The Game of Certifications - Who does it help and how ?

Dinakaran Sankaranarayanan


The Game of Certifications - Who does it help and how ?

Even since the COVID outbreak, my LinkedIn feed is filled with people clearing certifications. While certifications are a nice way to evaluate your experience and knowledge, the goal of certification cannot be just to acquire theoretical knowledge and use it to find new opportunities. Without hands-on experience, trying to get certified with a hope of finding a project in which someone has zero experience is not going to lead anywhere.

My tryst with Certifications

Very early in my career, I prepared for the popular Java certification called SCJP. I just got trained in Java and preparing for the certification was really good. It helped me understand various tips and tricks of Java and understand the areas that am not aware and helped to close it. While the preparation for the certification helped me, there is again this widely available question bank. Answers to questions were readily available and cracking certification felt like no big deal. Even though the whole preparation part was nice, it felt like the system can be easily gamed.

Even companies that are conducting certifications do not change the questions very often because it is a good business model. If certifications are made difficult, people would not attempt for certifications and this, in turn, means less adoption of the product or services. So there is a need to keep certifications easier so that more people get certified which means more money and better adoption of products and services. Everything feels like a numbers game.

Many employers are aware of this very basic fact, but still, include the certifications as part of the appraisal or promotion process. Employers will tout so many of their employees being certified and are an expert when in reality, many of them may just have bookish knowledge only and may have cleared it with the help of the readily available question bank. There is also a mushrooming certification industry that really helps to optimize the learning purely to game the certification process without focussing enough on the holistic learning process. All these have given certification a real bad name and make sceptics like me not really believe in the certification process that can be easily gamed.

Futility of getting certified without real-world exposure

As I mentioned before, preparing for certification if done the right away help us to gain insights into the various aspects of the products or services. But trying to get certified without any real-world exposure is not going to help. Certification only helps the companies that are conducting them to increase the bottom line and better adoption.

Despite my organization pushing people to get certified on all things new and shiny, I hardly have done any certification. I have prepared for a couple of certifications just to complete understanding of the end-to-end product or service capabilities. But I don’t buy the idea of getting certified. Also, I would not suggest anyone to use personal money to get certified. If employer sponsors, please give it a try. Else it is not really worth. Also, stay away from companies that has entry criteria of getting certified to get a job, because any company that believes certification is good way to measure candidates, it is not probably a great place to work anyways.

Recruiting people just because they are certified is not the right approach to hiring. Look beyond certifications. Test the exposure of candidates to real-world scenarios and that will help to better assess the candidate’s real experience. These days I have seen so many profiles with AWS Solution Architect certified and they crack all the definition type questions, but the moment actual project experience is discussed, it becomes obvious that the certification is done without any hands-on knowledge.

What to do when one has no real-world experience?

This is one question that gets asked repeatedly. If certification is not the way to go about finding interesting work in new areas where one has no exposure, what else can be done? As part of any learning process, implementing solutions to a real-world problem is the best way to test knowledge acquired through any learning or certification.

With the knowledge gained from the preparation, one must be able to come up with a set of real-world problems and then implementing the solution. If someone is not sure of what problems or use-cases that can be solved and is not able to define the problem statement first, then the certification is not really of any use. So try to implement a real-world use-case. It will help you to prepare better for the actual job. Host the solution on Github and show it to the prospective employer so that it can be a good way to initiate or drive conversations.

Another option is to frequently visit StackOverFlow and search for the most common questions that are frequently asked and see if you can solve the given problem based on your learning.

My experience with certification is purely based on what I have seen and come across in my line of work in the market. There may be few certifications that really test the candidate’s knowledge and clearing them may mean a big deal and may always be widely respected. In those scenarios, it makes sense to really attempt and get certified. The effort and associated money should lead to better outcomes. Otherwise, it is not really worth wasting money to get certified. Learning and ability to demonstrate the learning is the key, everything else is a nice-to-have but not really mandatory.