Why Tech Certifications Trump Tech Experience

Don Tennant
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Eight Tips for IT Career Longevity

If you’re an IT hiring manager, and you’re reviewing a job candidate’s resume, you would be well-advised to give more weight to the certifications the candidate holds than to the work experience he has under his belt.

That’s the view of Subhash Tantry, president of Mettl, a provider of a cloud-based skills certification platform. Tantry, who's heading the effort to establish the Indian company in the U.S. market, noted that Mettl has been doing well in the South Asia and Asia-Pacific markets, and sees huge opportunity for growth in the United States.

Of course, a guy who’s marketing a certification platform is naturally going to play up the value of certifications, but after speaking with Tantry recently, I came away with the sense that he has a valid argument. I asked him if he thought IT hiring managers are taking tech certifications seriously enough. He said if they’re not, they need to be:

First of all, the IT space is in constant change, and the speed of change is just increasing. That change manifests itself in new technologies coming about, and new processes associated with the technologies. Secondly is work experience: What you’ve done in the past is not necessarily useful for the future. Like in the financial realm, where it’s recognized that past performance is no guarantee of future performance, it’s also true in the work environment. When you look at past experience, it’s already dated, from a technology perspective. So there needs to be a renewal, in terms of an upgrade of the technical knowledge to cover the new technologies that come about. And the only certitude you have that a person knows anything about the subject matter of the new technologies would be a form of certification. So tech certifications will probably always be important, because hiring managers will look for people who can hit the ground running when they join the organization. They feel much more comfortable hiring a person who’s got those certifications.

I mentioned to Tantry that I recently spoke with an IT recruiter who argued that shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for a four-year college degree may not be the best course of action for a young person who wants to pursue a career in IT, and that he or she may be well advised to skip college altogether and go directly from high school into the job market. I asked Tantry for his thoughts on that, and he said that person has a valid point:

A college degree is not necessarily relevant to the technical function. What might be required is more of a technical education, past high school, that would certify people in the IT field—for example, gaining certifications to configure routers and switches, or to architect an Amazon Web solution. There are training courses that would allow them to do that, without having to go through a four-year college. These certifications, and the hands-on experience, is far more useful to an organization, because these people can come in and do their jobs very quickly, with very little training, because they have hands-on experience through these training mechanisms that provide the certifications.


So to what extent can certifications be a viable alternative to a four-year college degree? Tantry said you need only look at the history of the United States to answer that question:

If you look at what’s happening around the globe, there are school kids being trained in programming, for instance in France, and they have job opportunities as soon as they graduate from high school. Does that mean they don’t have to have a college degree? Probably. When you look at the history of the United States, not that long ago, people graduated from high school, and that was good enough for them to get a job in manufacturing. When you think about a lot of IT functions, it’s kind of like manufacturing—effectively, you’re producing software. If trained properly, even in the last two years of high school, some people can pick up those skills in the technical field very quickly. They can forgo four years of college, and be able to help organizations that need those types of technical skills, sooner rather than later.

That said, Tantry noted, there’s still a place for a degree:

A four-year college degree is useful, for example, if you want to get into the depths of designing algorithms, or writing complicated code that is close to the operating system, or writing programs for distributed processing, or if you want to come up with a new search algorithm. That might require a college degree.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 6, 2014 2:21 PM Obs Obs  says:
An executive of an Indian IT company stresses the importance of certifications over experience? Color me unsurprised. Indian devs are great memorizers, they simply generally have difficulty actually producing anything functionally useful. If your business requires frequently inviting the general public in to quiz your employees on technology minutiae, go for it. If your company mainly stresses having functional products and working internal systems, the body-farms may not be the way to go. Reply

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