Why the Value of Certifications Can Drop

In a technology driven world, IT Professionals are defined by certifications, skill and worker ethics.  Certifications are designed to give ranking to IT Professionals.  With a collection of simulated exams that are too close to the real exam, the real exams lose value and respect in the IT community.  I’ve watched people test and come back to a testing center continuously and hold up their final exam to say they are an ‘Engineer’ in a highly respected area of expertise, yet as they hung around for a lecture, they didn’t know the basic fundamentals of Networking/CIDR, Domain policies, basic security information, virtualization or other topics.

Certifications are earned through hard work, studying and ‘hands-on’.   The motivation behind getting as many as you can in the past involved promotions, salary increases and time in the field.    While many young IT Professionals ‘think’ they know it all, someone like myself will tell you that it is impossible to know it all.   Information Technology is changing daily.  Daily.   Hmmmm.  Hourly.

Companies promising Cisco or Microsoft in a week or two are looking for candidates that pay extraordinary amounts of money and who can memorize an exam.   These boot camps should be limited to IT personnel who have worked in the field for a certain amount of time.    Exams should also be limited for students who have ‘x’ amount of time in a classroom and lab.

Where we teach topics that have certifications, students spend 432 hours in the classroom and labs at a minimum before the first exam.   More advanced exams that are layered (curriculum that overlays) on these certifications usually result in the student spending two to three times this amount of time in the classroom and labs before earning a second or third exam.

I’m not saying our methodology of teaching is better than others, I’m saying that their is a big difference in the quality of a candidate from our classroom and other places that have the same practice compared to facilities that have students memorize exams.

Our students even in this economy have been acquiring jobs with large corporations and the government.    I do believe the value of their certification is greater than someone who has memorized an exam.  Not only is it an understanding of the materials, it is the ‘hands-on’ that makes a candidate stand out.

I can’t imagine going to work and not knowing the basics – yet holding a handful of certifications.

IT Managers have their work cut out for them when hiring from a pool of ‘certified’ individuals.  Certifications have value if you earn them.

You’ve started your IT career. Now what?

So you started your IT career and you landed in a help desk position.   What now?   We wrote an article,  “It takes time in the trenches of help desk”   that tells you to do your time.   But what about those amazing salaries on Computerworld or over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Occupational Handbook?   How do you get there?  It takes time, experience and skill.

In IT you have to do one of two things.   You can be a master at everything or you have to find a focus on one area.   In IT, you can attend school and get ready for an entry level position.   You can also become an expert in one area.   This is one of the most career killing things you can do.  Why?   I’ve seen programming languages come and go and I’ve seen technology change at the drop of a hat.

But where does your advanced education come from?   OJT (On the job training) and self-study.   Without the ability to grow, you’re job can become stagnant.   Attend seminars,  attend classes, go to college and experiment.   Most of all, network with others and watch and listen to others in the field.  Have an open mind and be prepared to continually grow in the field of IT.

Here’s our article on  “It takes time in the trenches of help desk” from  March 10, 2012

That’s right, you’ve earned your way through technical school or college only to land at a help desk job.   Take a second and look at the logic behind this. IT professionals over the years have landed at help desk and the successful ones deliver quality service to the end users.   IT Managers, Directors or CIOs just can’t put someone in their server room without adequate experience troubleshooting computers.  An understanding of the operations of your organization starts by being exposed to all of the software and inner workings of the company.     Can you land that job in the server room or as a network admin?  Sure.   Reality is that it is rare.    It takes time, trust and experience.

When surveyed, IT professionals have a deeper respect for that manager that has done their time at help desk.   Many professionals do their time in this role and elect it as a career.   If you do your time and continue your education by getting more certifications, going to seminars and electe to attend a higher educational institution, you can work your way up the IT ladder.

The stress of help desk is different than any other stress.    While you have to put on your happy face and deliver quality service to your clients, it all starts at this level.    The redundancy of calls,  end-users who are frequent callers and the general grind of problems coming at you that appears to never end causes this stress.

IT managers and upper management in this field take notice of the people who excel at customer service.   IT is a service based career and help desk is your starting point for your career.    Ironically problems in this field go up to the higher level IT professional and solutions have to be pushed down in order to keep everyone happy.

Being positive and upbeat while you do your time in the trenches will bring that recognition to you.   It also allows you to place this experience on a resume for future jobs and positions in your organization or with different companies.

After decades in this career, I can point out hundreds of students who kept this attitude and later in their careers became more successful in IT.   There seems to be a sense of entitlement going through the IT field.   See help desk as a starting point to move up.     What about an example of someone who worked their way up?

One such example is Eric Canneer.   Eric started his career in IT as level I help desk and performed well while keeping a positive outlook.   During his career he never stopped learning and later was hired by one of the world’s largest logistics company and now manages their wireless globally.    While Eric is one example, hundreds of more examples come to mind.    I’ve had students who 95% of the time start help desk and over a period of one or two years worked their way to higher level positions in some of the country’s Fortune 500 companies and in every type of business and industry you can think of.

Are you truly ever out of a help desk position?   No.   You may not have that grind of answering phones daily but you are trying to please the end user and the problems never go away.   With a society that thrives on technology, you have to accept that innovation and  new technology brings on new problems and headaches.

Handling the stress of help desk and continuing your career in IT-

  • Accept the fact that you are in customer service regardless of your position
  • Obtain higher level certifications
  • Continue your education with a higher-ed institution
  • Realize that the customer is venting at the situation and not you
  • Help other IT personnel and work as a team
  • Ignore any negative personnel who bring you down
  • IT is in the top ten growing industries and the opportunities are greater than any other career
  • Find ways after hours to relax and get away

Information Technology will continue to grow and positions will continually be added in this field.   Less than three years ago, we didn’t truly have mobile computing experts that took care of a field that is growing at an unprecedented rate.   Become an expert in several fields and prove yourself not only to your managers and company but prove yourself to to you.

Here’s a great comment from this original post.

“IT is a service based career” … “There seems to be a sense of entitlement going through the IT field.”

These are the two most important statements in the entire article. Too many of my IT coworkers look down on the users and don’t treat them respectfully, which in turn soils the reputation of IT people. We are not an elite field of nothing but Bletchley Park code breakers, even if we think we are, and even if the end users think we are just because we were able to reset a password or tell them how to setup an email signature.

Consider yourself a mechanic instead. Some of use are working at Jiffy Lube, doing oil changes and routine maintenance. Some of us are rebuilding engines at Pete’s Auto. Some of us are helping design new transmissions at TransConn Int’l. But that’s it, so get over yourself, get another cup of tea, and answer the phone politely.

I’d also add, “Acknowledge the fact that you don’t know everything about everything”.    Mike

Free Microsoft Digital Literacy classes -earn a certificate

If you are new to computing, the internet or if you have some experience with technology, Microsoft offers an excellent online FREE curriculum to pick up basic online certificates along with two more advanced levels.   Their courses teach many essential skills along with productive work software, online safety and other areas.   These certificates would be excellent on anyone’s resume to help show their computer literacy.   Once you finish, simple print your certificate or you can register it online to show your employer.

You must use Internet Explorer- Digital Literacy

Now hiring: companies move away from outsourcing to control their IT destiny

The tight IT jobs market and desire for more control over tech projects has many companies insourcing  projects and growing internal staff.

via Now hiring: companies move away from outsourcing to control their IT destiny.

EconSouth’s Interview with James King, Vice Chancellor of Tennessee Technology Centers

EconSouth recently interviewed James King, Vice Chancellor of the Tennessee Technology Centers.  In the interview, infomation about Harvard University’s graduate school of education published an article titled “Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenges of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century”.

Read the interview Here

Harvard PowerPoint –  Pathways to Prosperity

Pay, Recruiters and Information Technology

Recruiters provide an invaluable service for clients needing IT personnel.   We work with several recruiters that offer very competitive wages and benefits along with options to go full-time within a probationary period of 60-90 days.  Working with recruiters we recently blogged for, you can see their salaries on their site which are very fair and other recruiters in Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama have also been very fair.

Interestingly enough, some recruiters call and offer help desk personnel jobs at just above minimum wage by a dollar or two.   For cost of living, we like using bankrate’s Cost of Living Comparison calculator that offers city to city comparison and use the PayScale Salary Calculator to see what the average hourly wage is for the individual area of expertise.

If you are new to IT, expect the low end of PayScale’s Salary Calculator with the minimum amount of education, experience and certifications if not slightly below the minimum amount shown.

Here’s a link to the calculator embedded on our site. (Payscale’s official site is here)

So what is the average for Nashville and helpdesk?

100 Best Companies to Work in IT

We are a fan of ComputerWorld and use their sharethis Web 2.0 to share some of their best articles.  Their annual report on the 100 Best Companies to work in IT is out.  Go take a look.

With filters and an interactive map, this article is one of the best on ComputerWorld.

Free Training in Office Applications for Tennesseans

Microsoft is offering free training for Tennesseans along with vouchers for taking select Microsoft Business Certifications.   These vouchers are good for 90 days (exam vouchers) and one year for training vouchers.   This is an excellent way to gain the skills and knowledge needed in the workplace.

Who should sign up?    With a limited number of vouchers, everyone should sign up to train or take an exam while than can.   Every job today uses computers in some way.   Retail, Medical, Production and any industry you can image uses computers.

More advanced e-learning vouchers are being distributed for IT Professionals.

More Information

Technology Interview Questions

Here’s an excellent link for technology interview questions.  Unlike many interviews, technology interviews often require a great deal of knowledge during the interview process (you still get the ‘fluffy’ questions).  Now this is not by any means downing any other profession.  Here’s some of the best questions I’ve seen.