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Certifications Don't Matter But They Absolutely Do Matter

Josh Duffney
Author of becomeansible.com, Pluralsight author, Former Microsoft MVP
・Updated on ・6 min read

One of my favorite quotes is "Titles don't matter, but they absolutely do matter." Jeff Hackert said this on an Arrested DevOps episode titled Career Devops back in 2015. Titles don't matter because they should never limit what you do, what you learn, and what you think you're capable of. Titles do matter because titles equate to how much you're paid. Titles are also used to recognize the experience and are the primary keywords used by recruiters when looking for candidates. To summarize, I'd say titles are situationally important. Whether they matter or not depends on the context of your situation. I believe the same is true for certifications. People view certifications very similar to titles. Some people think they are of the utmost importance. While others view them as worthless. As with any polarized view, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Career Devops With Jeff Hackert

Why Certifications Don't Matter

There is merit in both sides of the certification argument. When people say certifications don't matter, they're really meaning; Certifications do not equate to experience, mastery, or competence. Why would they say this? Well, in a lot of cases people can cheat the system. Braindumps exist and someone who has the skill to memorize all of them can pass the exam without actually knowing the content. Certifications also don't mean experience.

You learn things through experience that you won't learn by studying for an exam. Different conditions exist in the real world than in a lab environment. Certifications do not mean mastery either, especially entry-level exams. Mastery can only happen through experience. Now some of the high profile certifications like the CCIE are an exception. I'm not sure you could make it to that level on braindumps. While these are all valid points to the argument, I still don't think certifications should be dismissed. Also where does this leave people who aren't in a position to acquire that experience through their job?

Certifications do not equate to experience, mastery, or competence.

Why Certifications Matter

Certifications do matter because they validate your knowledge to a degree. It gives people who don't yet have experience the confidence to speak about a specific technology. They will gain experience through that confidence. Certifications provide an on-ramp with entry-level exams. Learning a new technology is difficult, but trying to decide where to start is the biggest stumbling block. Certifications tracks solve that for you and will get you started. They do that by giving you a clear and structured learning path and then test you on that content. Another huge benefit is the keywords you can use on your social media profiles and resume. If you haven't already, you better start learning a little bit of SEO to maximize the visibility of your social media profiles.

Key Points

  • Certifications set a north star, a direction for learning.
  • Provides the foundational knowledge used to gain experience.
  • Validation of knowledge to a degree.
  • Provides an on-ramp.
  • Structured learning.
  • Used as Keywords on Social and your resume.

When Someone has Certifications

When someone has certifications what does that mean? Well, it doesn't mean you should immediately hire them based on that. Certifications are not the end all be all. Whether or not they hold certifications, it's still your job to find out where their knowledge gaps are. It does however mean that the person is disciplined. Braindumps or not it takes effort and is uncomfortable to will yourself to study. It also means they have a certain level of grit. It's nerve-racking to sit for a test and to push past those nerves takes a certain level of perseverance.

When someone has a certification it is an indicator not a predictor.

How I Used Certifications to Revitalize My Career

In my last blog post "You Are an Engineer Be an Engineer" I was very open and honest about how and why I fell off the path and out of the game. I simply stopped learning and because of that I was in a bad spot. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do when it came to the cloud. I had put off learning it for years, but now knew it was time not only to dive in but catch up. I also knew I couldn't just "learn" the cloud. I needed some method to my madness.

I was completely overwhelmed by the choices I had. Instead of being paralyzed by analysis paralysis again I decided to come up with some criteria for my learning. I wanted to do something that provided structured learning and a way to gauge my progress. I also wanted some level of recognition or validation of the knowledge I acquired. Certifications fit the bill for me. I was a little reluctant to say the least. My last certification exam was in 2013 when I finally passed the CCNA on the third attempt. I had to convince myself that these new certifications wouldn't be as bad as that one.

Fast forward several months and I now am an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, Microsoft certified Microsoft Azure Administrator Associate and a Microsoft certified Azure DevOps Engineer Expert. Having these certifications does not mean I'm an expert in any of it by any means. It doesn't mean I'll be qualified for $10,000 more a year. What was the point of it then? The point is, I'm no longer afraid of either cloud provider, It gave me the confidence I needed to dive deeper into each of these technologies and gain the experience I was lacking. It also helped me rediscover my love of learning. It revitalizes my career.

Certifications revitalized my career and got me back in the game.

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Conclusion

If you feel stuck, overwhelmed, or confused by where you should invest your time to improve your craft. Consider a certification path. Since deciding to invest in my career through certifications a lot has happened. I self-studied and passed the AZ-103. I then wrote a study guide outlining the resources I used and my study routine and habits. Shortly after passing the AZ-103 I decided to put my new knowledge to the test and I authored a 5 part series on CloudSkill's blog and DEV on Using Ansible with Azure.

At the beginning of 2020 an opportunity came up to participate in the CloudSkills Azure DevOps Bootcamp. Within 8 weeks I made it through the Bootcamp and passed the AZ-400 exam. Passing the exam was simply validation. The real value was in learning alongside a community. Plugging into the CloudSkills community has kept me engaged and always learning.

Invest in yourself and enjoy the process.

Resources

Microsoft Azure Administrator Associate Study Guide

Using Ansible with Azure

Azure DevOps Certification Bootcamp On-Demand

Here's Everything You'll Get in this DevOps Bootcamp:

  • Eight (8) Weeks of On-Demand Training
  • DevOps Foundations
  • Shell Scripting with PowerShell
  • Infrastructure as Code
  • Config Management and Automation
  • Event-Driven Serverless Functions
  • Docker & Kubernetes Deep Dive
  • Continuous Integration & Delivery (CI/CD)
  • DevOps Culture and Leadership
  • Guided Hands-On Video Labs
  • New Training Content Every Month
  • Lifetime Access to the CloudSkills Community
  • Weekly Community Training and Q&A Calls Every Wednesday at 5:00 pm Pacific

Enroll in the CloudSkills Azure DevOps Certification Bootcamp

The link above is an affiliate link. If you decide to use it to enroll, thank you!

You Are an Engineer

Certifications are not above you, beyond you, or beneath you. They are a tool you use to better yourself. Read more about my experience with imposter syndrome and how I overcame it in my blog post You Are an Engineer, Be an Engineer.

You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and SoundCloud.

Origionally posted on duffney.io

Discussion (6)

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loujaybee profile image
Lou (πŸš€ Open Up The Cloud ☁️)

Nice article, Josh.

"I was completely overwhelmed by the choices I had" β€” I can definitely relate to this. The current industry is moving so fast I don't really know how many do keep up, it's absolutely insane. I have also used certifications (and the structure in them) as a way to kinda see through the confusion and give me a sense of direction. I'm actually yet to take the exams... but I'm now considering it as a way to rubber stamp what I've learned.

How was the CloudSkills Azure DevOps Bootcamp? I don't have any real interest in Azure at this point in time, but it seems like a pretty cool format for course qualification.

P.S you should stick in a link to: dev.to/joshduffney/you-are-an-engi... as I had to go dig for it!

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joshduffney profile image
Josh Duffney Author

The CloudSkills Azure DevOps Bootcamp was nothing short of amazing. Mike taught the content through practical hands-on labs. Mike is a fantastic teacher and I learned all I needed for the exam though his lectures and labs. However, the most beneficial part for me was learning alongside my peers and answering each others questions. Having that level of interaction kept me fully engaged and allowed me to learn the content at a much deeper level.

Per request, I've included You Are an Engineer, Be an Engineer to the post. :) Thank you for the recommendation and comment!

Side note - I really enjoy the content you put out Lou. Keep it up!

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amvillamorjr2 profile image
amvillamorjr

Hi, Josh! Thanks for a great article. I am called by some of my friends to be a "certificate stacker." I just keep a smile whenever they make fun of it. But deep within me, I argue that education is a continuous pursuit. One should not stop learning especially nowadays. Knowledge does change. They are not static. I have taken different certifications from different bodies. Obtaining them gives me more confidence whenever I speak of a related subject.

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thomasjsweet profile image
Thomas J Sweet

Great post

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andrewbrown profile image
Andrew Brown πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ • Edited

I agree πŸ‘

There's no guarantee, you're just ticking a box and you need to combine your certification with other things.