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Certifications: What are they good for?

Since Microsoft decided to drop the MCM/MCA program there has been an enormous amount of discussion about the program and certifications in general. Thomas LaRock even suggested Rebooting the MCM Program Using an RV and an Endless Supply of Chicken Wings. Which I have to say sounds like a great idea to me. There has even been a fair amount of discussion about what use certificates are in general and I thought I would put in my two cents.

Personally I’ve always looked on certifications as mini degrees. From the point of view of an employer a 4 year degree doesn’t really mean all that much on your resume once you have been working in the industry for a few years. At least in the times I have been involved in hiring I have much preferred 4 years of experience over 4 years of college. It’s the same for a certificate. Certificates have a far greater worth to someone with no experience than someone with even a few years of experience. Although you will see the odd employer that requires a given degree or a given certification level most of the time they are only used to compare two people of otherwise equal skill and experience. That being said degrees and certifications do have worth. They imply two things. First that the individual had the drive and dedication to spend however much time it took to get that degree or certification. This is no small thing. It means the individual is a self starter and motivated. Both certainly good things to have in an employee. Second, they have some level of knowledge, however fleeting, however cursory, in the subject. I’ve heard it said that there are people with certificates in SQL Server that can’t perform even a simple backup. Probably true, but I’ll bet that as that person is trained, and learns to perform the backup they will have more background information (FULL vs SIMPLE recovery for example) and train faster than someone who’s never even looked at SQL Server. In neither case do degrees or certifications have anything to do with experience or even the ability to handle the job they were “trained” for. I will point out though that there are exceptions. As I understand it the lab portion of the MCM/MCA certifications was ment to show exactly that.

So how about on a personal level? Well again the degree comparison still holds. Both degrees and certifications provide a course of study. A structure forcing an individual to learn things they might not otherwise. For example I would never have gotten into computers if I hadn’t been perusing an Accounting degree that required a programming class. And along the same lines I would never have even heard of CDC and some other more obscure parts of SQL Server if they hadn’t been required for certifications I was getting ready for. And it should be mentioned that there is a certain sense of pride and accomplishment that go along with getting a degree/certification that shouldn’t be sneered at.

Finally, to those of you who say that the lower level certifications are worthless, that someone can get their MCITP/MCSE with a couple of weeks of effort with a book or two, I say “So What!” I would much rather hire the person that at least had enough interest to read the book, to make the effort, than the person who didn’t.

Filed under: Certification, Microsoft SQL Server, SQLServerPedia Syndication Tagged: certification, microsoft sql server


My name is Kenneth Fisher and I am Senior DBA for a large (multi-national) insurance company. I have been working with databases for over 20 years starting with Clarion and Foxpro. I’ve been working with SQL Server for 12 years but have only really started “studying” the subject for the last 3. I don’t have any real "specialities" but I enjoy trouble shooting and teaching. Thus far I’ve earned by MCITP Database Administrator 2008, MCTS Database Administrator 2005, and MCTS Database Developer 2008. I’m currently studying for my MCITP Database Developer 2008 and should start in on the 2012 exams next year. My blog is at www.sqlstudies.com.


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