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Posted on • Originally published at kreuzwerker.de

Certifications: don't shut off your senses!

Written by Timo Lechner.

Find a way to manage your certification journey that respects your abilities and suits your personal development and work.

First, I must confess that I haven't had to focus on certifications during my career. But as my current work and demands have changed, I'm starting to obtain the AWS professional certifications (Solution Architect Pro and DevOps Pro).

Sure I have a diploma in computer science (In Germany, it is "similar" to a master's degree), which can also count as a certificate. Still, after that, my strategy was to learn through practice. That's the way I know best, how I best remember what I've done, and can use it in future projects. From my point of view, it is also a sustainable way of learning.

I don't feel comfortable giving others help or tips if I only have theoretical knowledge. Theory and practice can always differ from each other. Many pitfalls can only be experienced if you have tried them yourself. This way, you can be a valuable tip-giver for others to avoid repeating these mistakes. Only theoretical knowledge is not sufficient for this.

Don't get intimidated!

Many companies or industries have been adding more and more of these certifications to nearly every area you can imagine. It covers all kinds of issues: technical (AWS, Azure etc.), project management (JIRA etc.) and organizational (Scrum, SAFE). The difficulty levels between these certifications are immense. Often you have to adapt or change the way of learning and thinking from certificate to certificate.

On LinkedIn and other work-related social media platforms, you cannot escape the certification hype. It's intimidating how many certificates exist (compared to the number of them I have) and how fast people are getting them. I often think: Wow, how do they do that? Are they just learning superheroes!? I also ask myself: How do they balance their time between job, family and all the other things that make life great!? It is not easy not to let those questions get to you. It can make you feel more intimidated and make you think: I can't keep up.

What always helps me here is: to take a step back and feel respect for the people who have earned a certificate. Try to connect with them if you plan to obtain the same certificate. Maybe they have tips on how to do it best. If you are a person who wants to learn together and are looking for like-minded people, I can thoroughly recommend the learning community within Slack of Adrian Cantrill. You can find answers to nearly anything (also on how many cats Adrian has (Zwinkern) ).

All these reasons might intimidate you. Relax, do not get sucked into these certification show-offs and the near-infinite certification possibilities.

Choose Wisely!

The top reason to get certified is a salary raise, often followed by the logic to showcase your abilities. Sidenote: Unfortunately, these reasons are advertised by the companies that created the certificates. Following that, it is evident that people are going for the certifications because they have to pay their bills, which is not wrong. But this shouldn't be the only reason.

In my opinion, the main drivers for certification should be the following:

  • Know the basics (e.g. when you do have excellent basic knowledge of a topic such as networking, go for the AWS Advanced Networking Specialty)
  • A reason that benefits you (e.g., your career path) or interest in the topic of the certification (e.g. you love containerization and want to do it at scale with Kubernetes)
  • Personal working styles (e.g., if you are the person who always has secure passwords and uses VPNs to enter the internet and helps people on those topics)
  • Gain the trust of others on what you know about a topic (e.g. you would not bring your car to a person who has not shown the technical ability to repair it)
  • Development of practical experience (e.g. if you have a lot of practice on a topic, you can discover new features at the same time and connect things from your experience with a certificate)
  • So choose wisely and think of your reasons for the certifications. For the right reasons, it is always easier to reach your personal goal as you are learning with more satisfaction and with a more natural learning style.

Do Certifications Benefit Employers !?

Most jobs do not always require a certification, which is good. Sometimes the certificates are added on the "nice to have" side. At first, you might think that is positive as it is not required. I'm honestly not quite sure. Imagine yourself reading job ads where certification is mentioned on the "nice to have" side. When I do, I feel that applicants could refrain from the application. Why? It excludes applicants, and they may think while reading the job ads: "Oh, It's nice to have. But they might prefer candidates that have these certs anyway, so why should I apply!" (Disclaimer: I have no scientific evidence for it, and it is a feeling from the gut!)

It could mean losing massively talented people who are powerhouse practitioners but did not focus on their certifications. Reasons for that could be manifold:

  • Not having the support of their former company
  • Not given the time by their former company
  • No interest in certifications

In my opinion, mentioning certifications in job ads does not help employers attract better applicants. Additionally, if they find applicants with certs, it does not mean that they are good or great in these areas if they do not have a lot of practice at the same time. Sure, you can find out quickly in interviews about their knowledge, but interview processes consume a lot of time in general. If we can avoid interviewing applicants who have "only" the certs and no practice, you can save a massive amount of time.

What does this mean for the ads? It would be better to remove the certifications from the "what you offer" category and add it to the "what the company can offer to you" category.

So you might ask: How about the kreuzwerker job ads? Yes, we have the certifications on the "what you offer" and "nice to have side". But nobody is perfect. We are always eager to learn and improve. This blog post is the first proof of that. So if you check our career opportunities soon, we might make some adjustments!

A reason for having certificates is to gain customers' trust and have a comparable basis on a topic. Especially to new customers, earned certifications combined with past customer testimonials should attract more customers. Offering applicants away into their future certification journey aligned with the company is a "win-win situation."

AWS Certifications: What Up?

At the moment, the PRO exams for the AWS certifications are purely theoretical and put a lot of pressure on you regarding time management. Having roughly 2 minutes (180 minutes / 75 Questions) for a question can take you at least half of the time to read and understand. The result is answers that could all be correct and differ in sometimes only one word. At this point, I ask myself: Why? Why only theoretical? Why focus on the process of elimination of answers? Why not combine it with practical parts and hands-on labs, which should be more sustainable?

There are already good examples where it is done, such as the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA). The exam requires solving multiple tasks from a command line running Kubernetes. Or like the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator - Associate, where the exam also consists of a lab. So this should also be an excellent advantage for the AWS Certified Solutions Architect Professional and AWS Certified DevOps Engineer - Professional.

From a technical point of view, this should be possible. Sure this could result in more effort for AWS, but I think the benefits for their customers predominate. I believe enabling their customers (developers) to be more skilled in their products is one of their foremost goals. Certification is an innovative and promising way to do that. I think the current state is not adequate according to their leadership principles, "Customer Obsession"!

So yes, I think improvements should be made here, as focusing only on the theoretical part is not holistic and keeps important considerations like sustainable knowledge out of focus.

Conclusion: A More Holistic Approach Benefits Everyone

Theoretical exams for certificates alone are not beneficial for gaining sustainable knowledge without practice. When speaking to others about the knowledge retained after exams, they had the same feeling: Almost instantly, your brain deletes most of it, and if you do not keep doing it in practice, it will soon disappear entirely.

I'll close with the following: Understand the basics and always practice what comes first. Secondly, go for the certificate if you want to gain more knowledge or are interested in a topic you want to master. Finally, when you have completed your certification journey, you will gain confidence, and money will naturally follow!

It benefits both: employees and employers. Employees as they feel more confident in their topics theoretically and practically. Employers gain more trust from their customers as their employees do have more and more certs and get better testimonials for future projects!

We @kreuzwerker are always looking for passionate people who are eager to learn. We want to allow them to master their certification with a lot of practice and according to their personal development, and we provide you with resources and time to achieve this. Are you eager to join and make the journey together? Then get in touch with us and know all the details on how we will plan your career and skill path in a first get-to-know call with a virtual coffee! Let's get things done together!

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