A few days back, I received an e-mail from a young man in Pakistan who had found my website on the Internet and wanted some advice. This is what he had to say (edited for grammar and spelling):
“I have a Bachelors degree in Computer Sciences and am studying for MCSE certification.
My question to you as a newbie in the networking field is are certifications necessary to jump and fly high in this field and even if it’s true then do I have to stick to Microsoft or can I do a mixture of Cisco and Microsoft certifications. Lots of “thinktanks” here in Pakistan say that a person with MCSE, CCNA AND CCNP certifications is a much needed guy for IT companies.
I am sooooooooooooooo confused as to where I should move.”
The reason I’m blogging about this is because he raised some interesting points. I too have a bachelors degree in Computer Studies and I don’t consider that it’s been of any practical use to me in my work. The process of leaving home and going to university helped me progress from home life to becoming an independent young man (actually, it was a Polytechnic when I started my course – reflecting the vocational nature of its tuition – but don’t get me started about how all the Technical Colleges and Polytechnics have become “Universities” and what a bad idea that is) and it set me up with some valuable first-hand experience about managing personal finances (i.e. debt… and that was 13 years ago – I feel really sorry for today’s young graduates who have no access to grants and have to pay tuition fees too).
My degree was simply a means to join the career ladder at a certain level. Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m sure that has opened some doors that might otherwise have been closed (or would at least have been harder to force my way through) but it was by no means essential to reaching the position that I have today (perhaps I should have aimed higher?) and I have not used any of the Computer Studies skills that I learnt along the way so I could have studied anything (given the amount of writing I do today – perhaps I should have studied English, or journalism? Who knows – back then I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life!).
IT certifications are similar. I hold a variety of IT certifications but none of that matters if I don’t have experience to back up the qualifications. Sometimes you have to admit your shortcomings too – I didn’t feel comfortable being flown in to one potential customer as an expert earlier this week because I haven’t done anything practical with the associated technology for a long time now. The customer would have seen through me and that would have damaged both mine and my employer’s credibility.
I learnt a few days back that a colleague, whose advice and experience I hold in very high regard, holds no IT certifications. Equally I have friends and colleagues who left school at 16 or 18 and that’s not prevented them from reaching the the same (or a higher) position within the company as myself.
I understand that the UK government has a target for 50% of all school leavers should go to university (Why? Do 50% of all jobs require a degree? How about 50% or more of all school leavers going on to some form of further or higher education – whether that be vocational or academic). When I meet new graduates I recognise how wet behind the ears I was when I started out all those years ago. Which nicely illustrates my point – that it doesn’t matter how highly qualified you are – what really counts is experience, even if the company does still insist that you have the letters after your name before you can get through the door.