Sunday, January 1, 2012

On Certification

The start of a new year is always a good time to think about where you've been and where you're going. One thing on my mind lately has been certification. I earned five Microsoft certifications in the last year and a half, and I could get a few more, but I was not sure it would be worth the time and the effort. After much deliberation, I decided that I would round out my .NET and SQL certifications for the following reasons.

It's official
First, the exams are great for resumes. Let's face it--the people looking at your resume first are not going to be programmers. Certifications are one more thing to help you stand out, both because they show a knowledge of subject material and a drive to succeed that extends beyond the standard working hours. Furthermore, the exams prepare you for the technical portion of interviews. If you're up for a database job, and you can talk at length about partitioning, pivot statements, statistics, message queueing, server specs, and maintenance plans, you'll be a very strong candidate, no matter how much experience you have.

But the main reason I decided to keep at it is that certifications focus your studies. It's easy to read random programming books on a lot of different subjects, but you're not likely to retain the knowledge if you don't have to prove it in some way. This is the whole reason college was invented. One way of proving yourself after college is through side projects. Another is certification. Of course, whatever you can do to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone is a good thing. I do this in a variety of ways, one of which is certification. (This blog is another!)

Another kind of certification

Some people scoff at certifications, and they're not always worth the effort. Make sure that a test will actually be relevant to your work, or at least the work you hope to get. Even though I code a lot in ASP.NET, the .NET Web Applications Development exam was not very useful, since I don't do much JQuery or MVC. It was hard to practice the materials, and I doubt I've retained much knowledge. Make sure you understand what skills are being tested.

One shouldn't forget the cost either. None of the tests have been easy, and failing them can be pretty costly, in terms of both time and money. I know plenty of very smart people who just aren't great test-takers. The whole process can be very frustrating, starting with figuring out what test you should actually take. But it should get easier after your first one.

Are there any other pro's or con's I missed?

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