The Double-Edged Cert

By stretch | Friday, November 27, 2009 at 12:51 p.m. UTC

Dilbert

Certifications are ubiquitous in IT. Engineers and administrators collect them, and employers demand them like items on a grocery list. They function almost as currency in the job market. Yet for all their popularity, there are several very significant reasons why a certification should never be considered at face value, regardless of its sponsor.

Drawbacks to Certification

A Superficial Indicator

Contrary to widely-held opinion, a certification does not explicitly state anything about an individual's skill. A certification, by it's nature, is merely proof that its holder was able to correctly answer a number of specific questions or complete a set of engineered tasks to the liking of the certifying authority at one time. This is a limitation inherent to the manner in which individuals are tested (e.g. multiple-choice exams and simulations versus open-ended essays and research projects); a necessary sacrifice of depth is made in the interest of efficiency.

This inability to more robustly assess an individual is a certification's greatest detractor. A prime example of this deficiency is the CCNA holder who could correctly answer all four subnetting questions on his ICND2 exam and achieve the minimum passing score, yet is unable to subnet in the course of his work without the aid of a purpose-built calculator. The individual has been certified, but what value does it carry?

It could be argued that a certification is representative of the supposed study taken in order to prepare for a certification exam, but this assumption is dangerous, as is discussed in the next point.

Vulnerability to Fraud

One of the biggest issues plaguing IT certifications is the willingness of corrupt individuals and companies to catalog the questions and answers of popular exams, creating materials commonly referred to as "braindumps." These illegitimate answer keys are then offered for sale to certification candidates under the guise of study materials. Braindumps are produced by a number of companies and typically sold for less than the cost of the exam itself. Pirated versions of popular braindumps are also readily available.

Such widespread availability of testing material intended to be kept confidential significantly reduces the effort needed to prepare for an exam, further degrading the already weakened value of many certifications.

Stagnation of Knowledge

Most certifications need to be renewed only once every few years, if at all. Knowing this, a less motivated individual can opt to study topics which he or she doesn't regularly encounter in the course of work solely for the purpose of achieving a certification, and then immediately discard said knowledge instead of working to retain it. This is partially an effect of the cookie-cutter nature of certifications; exam topics are arranged by what the certification authority feels is best, not by what is best for any unique organization or candidate.

Even worse is when a newly-certified individual feels his or her new accomplishment gives license to stop advancing his or her knowledge altogether. The imposed ceiling of certification hierarchies, such as Cisco's CCIE, can be cited as an excuse for stalling advancement. In fact, the pace at which technology progresses in our field ensures there will always be room for improving one's abilities, both vertically within a specialty and horizontally across a broad domain of topics.

Exclusion of Talent

Many employers mandate that applicants to an open position hold specific certifications. Though their intention is typically to establish a baseline for the desired skill set, unyielding requirements are harmful; many well-qualified applicants are blindly discounted solely for lacking arbitrary paperwork.

Further, due consideration is often not paid to the actual requirements of the position to be filled. It is too convenient to describe a position as a cherry-picked list of modular certifications rather than dutifully evaluating its real roles and responsibilities. This undue exclusion hurts both applicants and employers.

An Alternative Approach

Even if certifications could only be achieved through legitimate study, and even if they were 100% indicative of knowledge, they still wouldn't fully serve the needs of business. IT is a field in a persistent state of advancement, yet a certification is (or would be) only useful for illustrating what an individual knows at a given time. It offers no indication of how motivated its holder is, his or her degree of interest in the field, or how likely he or she will be to embrace inevitable changes in the future. It does not certify initiative.

And initiative is what most employers seek in a potential employee, whether they realize it or not. Obviously, there is no multiple-choice exam or simulation to evaluate initiative. However, making less orthodox observations about a candidate can paint a much broader picture:

  • Has the candidate pursued areas of study not required by his current position?
  • Is the candidate active in peer discussions? Not just within the workplace, but on public forums and mailing lists?
  • Does the candidate practice on lab equipment during non-paid time (physical or emulated)?
  • Has the candidate written papers or blog articles on technical topics?

An in-depth investigation isn't necessary here; all of the above can be assessed by casual conversation and a quick Google search or two. Community contributions and extraneous study, while of little direct value to an employer, speak volumes about an individual's passion for his or her field and education in general. (Of course, if you find a candidate has done something like spend his free time creating two dozen reference sheets in meticulous detail, he's probably headed toward the deep end and is best avoided altogether.)

The considerations suggested here are just a few components of a larger evaluation, but when combined with practical assessment and good old character evaluation help achieve a genuine skills assessment. Certifications will likely always play some roll until a better scheme is developed, but at no point should they be considered an ultimate factor.

About the Author

Jeremy Stretch is a network engineer living in the Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina area. He is known for his blog and cheat sheets here at Packet Life. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Opinion

Comments


Sean (guest)
November 27, 2009 at 1:35 p.m. UTC

While your drawbacks are all valid, one of the benefits of certification is that it provides a good learning path for those with the motivation to improve themselves.

When I originally did my CCNP (2002? 2003?) I found that it filled in a lot of gaps, and also exposed me to a few areas that ended up being useful later on. That's not to say I would never have learned about them. Maybe it's just me, but I like to have a plan and an end goal in mind when I do something. For a guy that was almost entirely self taught and figured stuff out on my own, having a topic list was a great help in keeping me going.

I also agree with your "certifications are a fairly useless metric to hire someone by". However from the flip side, they're excellent marketing for the employee.

Writing on the side can have one of the highest returns, in my experience. There's something about having something published that makes people think you're smart :)


irom
November 27, 2009 at 2:17 p.m. UTC

I agree with you both, appreciate Sean mentioned about filling gaps, I found it very useful. It would be great to find employer looking for things Stretch is listing ..I've never met such. Many don't even ask for certificates. My experience (perm positions) is that most of the time they are looking for soft skills and 'good story'.


- (guest)
November 27, 2009 at 2:30 p.m. UTC

Who's the fool? The one that takes a certificate just to have a certificate on paper or the one that hires a guy when he sees a certificate on the job applicants paper?

The certificate is good, the use of it is not.


angelcastaneda
November 27, 2009 at 2:59 p.m. UTC

While I agree that having a certification does not guarantee you are able to do something every time, I think it speaks well of your ability and desire to stick to a plan. Provided you didn't use a braindump, passing an exam will require you to read the material, practice on a lab, get things wrong (and pretend that it's so you see what it looks like, and not because of a simple error on your part), and eventually get things right.

Like Sean said, I require some sort of structure and guide as of what to study. I'm just starting up in the networking field, and there's a lot of stuff that I wouldn't have had the chance to play with if it wasn't in a lab setting, in preparation for an exam.

As you mention, I find that a lot of employers require you to have a bunch of certifications, even for an entry level position. Not having these credentials hurts your chances of even getting to an interview. On the other side, the employer's responsibility should be to tell whether you have the skills once you get to the interview.

Hiring someone based on a certification alone is not the smartest thing to do, but having a certification might be.


Aaron (guest)
November 27, 2009 at 3:16 p.m. UTC

I agree that certs are a superficial indicator of skill. I know there are thousands of highly-skilled CCIEs out there, and I've met dozens of CCIEs over my career, but only one of them (one!) actually had any skills. Should I really have to tell a CCIE how to configure EIGRP? Should I have to tell that same person that they can't run EIGRP on a Juniper box? Wasn't this on nearly all of the tests that person took to get a CCIE number?

With that said, I've been hired to do projects or take positions that had a cert requirement well above my lowly CCNA. I'm glad that the employers with whom I've dealt can look at experience (on the job and in the community) and realize it has more value that a certification.

Certs have their place, though. It surely doesn't hurt you to have another certification on your resume, does it? :)


@jameyk1stner (guest)
November 27, 2009 at 3:34 p.m. UTC

I agree with most of the things people have posted here. I too have come to realize though that too much emphasis has been placed on the certs. I am also a "self-taught" individual. I have spent six years following the wireless industry, reading white papers and configuring my own labs at home, but I only hold an entry-level cert. Does that inherently mean that the guy with the next up cert knows more than me? Absolutely not. It just means that rather than pay for everything out of his / her own pocket, as I have done, he / she had an employer that saw fit to send them to bootcamps or online classes, all things that I simply cannot afford. I think the certs have simply become a way for the HR people to simplify their job and not have to use any real investigative skills to confirm whether the individual in question is all that they are claiming. Great write-up Stretch and some thought provoking comments as well!


Etherealmind
November 27, 2009 at 3:39 p.m. UTC

Whereas I take the view that certifications are mandatory to show that you have at least some talent for learning something. What you say is true, but doesn't take into account the requirement for fundamentals learning, and the process of learning, both of which are lifetime requirements for IT people.

I wrote a four part article on this.

Etherealmind on The Value of Certification


A guest
November 27, 2009 at 4:16 p.m. UTC

When employer advertise a JOB it does have some pre-requsite e.g CCNP or CCIE , so for someone to get accepted for interview you need your certification, its other thing that they later discover that you are no good in real life.

And for that reason I feel its important for one to keep upto date with certification in line with their area of expertise. Gives you little bit of peace of mind in current job market were good job are very hard to find.

Best of Luck

Benk


Eric (guest)
November 27, 2009 at 6:13 p.m. UTC

So based off of this article then couldnt also the same be said of ANY IT based college degree? Even a Doctorate.


stretch
November 27, 2009 at 6:42 p.m. UTC

@Eric: ...the hell? If you're not going to read the article, there's no need to comment on it.


CallMeTim
November 27, 2009 at 10:28 p.m. UTC

Eric, I agree with you. Stretch, how can you comment back like that. He took everything you based your article off of and applied it to a higher education degrees. It's the same thing, I know plenty of people who hold a college degree in Computer Network or Computer Science and do not even hold a CCNA/MCSA level knownledge and these individuals hold highly paid network/system engineering jobs. Saying Certification are a bad way to judge an individual can be said about someone holding a degree. The only true way to test an individual for a position within a company is to put their resume to work. Try before you buy attitude. If a company is hiring for a Network Engineer with CCNP level, this individual should be able to build,configure,design and support RIP, OSPF, BGP, EIGRP, IPSec, etc.... etc... in a large network environment. But, companies have not the time or money to spend to do this. That is why companies hold certification at such a high level. The certifying authority has already implemented this process for them.

You speak of initiative, taking the time out of your busy life to study and learn and acheive the knowledge to pass a certification is not initiative to you? Then what is?


LTuned
November 27, 2009 at 10:47 p.m. UTC

I agree that a cert doesn’t state anything about a person's skill level. It’s just a piece of paper. When I studied for my CCNA/CCNP years ago I had to read the books cover to cover and took notes that filled a 2 inch binder. Then you have these guys that just get the "brain dumps" and go take the exam and come out not knowing more then when they first started.

A junior tech at where I work was ask how many hosts were in a /21 subnet. The junior tech could not figure out how to get the answer. I instructed him to use the subnetting formula to calculate the answer. He replied there is no such thing as the subnetting formula but claims to be "CCNA certified".


stretch
November 27, 2009 at 11:38 p.m. UTC

I should clarify my response to Eric. Based on this article one can draw absolutely no conclusions or even form an assumption about college degrees. I took care in writing this opinion piece specifically to avoid the certifications versus degrees debate. Any parallels you draw you're welcome to share, but please don't imply that anything I've said above applies to anything other than IT certifications.


Colin (guest)
November 28, 2009 at 12:07 a.m. UTC

Another well-formed argument, Stretch.

I find that studying for certifications solely for the intrinsic reward of facing a challenge gets me to sleep at night. I keep my vendor-specific world separate from my real world :)


A guest
November 28, 2009 at 1:43 p.m. UTC

I think we all have some story of people with certs who know nothing. However, in this venue I think we're preaching to the chior. I'd say most people who read packetlife are in love with the technology regardless of cert or experience level and are the type of people who should be hired. However, I'm equally sure that a lot of us have been passed over for people with better certs and less knowledge or even more "experience" even if that experience is in doing the exact same thing with no inititive to learn anything new.

I think part of the problem is the people writing the job descriptions have no idea what the stuff they're asking for means. Ever respond to a phone call about a job only to have the person on the other end ask you if you know E...I...G....R...P or O...S...P....F? Then there are those that are just ridiculous. Must have MSCE, CCIE, JNCIE, speak fluent Syriac-Aramaic and have 10 years experience in all things involving 1 and 0. Pays 35k.

I got certified because I was making a career change and had to get my foot in the door. I stay certified to help me get a job I want instead of the one that I have. In my cert studies I tried to prepare for an interview, not a test. I think if you take that mentality and you'll avoid being on the people we're talking about.


luismg
November 28, 2009 at 10:50 p.m. UTC

I really learn a lot in certifications, with ccna I thought I knew something, but with CCNP I opened Pandora box, there is a judge way beyond, so there should be any way to explore it, one is on the daily job, but if you can't certifications are a good path to explore content and knowledge. The problem are the exams, the do not reflect a real technician they ask sometimes for stupid tabs at applications or rare default numbers, It should be an exam with a real person in front of you and real equipment.

But for now we have this.


Hidden_Hunter (guest)
November 29, 2009 at 1:49 a.m. UTC

Regarding degrees/certs, I think you'll find that they generally lead to different career paths. I don't know too many people that got a degree then went back to certificates, nor many people that went certificates first then got a degree later.

One of the things that I find when people say XYZ is in a senior network design position and doesn't even hold ABC certificate is that there is a fundamental misunderstanding about what most senior network designers have to do these days. Most "senior" IT positions are about managing the "business" and its expectations than getting down and dirty knowing that say you need IOS 12.4(T15) to run an obscure function. That's what you have your staff for.


MORGS
November 29, 2009 at 7:24 p.m. UTC

I am currently on the certification path for my CCNA. It’s not required but as my boss said “Nice to have.” As part of my certification process I have a mini lab set up and my Boss Network engineer said “build a lab get comfortable with it. Try different configurations with different protocols then, I’ll come in and break it. Then it’s your job to fix it.” To me this is the greatest way to learn hands on not only that I will have the experience to back it up. I certainly don’t want to be one of those people who ‘collect” certifications for the hell of it.

“Guest”- was on the money…. “I'd say most people who read packetlife are in love with the technology” I am one of those people I love technology. I don’t browse this site because of my job. I do it because technology is my thing and always have been and will be.


Dedan (guest)
November 30, 2009 at 1:48 a.m. UTC

I am "Guest" and I like being quoted. Even though this isn't degree vs cert but everyone I know with a cert got it after their degree. But that was the mid to late 90s. Who knows what the young folk are doing these days with their hippity hoppity music and fancy computer machines.


JeffArey
November 30, 2009 at 3:43 p.m. UTC

I had to obtain a few M-$oft and Cisco certs at my last job as we were a govt reseller/VAR and had to have several certified folks in order to get discounts and such on products. I must say that I learned a lot in my Cisco studies, probably took 10 or 12 tests (NA and DA, but also a lot of partner/reseller certs). I agree with most of the posters here in that I have met some real network engineers who have never sat for any exam, and can configure and maintain many brands of routers and switches; and I have also worked with folks who had tons of certs and couldn't setup a routing protocol to save their butts. I consider myself somewhere in the middle- not a paper engineer, but not a guru either. I will continue to obtain a few select certs to make myself study in a little more formalized manner- but it still takes lots of hands on to be able to troubleshoot issues in a production environment while you have management or customers breathing down your neck until the issue is resolved.


Eric (guest)
November 30, 2009 at 10:07 p.m. UTC

Hey I am open to criticism as much as anyone, but if it doesnt apply to degree's then how does a specific IT degree ( say in development ) have any value a decade after you get it? It doesnt, all it says is "I took a bunch of classes, passed a bunch of tests, and I am valid for technology and an industry that existed 10 years ago." The college I went to taught program language specific information in their computer science program, that knowledge served me a tiny little bit ten years later(mostly statistics). But all the technology specific information I picked up is now mostly useless. Or maybe I am wrong, is there still a market for RAD tools?

But I will say this, the dregree got me the job. But who's to say a cert wouldnt have also. The last job interview I had all they said was "i see you went to college", they didnt even ask me how I did or what I studied. Now its all experience and the cert and the degree are just merit badges on the uniform.

I did read the article strech, and I agree with 99% of it. Its just been my personal experience that degree's and certs are very similar in this industry. I wish it wasn't that way.


HH (guest)
December 1, 2009 at 1:01 a.m. UTC

Eric, at least here in Australia mnay jobs require degrees (perticularly in government) but experience probably does rank over alot of certficates these days


stubbyd
December 3, 2009 at 5:53 p.m. UTC

Nicely reasoned out argument there.

I've previously obtained my CCNA and other certs and found them to be of little use to my day to day job, but as someone above mentioned they become like a shopping list to getting a job. Even though I may be able to do my job without these I need them to prove I can - weird or what?

However, I do want to take issue with one point. You talked about the subnetting issue and the tech who passes them on his test but can't then subnet in his/her head (my presumption but would pen/paper be allowed?) without a specific tool.

Well what's wrong with that?

Let's face it, we learn stuff by rote for certs, etc but how many of us intricately recall the command line structure for every event and doesn't use the ? - is that any different to using a tool to subnet? I don't think it is and personally don't think it is something we should demean someone for.


reddevil
December 4, 2009 at 6:43 a.m. UTC

I like the arguments here,

From personal experience I have been working in the industry for 8 years now, Initially I started of as a Systems Admin, In my spare time I would read for CCNA back in 2003 I decided to take the examination, which I passed. Granted that I was a Sys Admin, there was no avenue for me to interact with Networks on a day-to-day basis, so obviously if you asked me to subnet off the head chances are I would not. My CCNA expired, back in 2006, out of interest again I sat the CCDA, I passed this too and it expires sometime this December.

My point here is some of us do this certifications because of interest in study and to know, It would not be fair for blanket condemnation that all guys with CCNA, CCDA or any other cert are crap just because i cannot configure OSPF, BGP, IPSEC when put on a hot seat. I have never been a Network Engineer, never had an opportunity to configure nor troubleshoot real life networks, this doesn't mean that I cannot but certainly with opportunity i can gain the necessary experience.


Chuku (guest)
December 4, 2009 at 5:28 p.m. UTC

Jeremy, here is my question to you: when employers do not hire because you do not have enough experience and you want to move forward with your career, how can you do it without showing the certification progress? (or luck or good contacts in the right places) I hold an MCSE since 2002 and never bothered to upgrade it because I'm already in a Sys Admin path that can prove enough hands-on experience BUT at the same time I'm doing the networking for my company and hold a CCNA certification. if I want to progress to a biggerwider network I do not have enough experience and I think showing the ability via CCNP is a way to close the gap. only time will tell...

anyone looking for a sys admin with networking experience and 2 certs in NYC? :)


Ron (guest)
December 4, 2009 at 7:17 p.m. UTC

Question # 1. If the company you’re applying to wants certifications because they’re too clueless to tell if you have any real talent, do you really want to work there?

Question #2. If getting say, a CCNP, will “qualify” you for an interesting job working on cool stuff, why wouldn’t you spend the time and effort to get it?

Question #3. If there’s a job you really want, but you don’t have the right certs, isn’t it worth contacting the hiring manager directly and demonstrating your brilliance to him (or her)? The very fact that you went through the trouble to find out who that person is and put together a convincing argument of your unrecognized talent shows that you have initiative and can get things done. Employers are more interested in that than whether you’ve memorized all the PHB values and their decimal equivalents. And if the manager doesn’t get it, again, do you really want to work there?

As a guy who interviews network engineers, I can tell you that we use certifications as shorthand to narrow down the pool of applicants. Otherwise I’d be inundated with hundreds of resumes from people who aren’t even remotely qualified. Yes, I know that there are clever people out there who never bothered to get certified, but I’ll accept that I might miss a few of those. Once in a while the recruiter will tell me, “I’ve got a guy who is really sharp. He built an X, Y and a Z, but he doesn’t have any certs.” In that case, I’ll do a phone interview. The reality of recruiting, interviewing and hiring is that it’s so time-consuming, one has to take shortcuts. Otherwise, you’d never get any work done. I simply don’t have the time to put you in front of a router console and say, “OK, show me what you can do.” It’s life. Get used to it.


Brian (guest)
December 4, 2009 at 8:16 p.m. UTC

So what about working for Cisco partners? I have worked for them on and off over the years and it seemed like every year my boss would come to me and say that I needed to get these 2 or 3 certs so we could keep our voice/security/data center/wireless/etc specialization. One year I had to take 6 tests within 6 weeks. I consider myself a pretty good engineer and I can (with time) configure pretty much anything with a Cisco label on it, but I couldn't have gone and taken the tests with using the brain dumps. I will gladly acknowledge that a lot of the certs I have had over the years are paper certs, but a lot of them aren't. The local Cisco office didn't care how we passed those tests. Cisco wanted to make the sale as much as my company did.

Getting jobs & certs can be a catch 22 sometimes too. You aren't allowed to touch the equipment/get the job without a cert, and you can't get good experience and knowledge to take the cert until you touch the equipment.


stretch
December 5, 2009 at 3:52 a.m. UTC

@Chuku: You answered your own question. If an employer won't hire you citing lack of experience, a cert isn't going to help any.

@Ron: 1) Of course not, which is one of the reasons people opt not to apply to a position in the first place. 2) I never said you shouldn't. 3) You're assuming the job is being advertised directly by the company, which seems to be less and less often the case. Further, I imagine many managers wouldn't appreciate candidates contacting them directly. That's why we do the whole resume/CV thing. As a guy who interviews network engineers, you should be looking for more substantial clues to an applicant's ability as I outlined in the second part of the article. Surely you're not looking only at certs, right?


Arne (guest)
December 5, 2009 at 10:27 a.m. UTC

Well, I have to say that after 17 years in this business, I have heard the above phrase time and time again (that certifications do not validate initiative and skills), and I have to say that it is not true, too put it very mildly. I deliver training, I work as a consultant, and to compare every situation with erroneous configurations and "oops"es and lack of initiativ, 80% of it come from non-certified personnel (often trained at college).

A person who has taken some hardcore certifications and can show me a passed skills based exam is more worth to me than a guy with years of outdated and irrelevant experience, and "just" a college degree in Information technology.

Certifications fill a lot of gaps and in my courses (both certification courses for Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, EC-council, and others AND non-cert courses (more topic based)) I am surprised to see administrators being responsible for complex Spanning Tree and BGP configurations not even knowing the basics of these protocols. And where can the information that I deliver in the courses be found? In certifications!


Ron (guest)
December 5, 2009 at 3:46 p.m. UTC

Jeremy,

To me, your argument boils down to this: Certs do not, by themselves, indicate a good potential employee. Companies ought to use other criteria. And then you list a few. I may disagree with the particular ones you mention, but your point is valid, if somewhat obvious. I don't know any companies that hire solely on certs (actually, that's not true. I do know a couple, and like I said, they're clueless – you don't want to work there).

When I read between the lines, I wonder if you are really complaining that you or your friends wanted a particular job, but have been unfairly rejected due to a lack of certification. In that case, questions 1-3 still hold. If not, the questions apply to many of your commenters.

Certs are a way to winnow down the list of hundreds of applicants to a few worth looking at. It's a necessary evil. I will consider other factors besides a cert, but you really have to sell yourself to bypass that first hurdle.

If you're dealing with a recruiter who has a shopping list, give the recruiter a call and talk to them. What they really want is a candidate that their client will hire. Convince him (or her) that you know your stuff, and he will present you to the client even if you don't have the “listed” requirements.

Finding out who the hiring manager is takes work, but if you really want the job, I think it's worth doing. You can even use this as an example of your resourcefulness when you contact him.

As for your particular criteria, they're OK for some lifestyles. If you don't have a lot of experience, they might indicate some initiative. If you have family or parenting commitments, I wouldn't expect you to be spending your free time on message boards or simulators. And any evidence of clear, proficient writing will be good for me. Even a term paper would suffice.


stretch
December 5, 2009 at 4:12 p.m. UTC

@Arne: And yet, my experience, confirmed by many peers, has been that poor engineers will screw things up regardless of what certifications they do or do not hold.

@Ron: Personally I don't bother with recruiters at all; when omitted, their commission potentially becomes a negotiated salary increase. Also, being married and/or raising children is no excuse for not showing professional development. (Nor is it an excuse to arrive late and leave early, leaving equally-compensated single coworkers to pick up your slack, but I'd rather not digress into that issue.)

From some of the comments here it's evident I'll need to do something more illustrative to prove the perceived value of certifications is inflated.


H (guest)
December 6, 2009 at 2:56 a.m. UTC

When have certifications ever been the ultimate factor?


pliers (guest)
December 15, 2009 at 12:11 p.m. UTC

I passed my ccna over 3 years ago, it has now lapsed, when I sat the exam I could calculate subnets/wild card masks and even vlsm ranges in my head faster than I can type them in a calculator, because I had practiced it so often, I began to recognise patterns in how these numbers fit together, I soon worked out my own system, and after a while it became instinctive.

as far as the exams go and I have sat a few, I don't beleive they are a true measure of a person's abilities, I have a far broader skill set than I am actually certified for... but proving it is the thing I guess thats one of the reasons why i started down the certificaton path...

As so many people just cram to pass an exam and then cannot do it or forget it after a few months because they havent done it, I beleive this behaviour tottaly devalues certification, such lazy people piss me off too...

this is one reason why I have a rack of 11 routers & 6 switches (including a cat 5000)and a PIX to play with, allthough of late I have been using gns3 quite a lot as its a snap to connect to my vmware based domains running ospf in my win 2003 AD domain, and rip which has to be run on the linux realm as some of the 'more interesting' vm's I have need to eavesdrop on rip broadcasts to learn a default gateway address, its also quieter than a rackload of wirring routers and switches and a lot cheaper on lecky too :)

to be honest the last exam that I sat (bsci) didnt feel right, I didn't feel my knowledge or ability was tested, the troubleshooting was basic, hardly a question on the more advanced topics that I sweated over to get so right, and then none of the depth! no complicate route-map scenario's some of the questions seemed to have the wrong answers, its funny how when something isnt right it sticks in your mind isnt it? (the pim modes in my case) and some were way to easy and felt almost ccna level, a few questions which popped up which seemed to be more fitting in the switching exams, its just as well I can do the subnetting in my head as I found out to my horror the marker pen I was given dried up at the 4th question in... (I guess a quick drying marker pen makes more money than a good old reliable pencil) but I still like to draw things out on exams rather than take a chance on getting it wrong... as that can be expensive

I always study hard, I felt tottally conned... because

the exams are not real world, far from it, you only have set choices on an exam, and to honest a lot of the time what I would do in the real world isn't next to a tick box :(

the other thing there are some really stupid questions on some exams, like the guess what mode you should be in variety on cisco ones and click the right spot on a microsoft one, in the real world if its not where you expect something to be (maybe because a service pack has changed something as in the microsoft world) you will soon find it or its replacement in a second or 2 - tottaly useless

in the real world, and you have your hands on the equipment you can either do it or you cant,

at the moment I am enjoying imersing myself in routing and switching at the CCIE level, even though my CCNA has lapsed, this has become my hobby and have developed an addiction to manipulating BGP routes :) I am also contemplating adding a couple of cisco phones to my rack but anyway..

I don't know if I will sit another exam or not, but in the meantime I will continue to learn and play with my rack as this is how I fill my spare time... I have tons of it...

my thoughts are this

exams = are expensive unless your lucky enough to have an employer pay for them

exams = make money for the providers, ensure support for the product to a given standard

certification = doesnt always get you the job, if you dont have the right background that you can prove, you are very much screwed as I found out (I dont have a degree so only get offered peanuts)

or was I the only unemployed CCNA A+ MCP in the uk?

I think an employer will soon find out if a candidate can actually do a job or not but by then it maybe too late... oops!


Johbn_Burns (guest)
December 28, 2009 at 5:00 p.m. UTC

My experience has been a little different then most of the responses that I have read. I have only worked for 1 company that flat out required certifications to hire and that company was horrible, definitely not worth working for! Most of my later jobs the hiring managers did not really ask about my certifications, my current employer especially has not asked about any certifications. My CCNA has been lapsed for some time! Although I did renew it the first 9 years I had it. I think certifications depend on how much experience you have and where you are in your career. If you are looking to break into an entry level engineering position certifications are probably a big help.

At this point in my career I have worked on so many big projects, designed more than a few data centers and migration of data centers from soup to nuts that my resume speaks for itself. I have found that the world of IT at a certain level is smaller than you would think. I have really good relationships with vendors and partners Such as F5, Cisco, Juniper, Riverbed, Sourcefire, Packeteer, Bluecoat, and Checkpoint. It has been a long time since I have been approached for a job where they wanted me to work on just Cisco gear! I think maybe that is why certifications are not so useful at a certain level. If you want just a Cisco guy to take care of a couple 1860’s or a 6509 or two, certifications are probably what you are looking at when making a hiring decision.

However that last couple of jobs I have completed the job descriptions ran a little like this. “Need a high level architect to design and implement global high availability load balancing for ecommerce across multiple active/active datacenters (terremark/Sungard/?). Engineer will be responsible for Layer2 and layer3 design and redundancy within the datacenters themselves. Engineer will also design wan connectivity between datacenters as well as implement and manager global BGP configurations and peering with 12+ different ISP’s. Global datacenters load balancing will be accomplished with the use of F5 Global traffic managers. Wan connectivity will be optimized with the use of riverbed load balancers. Core routers will be Juniper MX class routers…

You can see how a CCIE would be a little out of his depth for this kind of work. While Cisco is a great vendor, in the high end real world, they are not the only game in town. Past a certain level vendor specific certifications don’t cut it. I need some who understands BGP, not just how to implement BGP on Cisco gear!


A guest
February 11, 2010 at 3:44 p.m. UTC

Certifications are great and I don't buy in the whole paper belief

No matter what the certificates show persistence, willingness and learning.

Certifications are not an indication that an engineer will be a good fit, nothing is

Yes there are scams and so on, but any hiring person can pick those up

The problem is that there is no demand since management of devices ratio is exponentially growing

My exp:

1998 1 engineer = 20 devices
2008 1 engineer = 2000 devices
2018 1 engineer = 2000000 devices (my estimate again :)

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