Certification pros and cons: Readers speak out

Some are strongly against certification, saying nothing can replace real-world experience, while others see it as one thing that can improve your odds for being hired or promoted.

IT certification is a hot topic. Some are strongly against it, saying nothing can replace real-world experience, while others see it as one thing you can do to improve your chances for being hired or promoted.

Recently Bas de Baar challenged the value of certification, and site editor Michelle Davidson echoed his sentiments and asked readers to share their thoughts. Here is what they said.

Separating good project managers from great project managers
Certification has some value in that it demonstrates a basic level of knowledge and willingness to demonstrate the fact that a person is serious about his

Certification has some value in that it demonstrates a basic level of knowledge and willingness to demonstrate the fact that a person is serious about his profession.
Riley Horan,

profession. Being willing to demonstrate a minimal level of competency through certification and involvement in the project management community can only be viewed upon as a good thing.

But, the intangibles of what separates a good project manager from a great project manager has less to do with knowledge and more to do with the ability to learn new things quickly, adapt to the current project environment, and make the people on your project more effective in what they do. These intangibles cannot be captured by certification programs and are hard to reflect in resumes and interviews. It can only be recognized in action in how a project team forms, relates and delivers results in a way that is positive for the project team and the customer receiving the results of the project.

Does having a certification mean that the project manager is a good project manager? No. Does it mean they are interested in investing time in themselves and advance the profession via continuing education and participation? Yes.

Riley Horan
St. Paul, Minn.

Certifications one criterion for hiring
The core driving idea behind certification is to ensure a grasp of the fundamental concepts of the domain in question. Most of the certifications today summarize the basic concepts and include a few exercises in order to validate that understanding. So-called advanced certifications merely take this to the next level in terms of skill, albeit with moderate success.

When it comes to recruiting the right people, certifications can (to an extent) ensure that the person in question has a higher probability of being aware of the fundamental concepts as opposed to someone without certification. Even though it may be called "book"-ish or theoretical, it nevertheless is knowledge, and therefore needs to be looked at in the correct light. And let's not forget, recruiting people in today's world, with the numbers that one has to deal with, is a challenge at the best of times (and a nightmare more often).

Certification cannot be a substitute for effective/efficient recruitment.
Debashish Chakrabarti,

However, does certification guarantee a good, skilled worker? Maybe not. Certification cannot be a substitute for effective/efficient recruitment. It can help you pre-screen the right set of people, for example, but it cannot be a substitute for a detailed discussion or interview. There is no substitute for experience, and reading books and concepts will never simulate real-world situations that demand creativity, tact, leadership and people skills. You can only become a good swimmer once you spend time in the water (and preferably the deep end of the pool!)

The glut of certifications available in the market today, along with companies willing to reimburse the certification cost, have to an extent actually undermined the value of certification as a practice. A large portion of the charm of Mt. Everest is its unattainability; you'd hardly be awed by it if you saw hordes of people climbing its peak.

In summary, certifications can aid in getting a better(?) superset of people, from which you can then select the subset that actually fit the bill. Certifications are not a panacea to the recruitment problems, nor are they a foolproof ironclad guarantee of the skillset possessed by a worker. They merely indicate a level of mastery of stated theoretical content and should used accordingly.

Debashish Chakrabarti

Project success and type of certification important
Companies need to look at how successful their projects are being run by those not certified. How many come in on time, in scope, and under or at budget? Then look at those same numbers from certified PMs.

But it is more than that. Where did this person get his certification? Some universities offer certification, but it isn't the same as the world standard best in class standard PMI has. Also, the PMP certification is written with real world problems to answer and many have failed it, thinking they only have to memorize information to pass. You are forced to think, and the exam is very rigorous and tough.

Also, you can have a whole company of certified PMs, but if the executives don't support and demand proper project management, they undermine the PMs. Then the PMs will say it's a "lost cause" and find employment with a company that does support them.

Also, due to Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), projects are becoming more under scrutiny with proper management, and those companies that don't run a tight ship will suffer. This doesn't mean you can't be creative -- the whole profession of project management is to deal with change. But on the other hand, you can control change and make sure it makes sense to the company's bottom line.

Rebecca L Shepard, PMP
North Carolina

Creative thinking more valuable than certification
This topic is a hot button with me -- especially as an individual who throughout my career has chosen not to go the certification route, and who has depended upon my experience and ability to provide "value" to my employer or clients. My belief is that while being "book-learned and knowing what was on the test" MAY provide some value in given situations, it is generally of much greater value to see beyond the book and judiciously apply one's creative thinking to a problem. For me this is similar to my view on "best practices" -- what's "best" for some, isn't necessarily "best" for another.

In a hiring situation I will generally prefer the person who has the most direct experience for the job over the "certified" person. Further, if the "certified" person's certification doesn't really add value to the needs of the job, it becomes a negative for me. Let the "certified" person get hired for the job at one of the places who uses lack of certification to reduce the candidate pool. In my opinion, certification can put you into a convenient "box." If you like being boxed in, then go for it.

Joe Coley
Mendon, Mass.

Certification has benefits and risks
Your column, "Experience, skills worth more than certification," is correct. However, I see it in different way -- "The output in terms of business value is worth more than the experience, skills and (or) certification."

Any knowledge is worthless if one is unable to use it practically.

Why certification is necessary/valuable:

  • It's valuable if the person want to change and/or enhance his expertise in the job stream.
  • It's valuable if a person has less work experience and skills but wants to move to a higher position. With certification, he is liable to get the chance to prove his competency.
  • It helps people market themselves for professional growth.
  • Certification helps increase your confidence. It also helps you develop the ability to think about the matters at all angles, hence your personality develops.
  • Organizations who hired a certified job candidate do not have to worry about training that person.

Risks to being certified: 

  • Expected output does not match the current output.
  • A certified person can be placed at the wrong work location, i.e. assigned to a low-skilled job or assignment.
  • Certification can become outdated as new technology is used.
  • The cost of certification is more than the output one will get.

Atulesh Kumar
Hyderabad, India

Certification provides assurance, credibility
Speaking as a test manager, who has reviewed CVs and interviewed all levels in the past, and someone without even the Foundation level of ISEB, I can see the merit in professional certification. While it is true that the "piece of paper" is just that -- proof that on the day you could dump onto paper or a screen the answers wanted -- it does provide that extra level of assurance that you are worth hiring.

The Practioner level of ISEB can claim more credibility, as it is more focused upon the mechanics of software testing rather than the nuances of multiple choices. Furthermore, if software testing is to become regarded as a professional career of choice, then it needs that certification. Back to my studying for ISEB!

Bryan Fisher
St Leonards-on-Sea
East Sussex, UK

No harm in learning new skills
Obviously experience and skills are worth more than certification. But if you can learn a few things from studying and certifying yourself, why not do so? After all, you're bound to learn something from that as well.

To me, any experience and education someone can get is good. I do agree on the fact that certifications alone will not make someone a professional, but at the same time I do not think that we should give people the wrong idea not to bother with certifications. They can't hurt. After all, unless we know someone somewhere, or if we got into the IT industry 20 years ago, we all have to have a starting point. As someone who has experience and certifications, you do learn a few things by studying for certifications.

Anthony Saulnier

Certification recognizes a certain level of understanding
I think there is a misconception among some in the marketplace that certification replaces the need for experience. My belief is that the opposite is true. A certification should be recognition of a certain minimum level of understanding, and ability to successfully apply, the concepts and tools of a given body of knowledge.

A certification should be recognition of a certain minimum level of understanding, and ability to successfully apply, the concepts and tools of a given body of knowledge.
Greg Zimmerman,

Regarding your challenge of "finding skilled, knowledgeable people to hire," I propose the followin guideline. Given two candidates for a job -- one with certification, the other without -- having similar experience and both a potential fit for the company's culture, the one with an industry certification should be the obvious choice.

It has become a burden on hiring managers to understand the differences between specific certifications, and even certifying organizations. There is a significant scope gap between a software testing certification, such as QAI's CSTE, and a software quality assurance certification, like ASQ's CSQE (which I hold). Both have value in expressing a base level of knowledge for the candidate, yet most interviewers see four official-looking letters and simply check the box next to certification on their qualifications sheet.

Even more basic is the need to understand the difference between quality assurance and quality control. For example, I see postings looking for "quality assurance testers" that go on to say they want someone to code automated test scripts. The mis-association of QA and testing aside, the testing skill set is nowhere close to that needed to write high-quality code. In short, hiring managers need to know enough to know what they're looking for.

Greg Zimmerman, CSQE
Hilliard, Ohio

Certification proves only that you have good short-term memory
I hold the opinion that certification is a good tool to get past the employment screening process. Beyond that, certifications have little value except that the person holding them may have a good short-term memory. After being in IT for most of two decades, I can't count the instances where a certified employee required help from a non-certified employee. Short-term memory doesn't really help troubleshoot a totally new problem or create testing scenarios that are real-world. What's needed is a sound understanding of the process and the components that enable it. In terms of software creation, imagination and business process knowledge can be much more valuable than learning by rote.

Curtis Farley
Austin, Texas

Certification gives employers added confidence in staffing
From a hiring perspective, I don't see any downside to certification. Certification provides added confidence in staffing, whether you're hiring project managers or Six Sigma black belts or other professionals. However, certification is NOT a substitute for education, experience or skills. In fact, most certifications REQUIRE evidence of your education and experience. Certification doesn't mean that a company can skip the resume, the interview, reference checks, etc. that are essential in hiring. All things being equal, who would you hire -- a certified professional or a non-certified professional of equal capabilities? Certification provides an added level of confidence.

Terry Morris

Why not eliminate all forms of certification? 
The observations about testing and whether this proves you're capable of performing the required task are interesting. I would suggest that they extend equally to high school diplomas and college and university degrees. If you are going to eliminate certification requirements, go for the gusto and go for the argument to eliminate all forms of certification regardless of their form.

Erhart Schroeder
Edmonton, Alberta

Certification is better than doing nothing
Certification proves knowledge that the candidate gained. I have done various certifications, but of course not for marketing purpose. I got them because I want to assure my employer that in those technologies I can work fluently and my employer can easily give me the opportunity to work. In application development, technology is always changing, so certification also allows you to learn new technologies and build some milestones in your career path.

But the case of project management is somewhat different because a project manager should learn from his experience. But to become a PM, an individual should prefer the certification path; it will definitely help him to build the pillar. Something is better than nothing. It also helps, to some extent, to in avoid project failures.

Rupesh Bendale

Nothing can substitute experience
During the last two weeks, I have been following that hard topic discussion: Experience, skills worth more than certification?

Since the early 90s, I have been working as a project manager. Today, despite being deeply focused on strategic planning and similar tasks, I'm still responsible for running a PMO for managing our company's portfolio of projects.

Since 2000, after reading the PMBoK Second Edition, I have pursued project management best practices. With continued development and formal learning, post graduation and others, I have become very close to PMI -- Chapter Rio (Brazil).

I know it's a dangerous statement I will be now issuing, but I believe experience and personal skills are still far more important than certification. I have, during these long years of working with a lot of different project teams, found there are many people who have an extraordinary and natural mental organization to run projects with a rare effectiveness. Those observations and results are the product of their inherited or genetic skills and the experience absorbed during their past jobs/tasks/responsibilities, formal education and life.

I have also met many PMP guys who have no experience in managing and their projects result in failures, delays and bad overall KPI's.

Regarding the market, PMP certification is treated two ways:

  • Certification is an eliminatory requirement if you are applying for a teaching job designed to prepare candidates eligible to the PMP certification exam 
  • Certification is not an eliminatory requirement to get a project management position, but it's recommended. The most important criteria to hire in this case is that the person has proof of management skills and at least 60 hours of formal education in project management based on PMBoK at an accredited institution.

J. Gabriel Diniz

Two purposes for certification
You know, we have been talking about certification for the past 10 years and if it's worth getting. I don't even know why we talk about this because we all know that it is a pre-requisite for certain jobs. I read the article about the PMP by Bas de Baar, and I agree that experience and education is worth more than certification, but when you get thousands of resumes, you are left with the mercy of keyword search for PMP, CISSP, etc. Of course, from there they (recruiters) will determine if you have the right type of experience and education. If I were a hiring manager, I would want a person with a certification and experience. A certification would be an indicator that person has the aptitude and the drive to improve themselves. Also, if a person has extensive knowledge and experience in his career field, then getting the certification would be an easy task and not having one would raise questions.

On the flip side of this, I believe certification has turned into a multi-billion-dollar industry and I wonder who is pushing all these certifications. In the past, certification was not an issue until certain vendors started to advertise and push certification as an industry standard, which the industry has bought. Now, we have certification for almost anything. Why? Because they know it is a moneymaker.

In conclusion, certification should fill two purposes: to reinforce what you know and to teach you areas you are not familiar.

We can go on and on and argue about certification, but the reality of it is that the industry demands it -- even the government require certification for certain IT positions for their government employees. So if you are a normal guy like me, then you better join the group or get left behind.

Yim Allen K Civ PACAF AIS/SC
Honolulu, Hawaii

Experience alone will not advance your career
None of the absolute answers sound right to me. Whether a certification is trustful depends on the certification requirements. I have seen and taken both types. For example, I know that Sun's Enterprise Architect Certificate cannot be obtained by pure practitioners (certainly, there are not rules without exceptions) while IT Project+ Professional manager certification can be learned by just reading books. By the way, I can confirm that getting a PMP certification just by book reading is very difficult and uncommon.

I would like to ask people like Bas de Baar how they think professionals can pass real certification tests without learning related disciplines, i.e. just out of experience? When an employer tells me that they prefer experience over the certification, it is either a support, i.e. very narrowed specific job, or the one I call "monkey job", i.e. you have to do from A to B and thinking is not one of your job requirements. I have never seen a practitioner becomes a visionary, but it may be just my lack.

Michael Poulin, PhD

PMI far from reality
I, too, agree with Bas de Baar that certification is used by employees to get noticed. Employers, too, use it mainly as a criterion to do the initial screening of the resumes. PMI doesn't ensure that you get the job that you applied for. It just improves the chance of your resume getting short-listed, which is a big help when the market is tight.

Having gone through the PMBoK cursorily and interacting with my friends who are pursuing PMI, I feel that it is too theoretical and totally stays away from practicality. I would assume that if an average person has managed sizable projects for around five years, he should be in a position to relate to whatever is mentioned in the book. This doesn't seem to be the case, which shows how far it is from reality.

M A Mukundan

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