Monday, February 22, 2010

On Certifications

In my few years of management, I’ve done my fair share of interviewing and hiring. Even before the current troubles with the economy, there have always been a number of applicants for the positions in our department. The University’s movement toward a centralized network support model has always drawn a love/hate relationship from the IT professionals that currently work on campus. A number of them worry about Computing and Networking Services (CNS) moving in and taking over their duties. At the same time, others are looking to sign on with us to improve their careers. The two groups are not mutually exclusive.

When passing through dozens of resumes are crossing my desk, I’m usually looking for reasons to exclude someone from the interview process instead of bringing them in. A piece of paper is a poor report of someone’s skills and there isn’t anywhere near enough time to interview them all. On that topic, it is hard enough to judge an applicant given a fifteen minute interview – but that’s for another time.

The easiest ways to exclude people include setting up minimum educational/certification requirements. We’ve done this for architectural firms that apply to do work on campus. They are required to have an RCDD on staff in order to be eligible to design buildings for the University of Florida. We required it in an attempt to ensure that architects understood the issues surrounding low-voltage cabling requirements. It has paid some dividends but the results have highlighted the flaws in establishing certification requirements for staff.

Not everyone that holds a certification holds an equal amount of skill, expertise, or commendable work ethic.

Certification/education requirements are easy ways to establish a minimum criterion but, once established, often act as a defining requirement. If someone needs to have a CCNA to be considered for employment, holding a CCNA requirement often becomes a justification for holding the job after the fact. CCNA certification becomes the established proof that the employee holds the skills necessary for the job.

Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Certifications and educational requirements do not communicate effectiveness in job duties. Those with higher educational degrees have known this for years. Holding a college degree usually signifies that the individual is capable of learning, not that what they learned in college is truly applicable to the employment. For years, programming firms have snatched up graduates with engineering degrees thinking that an engineering degree proves that the staff member is capable of the ordered reasoning necessary for programming.

Certifications have often seemed to be more applicable to the tasks performed. Different organizations that offer certifications target their tests more to the individual job requirements of the fields they serve. One would think that the certifications would have more applicability to the actual tasks at hand. In general, I don’t really think so.

I personally hold a number of certifications. I have an RCDD from BICSI, accompanied by their NTS and OSP specialty. For three years, I held a CCNA from Cisco. Just to be complete, I also have a BS in Psychology and a BA in Criminal Justice. Yes, I’ve been at UF a long time.

I had to study a long time for every certification exam listed above but I think it’s important to understand what these tests truly reflect. Each Bicsi certification exam represented an ability to memorize an incredible number of facts. Truly understanding the principles of low-voltage transmission can make this feat much more manageable but the test itself truly concerns memorization skills. Those who hold an RCDD should be able to communicate amongst themselves using a shared language that they all understand. But, the certification itself does not guarantee understanding.

I found the CCNA more demanding in regard to working skills. The questions on the exam seemed less concerned with my ability to memorize facts than my ability to use those facts to solve the networking problems that they presented. But even then, after passing the exam I would say that I had an introductory level of knowledge. I was ready to learn how to work on a network.

I think the important thing to learn from my experience is this: certification does not imply professionalism or expertise. When a professional is asked to defend their claims, they should be ready and willing to do so. Anyone who claims that they should be believed because they have a degree/certification is only admitting that they cannot truly defend their claims.

A true professional is ready to explain their understanding to all. In fact, as people, we have a responsibility to do so.


  1. its really very nice and informative article thanks for sharing this with us..

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  2. Everytime I think or hear about certification, the linked comic comes to mind.