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How to Wade Through Certifications

Some of the decisions that I was forced to make were difficult but necessary. First, as I have written about in other "Now What?" articles, I had to reevaluate the role of certification. Which ones worked, which ones were profitable, which were just a drag, and which were nice to have on a resume?

My feeling about certification has changed a bit during this downturn, but just a bit. I still view certification simply as a validation of baseline knowledge that is useful in getting your resume past an HR reviewer. It does not validate your skills or how well you will perform. It simply documents this for a resume. Certification gets you in the door for an interview. After that, your skills, experience, and desire help you get and keep a job in IT.

Whether to get certified is a personal decision. While I was teaching a Novell CNA class for 24 new administrators, all the students said they would like to get certified but that it would not make a difference in their jobs or their salary. The same is true for all vendor certs. They are great when you want to overwhelm someone in HR, but to land a good IT job, you need to know your stuff.

The other reason to get certified is if you want to enter IT or change jobs in IT, and you need to document new skills. Those are the only reasons. Many employers are downplaying the need for certifications, but they still list them when posting an employment advertisement. As you can see, this is not the same advice I offered several years ago. But time helps refine a person's view of the marketplace. You see, in 2001, when I wrote the first "Now What?" article, I never thought that a downturn would touch me.

The result of my certification exploration is that I walked away from being a longtime Microsoft Trainer and passed on the opportunity to upgrade my MCSE to 2003. My ROI as an MCT and MCSE from 2000 to 2003 was zero. Salaries for MCTs and MCSEs had dropped like a brick, and Microsoft had made a number of changes to the MCT program over the last few years that made it economically impossible for me to continue as a Microsoft trainer.

I also walked away from the many Cisco certifications that I held when renewal came calling. After earning the CCNP, CCDA, and CCNA in early 2001, I was fired up to go after the CCIE. I could see great things as a Cisco Engineer. Shortly after all of my work, I saw salaries dropping—not as fast as Microsoft's, but still dropping. When I looked at job boards, I found a good number of jobs for Cisco-certified folks, but not in my geographic area, so I decided to drop my Cisco certifications.

I explored Oracle because of my respect for many who represent Oracle, but I realized that my skills were not in Oracle. I spent nine months studying, learning, and certifying in Oracle, but I could not in good conscience stand up and say that I was an Oracle professional.

The only certifications that seemed to have held their value and that were in my skill set are the Novell certifications. These certifications have been the launching ground for my training, writing, support, and website ventures. Novell's presence in school systems, health care, and small business is not widely written about or marketed, but it is a fact. Microsoft people hate to hear it, but it is an unavoidable fact. Most school districts in many of the states are on Novell backbones.

When I was laid off just before 2003, I was seriously thinking about walking away from Novell. Everyone was preaching Microsoft and Cisco. Was I nuts? Well, I put my name out again as a Novell Instructor, and the jobs came in. I put my name out as a network and directory engineer, and school district after school district began contacting me. I began a wonderful relationship at the same time with Novell Press, now under Pearson Education, doing technical editing and some writing. Additionally, I began developing a website, http://www.3WsCertification.com, that offers virtual installations of Novell products, support for students pursuing Novell certifications, and help for clients and readers struggling with Novell products. The site is still in its infancy, but it has helped many of my clients and students.

Despite my focus on Novell, I feel comfortable saying I am not vendor-dependent because Novell is moving toward open source with its purchase of SUSE Linux. Having worked on Linux since 1995, I know that this is just a fantastic move that is long overdue. So, by supporting Novell, I am also moving closer to supporting open-source network technologies.

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