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New Year’s Thoughts: Certs Good, Skills Better

491 Words. Plan about 3 minute(s) to read this.

From the near-religious fervor still surrounding certifications after all these years, I know that many see achieving a cert as a way to career success. Possibly “the” way. If you believe that, I would counter with this idea: professional certifications are perhaps a means to an end, but are not the goal. The goal is to become a more capable network engineer. Certs are good, but skills are better.

I raise this point as I suspect some have set as a New Year’s resolution to achieve some certification or other. Many have that goal because they want to challenge themselves and learn. Other have that goal because they want more money. While the two might be related, these are different goals. Certainly, I am an advocate of going through certification programs as a means of improving earning potential. I’ve proven that this can work, given the right employer circumstances. But I also know of many who care less about learning, and more about passing. Thus, the braindump industry has an audience. Buy a braindump, memorize the questions and answers, pass the exams, earn a certification, get a raise.

Allow me to suggest that you not do that. I could scare you with stories I’ve heard from Cisco and Juniper certification program managers about how they catch braindumpers (yes, they have interesting ways of doing this). But, I’m not here to sway you on the ethics of braindumping an exam that’s part of the highly profitable certification industry. There’s probably ten ways you could argue for that approach. My point is one about your actual networking skills.

The industry needs competent, experienced networking professionals. Right now. Today. In the next 5 – 10 years, I expect that demand will grow as networks become more integrated with operations and applications begin to manipulate the network directly to guarantee service delivery. Network people are going to have to really understand their network & networking technologies very well to understand what’s happening when the unicorn-borne magic of software defined networking turns out to be a bit buggy. Or if not buggy, in need of considerable customization to work for a particular organization. Software developers are not going to take over the role of network design and engineering. That job will still belong to those of us that do that work today. Therefore, think long-term when going through your training and studies on your way to a certification. Make sure that the cert you are pursuing is about improving your actual skill as a networker.

New Year’s Thought

More money does not make you a better network engineer. But if you become a better network engineer, over time, you’ll be worth more money. Certifications, when used a means to master new knowledge, can help you get there. So do those certifications right. Study hard, learn the material, and pass the exams on your own terms. The industry needs more amazing network engineers. Not more braindumpers with paper certs.

Ethan Banks writes & podcasts about IT, new media, and personal tech.
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