Certification Envy

At a recent job fair, one booth seemed to be geared towards avenues of higher learning. The booth coordinator was a very animated course instructor, and at first glance one might even imagine this lady was capable of teaching a class on operating systems design or perhaps simple circuit theory.

After a few minutes of discourse, she made it quite clear that her mission was to ensure the permeation of technology certification to every pore of applied computer science. When questioned if a computer science degree might be sufficient to obtain work in a computer-related field, her immediate answer was that while college degrees are a good first step this is not the kind of thing employers are looking for.

If you take some time to obtain certification you will most likely get that next job.

This kind of learning demonstrates an ability to memorize a few key aspects of a limited set of software technologies for a discrete period of time. This is analogous to the difference between an electrician and an electrical engineer. While the electrician has a unique set of skills that allows them to manage the wiring of our homes and businesses, the electrical engineer has the capacity to design our power infrastructures.

The IT professional who seeks certification with a particular technology is not the same professional who designs a next generation Mach Kernel. I wonder how many members of the Microsoft kernel team are actually certified by Microsoft? For that matter, is Bill Gates an MCSP or does Paul Allen wonder if he should get on the latest MCSE track?

Even more importantly, the distinction between electrical engineer and electrician can be imagined as Euclid to his inquisitive student. Electricians have been taught to perform a certain series of steps to accomplish a given task. The engineer has learned to be self-taught in matters of applied electronic engineering, and is therefore able to take an understanding of electrical circuits and build new systems. While there are some electricians that are capable of doing this, the general rule is that electrical engineers are most capable.

This is because the electrical engineer is familiar with a wide variety of designs while the electrician might only understand a specific implementation of electronic design.
So should you hire a CNE to manage your Novell network? Perhaps, but it is rather unlikely that your network will remain stagnate therefore it is beneficial to also hire someone with a traditional computer science background. A CNE will have an understanding of how to perform various tasks related specifically to Netware, but that may not translate into HP/UX, IRIX, Solaris, Linux or even NT.

For software development, it is perhaps even more crucial to hire programmers with at least some computer science background. A developer already familiar with object oriented design principals will be able to take those skills and apply them to Smalltalk, Java, Perl or even Python. For that matter, learning new programming principals such as Design By Contract (DBC) will come relatively easily to anyone familiar with compiler design.

Every job requires a different set of skills, and these cannot be taught in any certification class. A certificate can be a stepping stone to an Information Technology career, but it should not be misconstrued as the primary barrier for entry into technology positions.