For the next couple of weeks, I’m visiting my in-laws in South America. As nice as it is to travel, I also find myself with the laptop open at 8 PM, and thought I would write this little post on a common question I sometimes get.
There are people on both sides of the debate on whether it’s worth it to get certified, in any technical field. On the one hand, it’s provable skills and experience that matters most when applying for jobs, and someone who got their skills from a book but have not actually performed the tasks cannot be viewed as equal to someone who has spent years in the field, gaining their skills through trial and error. There is no equivalent to discovering a strange behavior in a technical system, and tearing it apart to find out the error and fix the bug.
But even the person who’s spent years in the field might find it challenging to pass a certification test on those skills. Because often in our jobs, we only get to see such a limited view of the way things are done. We could work for years on Virtual Machines and Virtual Networks, and never have touched a Web App.
So the first benefit to certification is it forces you to be exposed to all features of a system. Microsoft Azure in particular has 100+ cloud services, and it is all but guaranteed that studying for the exam will teach you about areas of Azure that you have not really been exposed to.
The other challenge with having all of your knowledge from in-field experience is that you are not learning the best practices for working with the system. You might be inadvertently leaving open security holes, or adding unnecessary cost to the solution, simply because you did not know about a security setting or a method for scaling. You can both make your work life easier, as well as improving the overall quality of the system, by being forced to study for certification and read about the “Microsoft Way” for designing solutions. That’s the second benefit to certification.
Sometimes we do not have the opportunity to work in an area through our normal daily jobs. It’s a chicken and the egg problem. You will not get assigned to projects that work in the cloud because you don’t have any previous knowledge of how cloud systems work. But you can’t get that knowledge, because you do not get assigned to those projects.
Certification can bridge that gap. It can serve as an important signal to your company that you are trainable on these technologies and already possess a good baseline of knowledge when coming into a project. It signals that you will not be asking “what’s a subnet?” on your first day on the project, and will not be slowing the project down. The third benefit to certification is that it serves as a good substitute to a few months of actual experience, which you can then supplement with actual experience quickly when joining a relevant project.
Finally, talking about signals, certification is the proof of the claim that you are the type of person who loves to learn new things. Within any enterprise, there are some (thankfully, usually a minor number of) employees who just want to hang on to the applications that they are used to, and resist being exposed to new languages and technologies. You can say in a job interview that you love to learn new things. But you know what actually proves that you love to learn new things? Evidence that you take training courses on your own free time, and get certified. Having Azure, AWS, and other certificates on your resume is the ultimate proof that you’re the type of employee they want on their team. A self-starter. A seeker of knowledge. Not just someone who learns by doing, but supplements that knowledge with the official documentation and other training programs. That’s the fourth benefit.
So hopefully you can see that, in 2018, certification is still a great way to grow your skills and show your skills. Instead of being a relic of the past, in fact it’s the way of the future. True, you do not see many jobs that state “Azure certification required”, but having that on your resume will get you more interviews than if it was not on your resume. And makes a good talking point during the interview itself when asked “have you ever worked with technology X?”