, thus keeping a tighter reign over the nature, cost and content of the course.

Since they are predominantly designed for busy professionals, most courses offered by such private institutions are limited to a number of days up to about a fortnight.

However, with costs ranging from $500 to $1,500 per day, most of these institutions work in conjunction with the HR (human resources) department of companies rather than directly with individuals.



Private institutions and colleges
Name URL
Advanced Training www.advancedtraining.com.au
ASK Learning Solutions www.asklearning.com
Dimension Data Learning Solutions www.ddls.com.au
Dot Educate www.doteducate.com
Dot Net Solutions www.dotnetsolutions.com.au
Drake Training www.draketraining.com.au
Excom www.excom.com.au
Fastlane www.flane.com
Fourthline IT www.fourthline.net
Housley Communications www.housley.com.au
Illustrated Networks www.in-training.net
IT&T Education www.itteducation.com.au
Kaz Education www.aspect.com.au/aspect/Education
New Horizons Learning Centre www.nhaustralia.com.au
Readify www.readify.net
Rose Solutions www.rosesolutions.com
SEEK Learning http://www.seeklearning.com.au/course/IT.asp
Thompson Education Direct www.thomsoneducationdirect.com.au
IT certification special report -- home

Introduction

 
Sound education
A decent starting point for an IT degree -- part-time or full-time -- is your neighbourhood university.
 
Another entry point
Apart from universities, private institutions and TAFEs offer more practical IT courses.
 
Where to next?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) development and administration are most in demand. How can you obtain these skills, and more?
 
The tale of two CVs
Analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- share their views on whether certification is better than experience.
 

Vendor certification

Last quarter, we identified which IT skills were in demand, where they were hot, and the salary range. Today we look at the types of certification to suit these opportunities (see table at the end).

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) development and administration (SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft applications)
Part of the reason these skills are so much in demand in Australia at the moment is that corporate training is tightly controlled, and very expensive.

SAP provides training and consultant certification in the areas of NetWeaver, CRM, ERP Operations, Financials, Human Resources, Product Lifecycle Management, Supply Chain Management, Supplier Relationship Management, Business One, and Industry Solutions. The company provides information about the cost and duration of its courses on its SAP Education Web site, and recommends certification exams be attempted upon the completion of 15 to 25 day courses, which cost between AU$700 and AU$900 per day.

Oracle has a similar approach, offering different certification paths for application developers, Web administrators and database administrators. Technical experience is strongly recommended before any certification, and each certificate may require a number of exams. Training will take three to five days and cost around AU$800 per day, however CD-ROMs priced under AU$500 are available to prepare for certification covering new features.

PHP and Web development
PHP training is also hard to come by, and the certification which is provided solely through Zend is not well-known in the industry. Nonetheless study guides and practice books are available for between AU$30 and AU$100, however instructor-lead training is hard to find.

Nonetheless, there is a friendly PHP user group which meets monthly in Sydney, and conducts its own training sessions depending on the skills within the user group levels of interest.

C++ or Corba
C++ is taught in some universities, and is covered in the widely available Microsoft Certified Solution Developer certificate, which costs between AU$2,999 and AU$10,000 for tuition, and can be completed in six weeks of full time study. The MCSD can be completed as part of a university curriculum, or privately through instructor-lead sessions, and distance education.

Corba is in demand because it's a great technology for tying together disparate corporate systems, however since the federal government's 2004 decision to discontinue funding the DSTC CRC in training and certification in Australia are only available through some universities.

Unix network administrators
Universities are great places to learn about Unix, because it's an open system it's long been used as a training and operational tool in Australia's cash-strapped tertiary education sector. However, since Sun Microsystems Australia and IBM Australia began to develop an interest in all things open, they've also become useful points of reference for networking skills generally.

Business analysts and project managers
Business analysts need to bridge the corporate gap between technology and business, and as such they need to draw on training in both areas. TAFE New South Wales offers courses aimed specifically at the business analyst role, as to some of the more business focussed IT streams at universities provide a solid foundation in both areas.

Kaz Education is also in the process of creating a short course in IT business analysis, which it hopes to offer within the next 12 months.

Java and J2EE developers
While many IT professionals self-train to achieve Java certification, Sun provides the most sought-after certification and also offers a range of online and trainer-lead courses.

At the moment the most popular certification is Sun's Certified Java 2 Programmer (SCJP) for Java 2, which can be completed without prior knowledge of Java, although some experience with the language is preferred.

Exam preparation can take anywhere between four to six weeks full time, and costs between AU$900 and AU$9000 depending on the level of trainer involvement.

Lotus Notes developers and administrators
Unlike many skills which are in demand, courses and certification programs for Lotus technologies are widely available, either directly through IBM or through other private organisations like Kaz Education, and Dimension Data Learning Solutions.

You can expect to pay between AU$300 and AU$600 per day for courses, which can be as short as a day or as long as a fortnight.

C# and .NET skills
Like C++, C# is generally included as part of the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) certificate.

Getting .NET certified is all about getting a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer certificate which focuses specifically on the .NET environment.

Like all Microsoft certifications, training for the exams is readily available, ranging between AU$2,999 and AU$10,000 for courses which can be completed either in four to six weeks full-time, or spread out and done part-time.

While many of these courses suggest it's possible to complete the syllabus and attain the certification without prior knowledge, university, TAFE and/or industry experience goes a long way in facilitating the process.

Experienced testers
While there are no certification courses in testing per se, testers are in demand for a range of languages. However, as good procedures are at a premium, university and TAFE training is preferred by recruiters.

Hot technology skills in Australia, 2006
Rank Role State Salary
1 SAP, Oracle and Peoplesoft specialists NSW, QLD, VIC and ACT $110-130K
2 PHP developers NSW, VIC $55-$85K
3 C++/CORBA developers NSW, VIC $40-$80K
4 Unix network administrators NSW, VIC, QLD $55-$90K
5 Business analysts QLD, WA, NSW, VIC $80-100K
6 Java and J2EE developers NSW, QLD, WA $64-$105K
7 Lotus Notes specialists NSW, VIC $75-90K
8 C# developers ACT, QLD $90-120K
9 .NET developers ACT, QLD $90-120K
10 Senior testers Australia-wide $90-100K
Data compiled based on information from Ambit Recruitment Group, The Olivier Group, Macro Recruitment, Hays Information Technology, the Department of Employment and WorkPlace Relations, and ZDNet Research 2006.
IT certification special report -- home

Introduction

 
Sound education
A decent starting point for an IT degree -- part-time or full-time -- is your neighbourhood university.
 
Another entry point
Apart from universities, private institutions and TAFEs offer more practical IT courses.
 
Where to next?
ERP (enterprise resource planning) development and administration are most in demand. How can you obtain these skills, and more?
 
The tale of two CVs
Analysts and IT professionals -- past and present -- share their views on whether certification is better than experience.
 

Tale of two CVs

Experience versus certification ... which is the winner? It really depends on who you ask.

There are several schools of thought on the better route for IT professionals.

David Mitchell, software practice leader at research firm Ovum, says although certification is important, there is a growing demand in all markets -- including Australia -- for in-depth practical experience.

There are areas of the market where certification is a pre-requisite but in most cases practical and "referenceable" experience will be preferred for many roles, Mitchell says.

"Salary differentials are more a case of experienced versus non-experienced rather than certified versus non-certified. At an equivalent qualification or certification level an experienced IT professional will likely earn up to two times that of an inexperienced colleague, based on around four to five more years of practical experience. After that, disparities begin to flatten out."

One interesting observation by Ovum was the level of faith vendors placed in their own certifications. "Vendors frequently do not look for certification for their own pre-sales, sales, support, and consulting staff. The certification and training arms of the vendors are frequently quite distant from the product sales and support teams, and operate as standalone profit centres."

In fact, American management consultancy Foote Partners released a report in May entitled As Certifications Lose Their Luster, What Next? and David Foote, its president and chief research officer, said in a statement: "What fascinates me is that when we asked several vendors recently if they use their own certifications internally to qualify their own employees' technical skills, the answer was largely 'no'."

How now brown cow?
There are many different routes to take for workers in the IT industry and aspiring technology professionals.

"I wouldn't recommend one route over another. I know of people that have been successful in their IT careers from degree backgrounds as diverse as computer science, moral philosophy, chemistry, geography, anthropology, ancient history, and modern languages," says Ovum's Mitchell.

If someone is looking to develop a career as a technical developer, then Mitchell recommends vendor-based certification, but warns that it should be treated with an amount of care. "I usually recommend that technical professionals ensure that they have a minimum of two core technical competencies, since the market moves so quickly and new skills requirements emerge. It's important, on this basis, to be able to assimilate new technical skills as and when the demands arise in the market.

"I know of many employers who look at a candidate's ability to learn and develop new skills as much as they look at their current certification or competency."

Budding consultants should start with a large system integrator or management consulting organisation, he adds.

If the desire is to work around one of the major business application vendors, there are various paths, Mitchell says.

"One is to join the vendor at an early career stage, go through their training and certification and training programmes and then aim for promotions. Another is to work in industry, in an end-user organisation, and then move into a vendor or implementation consultancy at a later stage.

David Mitchell, Ovum

"I generally find that people with good domain-specific business skills are highly valued within these environments. For example, someone with knowledge of supply chain management that has managed an operational supply chain is highly valued in a supply chain software group, probably more than someone from a pure supply chain software background.

And if you have ambitions to be become a CIO (chief information officer), then a general management qualification is more important than pure technical education, according to Mitchell. "CIOs are increasingly coming from diverse management backgrounds and it is their general management ability that helps them to succeed. Here, I'd recommend an MBA from one of the good business schools."

Certification: The good
To Andy Fry, having the right set of certification played a big part in gaining Australian residency. "I have quite a rare combination of certifications -- MCSE 2003 (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer). This has assisted me greatly in emigrating from the UK to Australia, as it supported my claims to being uniquely skilled," the senior systems consultant (Information Technology Services) at the University of Adelaide tells ZDNet Australia.

Andy Fry

"I also think it helped me gain employment here at the University," he adds.

Ovum's Mitchell is a fan of multiple skill-sets. "Multi-skilling is seen as an important differentiator in the technical job markets that we observe, whether that be Windows and Linux, or Windows and Oracle, or Oracle plus Linux, or VMware plus SAP.

"It's the multi-skilling and technical flexibility that we see as the determining factor rather than the precise combination of two skills. Having said that we are seeing a high demand globally for Oracle/SAP/PeopleSoft, VMware, Microsoft, and J2EE skills."

Meanwhile, Anthony Berni believes certification "gives you the edge" with some customers and can work in your favour when tendering for business. "In my line of work, which is field service, certification can mean the difference between your client having faith in what you do, and the reason they chose you instead of a competitor," Berni, who has a few feathers under his cap including MCSE, Citrix Certified Administrator (CCA) and HP ASE.

"There definitely is a perception amongst clients (including government) that having certified engineers is preferable to the opposite," he adds.

Anthony Berni

But in the end, it's really up to the individual. "If your employer supports staff training (and they should) a cert is a good end result to show for the time and effort into keeping up your skills.

"I have benefited from getting industry certifications both in my job and personally. I have picked out technologies and subjects that interest me and have relevance with our clients. I then worked on those certs.

"I learnt the subject matter, sat the exam, felt great afterwards and waited for the kit from whoever (Citrix, HP) ... the industry does value certifications ... your clients will and so will your peers," Berni says.

Certification: The bad
University of Adelaide's Fry says he's aware some people armed with certifications are simply not up to scratch. "I do know people who have a myriad of certifications, who proved not to be up to the tasks I have requested them to complete within the project timescales and without external help."

One example he highlighted was MCSE holders. "The Microsoft certification is not entirely realistic in the way the exams are conducted. You are only asked to remember stuff, rather than actually perform tasks.

"Compare this to the Red Hat exams which are practical and functional. Having experienced both exams I would be highly likely to give an RHCE a job based on his certification. An MCSE ... I would ask to perform some testing before I would consider him for a role. It is possible to pass the MCSE without hands-on knowledge of Windows.

"This is entirely unacceptable and has devalued the certification greatly. Whilst Microsoft has made it more difficult to obtain MCSE2003 than 2000, until the exam is more practical it will never prove what a candidate is capable of," Fry says.

Ovum's Mitchell doesn't name names but has heard rumblings from enterprise users who've raised concerns about the quality of certain qualifications. "Some certification programs do not have a large enough practical component in my view.

"There is large difference between knowing the answer to a series of questions and being able to perform different tasks in a practical and operational environment. This is especially important when it comes to certifications for operationally focused duties such as system management, database management, or network administration. Vendors need to ensure that courses have a large enough practical component and the certification process relies on candidates being able to demonstrate their skills in practice, as well as on paper," Mitchell says.

Veteran IT professional from Victoria Ernst Zimmer isn't surprised of talk that industry certification has lost its lustre.

Ernst Zimmer

"Certification is somewhat losing its value within organisations in the broader corporate context.

"Today's corporate IT staff and management must be as accountable towards the business success as the rest of the organisation comprising other functional units such as production, finance, and logistics," Zimmer says.

He highlights the importance of mentoring and says a good mentor within the organisation will go a long way in helping IT professionals. "I have been in the IT/telecommunications business for nearly 40 years and I can assure you that your chances of getting ahead are heavily dependent on support from a mentor who is able to advertise and articulate your value and achievements to senior management."

He strongly suggests IT workers between 30 and 40 years of age consider an MBA in technology management or something similar.

And if you plan to move into management, best buck up on your knowledge and expertise in financial management, economic decision making, and legal and contract administration skills (including negotiation), Zimmer says.

In his younger days, he believed that performance and knowledge was "everything", but he soon realised his folly. "Despite the arguments about 'equal opportunities', 'merits', 'performance' and so on, one the main factors of success in pursuit of a 'sign-posted career path' is 'who you know' and not necessarily 'what you know'.

"Unfortunately humans basically still possess 'monkey brains' with a thin veneer of cultivation. It is the tribal connection, the cronyism and the nepotism that often determines outcomes and not necessarily only shear individual performance and knowledge."

IT professionals these days, according to Zimmer, should, of course, have the technical competence required to build networks, test and maintain IT equipment and/or software and networks within the organisation but "this does not necessarily imply that one has to have the latest IT certification" to get the job done.

Ken McAvoy, another industry veteran (also from Victoria), says both degree qualifications and industry certifications are less important today then they once were.

Ken McAvoy

"This is partly because of the time and cost it takes to get them and the biggest factor is that by the time they are obtained the useability factor is almost always more than 50 percent expired ... ie the hirer is aware a new version of Windows is due so they are already looking for people with an apparent edge in Vista rather than, say, solid Windows 2000 certs.

"There have been some employment agencies lately highlighting the demise of educational opportunities for a whole array of industries in Australia in favour of using cheap overseas labour -- whether they be on work visas or students holidaying in Australia. One company involved in welding steel components for trucks sacked 35 locally employed Aussies recently but retained the 35 Chinese workers here on temporary work visas. If that is not the most worrying trend about how Australia is being changed possibly forever, well I am blind, deaf and dumb."-- Fran Foo

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