Networking mailbag: True certification and training experiences

Kara Gattine, Associate Editor
Recently, we asked readers if certification or training programs helped their career advancement and whether they felt the outcome was worth the time and money invested. We also asked to hear from managers responsible for hiring networking pros if certifications or training was more important than experience in their hiring decision. Here are some letters on the subject from's electronic mailbag.

Keeping our job skills current is the best insurance we have for our continued employment.

I'd like to share a few comments on additional education as a means of enhancing career advancement. My general feeling is additional education and/or certifications are excellent ways to enhance your resume resulting in increased career opportunities when you decide to make a move. Additional education does not make you more valuable to your current employer as they judge you on your current work performance. It may help when a promotional opportunity occurs -- as you could have an edge over a colleague who lacks the degree -- but generally speaking, you have to make a move to another company where the additional education gets you a higher level position and commensurate salary increase from your former employer.

I think it is incumbent upon the individual to make sure they keep current job skills that may require certifications and refresher courses. The employer/employee covenant today is not what it used to be. Employees

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can no longer expect continued employment just because they are doing a good job for their employer. With mergers, bankruptcies, outsourcing, general downsizing, etc., all jobs are at risk. While we should all strive to make ourselves invaluable to our employers, we must recognize that we may need to enter the job market unexpectedly. Keeping our job skills current is the best insurance we have for our continued employment.

How hard it must be for recent graduates to try and compete for jobs today. There are so many qualified candidates with experience willing to take lower level and entry level positions because they were forced into unemployment and can't find comparable positions. Being a telecom veteran, I've been through this cycle more than once. The disruption it causes in your life (financial, personal, retirement plans, etc.) is enormous.

Welcome to life in the 21st century.
Mark DeFalco, Manager – Telecom Initiative

Give me someone willing to learn by DOING the job, not someone who can read a book and pass a test.

My take on certification is very simple. How did the person with the certification get certified? Has this person spent time in the trenches learning the system? Does this person have other skills that will be needed in the job? Or, did this person study the information and simply take a test?

Obviously, the person who has the time invested on the job, who is capable of doing the job, certified or not, is going to be my first choice for a new hire.

Next choice, for entry level, is someone willing to work towards getting their certification while actually working in the field.

Last choice would be someone fresh out of school with a certification in hand and no experience beyond the classroom. Age, attitude and willingness to experience new challenges would play a very big part in hiring someone with a certification and no experience.

Give me someone willing to learn by DOING the job, not someone who can read a book and pass a test.
Lonnie Mullenix, Computer Technician

Maximize your 'non-technical' resume skills.
As an employee, certification has made a great impact in my pay, my responsibilities and general recognition among my peers. As a supervisor, doing interviews and making hiring decisions, I would have to say that certification does make a difference in the selection process to some degree. However, it is less likely to influence starting pay. It is an excellent way to differentiate yourself, from your coworkers, once on the job. Seek to get experience, however you can. Maximize your 'non-technical' resume skills. I was a restaurant manager in my previous career, so dealing with people, finance and general leadership are the tools I carry forward into a technical position.

As for pursuing certification, I prefer the self study route. If you chose this route, you should spend a good portion of your resources on assembling a lab that you can use to work 'hands-on', as you study. Select one or more textbooks, at least one should be recommended by the sponsor of the certification you are pursuing. Know the certificate sponsor's website, inside and out, especially exam and course descriptions, these can provide an excellent outline to your study. Work at studying everyday. I used to ride the bus to work to allow me several hours of reading time, for example. Also subscribe to RSS feeds, tip emails and 'question of the day' emails for the subject you are studying. Assemble your notes and supporting documentation, downloads, etc. in a folder hierarchy that helps you to access your information easily. You are seeking total immersion in this topic you are studying and when you meet all of the outlined exam objectives you will succeed. Best of luck!
Jeff Black, I.S. Division Manager

The Civil Service in NYC is starting to recognize vendor certifications as replacements for Civil Service tests.

The Job market in New York is tight. Certifications have definitely helped me in obtaining my current job with New York City. First off, while the key reason I was hired was that I am certified Enterasys engineer. They also asked if I had any Cisco knowledge since that is what comprises most of the WAN infrastructure here. I explained that I am a CCNA, and passed the Routing and Switching test for the CCNP, and that was enough for them. Questioned about my knowledge of the PIX firewall, I pointed out my Checkpoint certification and used that to convince them that learning the PIX would be no problem. I have since then passed the PIX and CCNP CIT test in the five months working at my current position.

The Civil Service in NYC is starting to recognize vendor certifications as replacements for Civil Service tests. The city does not have any way to test for many new technologies. Note my title: Certified Wide Area Network Administrator. I believe I was the first in the City to receive this title. My boss was able to push to get me on board and forgo having to interview several people from the Civil Service list by claiming that my certifications gave me unique qualifications for the job.

It should be noted that I installed the networking gear here when I worked for the vendor, so my certifications alone did not get me the interview. What my certifications did was show my current boss that I had expertise beyond what I worked on before. It also gave him some leverage when going to his superiors and saying that "This is the guy we want for the job."
Douglas Yablonski, Certified Wide Area Network Administrator

The success of the certification process depends on the individual and what they make of it.

I went through a period of career experience and then primarily self-study with just a couple of classes thrown in for balance before gaining my CNE certification. Without the certification, I know I would not have had the success in my career as I have. So, my experience indicates that certification definitely adds career value for some people.

In other cases, I have known employees that have gotten certified after on-the-job experience, much classroom training, and self-study time who still find themselves challenged with daily operations and understanding systems that they were certified on. So, on the other hand, it seems like the certification was not absorbed and used to further their career. It was only used as a "gimme" from the company who paid for the training.

The question of "to certify or not" is always going to be a difficult one. As with many things in IT, the answer to the question is, "it depends." This is not an exact answer, but much of the success of the certification process depends on the individual and what they make of it. I do believe that certification should be held up as a baseline representation; that the individual is held accountable to that baseline knowledge level at a minimum. It's difficult to have that baseline knowledge/skill assumption with non-certified staff. In that case, an organization should have a practical exam of some type to test the skills or knowledge of a potential employee. But, then again testing such as that can add costs to the hiring process and could fulfilled by third-party certifications.

Bottom line, each certified or non-certified person's skills and knowledge must stand on their own merits. It is up to the hiring or employee's organization to determine the value of what that employee or potential employee's certification or non-certification offers.
Troy Tate, Corporate Network Manager

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