Sometimes human beings do difficult things just because we thrive when there is a good challenge. This is why we climb mountains, play guitars, surf (in real waves), run marathons, and the like. OK, some do it professionally, but to take on major challenges, you really need to enjoy the activity for its own sake, not just when it leads to victory.
As a sub-sub-species, sysadmins and IT specialists have their own versions of fun and challenges. One of these may be technical certifications.
In this article, I hope to inspire you to pursue a new technical certification and challenge yourself. There are many great articles on Enable Sysadmin about how to prepare for technical certifications. And with the new pandemic-driven paradigm, it is good to know that you can even take these tests at home!
You might still be asking why you should invest your precious time and money to go after something like this. I'll try to answer those questions here. Many of my examples are about Red Hat Certifications, which are my recent experiences, but the ideas apply to any type of certification.
1. Does the certification prove anything?
This is a very common question that I have asked myself many times. If someone claims to be "Certified in XYZ," does it mean they know everything about XYZ? Does it mean they are competent to design and successfully implement a solution using XYZ?
The reality is that having a certification is not a 100% guarantee that you are competent in XYZ, but it does show many important indicators:
- You are committed to continuing to improving your skills. Some folks are lucky to have their employer pay for their training, practice tests, and exams, but many people do this mostly on their own time, buying books and courses and spending nights and weekends preparing for the tests.
- You are up for challenges.
- If you can do well under a stressful condition like taking a certification test, the chances are high that you will perform even better in normal circumstances, when you can research, chat with colleagues, rest, come back to the problem the next day, and so forth.
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If you're considering hiring someone who has a certification, start by asking: Is the certification legit? This is uncomfortable, but sometimes people put things on their resume or profile just to make themselves look good. If you're looking for a certified professional, you could either:
- Cross-check the person's skills or knowledge in an interview, probation period, or by other means.
- Verify the authenticity of the certification. Many organizations provide such verification. For example, Red Hat offers this site to validate a person's certification.
Can someone be excellent in XYZ and have zero certifications? Of course! Maybe they don't see the value of certification or have a need to prove anything to anyone. Perhaps their circle of friends, professional history, and charisma are enough to keep their career and learning moving ahead. And maybe they are just too busy doing wonderful things that the whole world already acknowledges. Well, that is a type of certification, right?
2. Will I get a promotion or raise?
For independent software vendors (ISVs), consulting firms, and similar companies, showcasing how many certified professionals are in their ranks is strategically important. These credentials inspire customers to trust them by indicating a level of knowledge.
If these organizations want to develop or maintain a partnership with a major well-established software company, there may even be a contractual obligation for their professionals to be certified. Therefore, if you work for these types of companies, you can directly benefit from your employer's and its partners' requirements.
Indirectly, if you are well prepared, confident, and have skills valued by your company's competitors, certification can help you make your case when negotiating career options.
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3. Why should I take the time?
As I mentioned, preparing for certification is not an easy task. If you have worked with the XYZ product for many years, it might be easier for you to achieve XYZ certification.
However, there are still some things to consider if you're experienced with the technology:
- Certification tests are structured to cover the most important topics about the technology, but you may not have worked with all of its features. You need to understand the topics covered on the exam and how to prepare for those scenarios.
- Tests are usually taken in a short time, which can be stressful. There are many things to remember, and you need to manage your time during the exam. This is a different skill than using the technology in the real world; in a normal work situation, you could search for answers on the internet, ask a friend, grab a book or manual, look for old versions of the code or configuration, and so forth. But during the test, you are on your own, with a proctor monitoring your every move.
On the other side, if you do not have real-world experience with the product or technology, you need to compensate for your lack of contact with it by preparing.
In either situation, preparing for certification demands discipline and a strong will to succeed; otherwise, you will not get there. You need to read the manuals, training materials, prepare your labs, and do and redo the practices until you feel comfortable. After all, most tests are not free, so you don't want to waste your time and money to fail in the end.
Also as a result of this preparation, you will certainly become better at the XYZ product than you were before.
Training for certification is like weightlifting or another sport: You do something more intense than the normal activity to develop your muscles, skills, and speed in preparation for an extreme situation. When you go back to your everyday life, everything else will be a little easier (assuming that your average daily routine is not like taking a certification test).
After preparing for and getting that certification, you will:
- Know more about the subject of your certification in a deeper way
- Be more self-confident, as you defined a target for yourself, and you did it
- Increase your chances of being more appreciated by your colleagues, employers, competitors, and (why not?) romantic partners (OK... the last one is a stretch.)
- Potentially increase your professional value, directly or indirectly
It is the start of a new year (Oh wow, can you believe it is already
$ANOTHERYEAR?), and the world is still in this almost apocalyptic state of challenges. There are not many outside things we can control.
So why not focus on one thing at a time and really direct some energy to a self-imposed challenge? I will tell you, it can be quite addictive, in a good sense. Happy climbing!