IT Certification Debate Heating up

Slide Show

10 Certifications That Get You Hired

This top 10 list reflects the number of times certs were mentioned in job openings posted at Dice.com as of April 1.

Technical certifications, a good idea, a not-so-good idea or a really, really bad idea? Discuss.


The perceived value of IT certifications is a perennially hot topic, but it heats up even more in a tight economy. The current economy appears to be loosening somewhat, with tech hiring picking up. Yet in yesterday's otherwise optimistic post about hiring trends, I cited a worrisome statistic from a Robert Half Technology survey. Forty-three percent of CIOs said it was tough to find skilled IT pros. So is getting a certification in a sought-after skill a way for IT job seekers to get an edge on the competition?


The advice in a "10 Steps to Tech Employment" slideshow (specifically, slide six) seems to make intuitive good sense. It says, in part:

Certifications don't make one professional better than another but certifications do give prospective employers a sense of security that certified candidates represent a lower hiring risk than those who are not certified. When employers are overwhelmed with too many resumes for an opening, many will eliminate candidates from their short list if they're not certified in ways requested in a job description.

Yet as IT Business Edge contributor Don Tennant pointed out in a post about a Dice Learning survey that seemed to suggest tech certifications might help IT pros command higher salaries, many IT pros "think certifications aren't worth the paper they're written on." Don noted that while Dice Learning Director Evan Lesser couldn't shed much light on the salary issue, he did say certifications were becoming a differentiator. His quote:

... What we've seen, and what we've heard from job seekers, is that having a certification is an additional check on the resume, something that can help you get your foot in the door for some of these new positions that are finally opening. The competition for those positions is going to be considerable, considering the unemployment in the IT market. So I think the value of a certification is probably changing over time, and heading to be a little bit more positive than it might have been in the past.

Again, this makes intuitive sense. But I find myself agreeing with George Tillmann a former CIO, management consultant and author of "The Business-Oriented CIO" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), who in a Computerworld column shares his reasons why IT certification is a really, really bad idea. Unlike some other professions, experience in multiple areas in IT is a plus, he writes. Diverse skill sets keep IT organizations "fresh, engaged and ready to accommodate the rapid pace of change. " I made a similar point about the value of IT generalists in a post I wrote earlier this year.


While "keeping people in intellectual borders" isn't a problem in professions that don't see much change, Tillman says it just won't fly for IT. He writes:

But what will systems programmers be doing five years from now? Or network designers? Even the CIO's role is in a constant state of flux. What IT needs now are people with quick minds and nimble fingers to work in a volatile field. They need to pick up new skills and use them long before they appear in any test booklet.

He's on to something with that "test booklet" comment. It'll take some time to develop courses designed to teach the skills IT pros will need in cloud computing environments -- as soon as folks can agree on just what those skills will be. And practice is really the only way to learn some of the skills that almost everyone thinks will be more important for IT pros moving forward, such as the ability to work more closely with business units.


My final thought: If specialized IT skills are becoming so important to today's employers, maybe they should consider paying for employees to get training and/or obtain certifications in these areas.