May 15, 2015

Thoughts on Technical Certifications

I earned my first technical certification in 1996. Since then I have passed a total of 26 Microsoft exams. I have also earned other certifications from other vendors including trainer certifications and Java certification. I realize that there has always been a mixed reaction to certifications in the technical community. It seems that early on certifications on the IT Pro side of the industry was very common, and even a requirement for many jobs. The same level of acceptance has never seemed to exist for developer certifications.

Since this is the case, why have I taken a relatively large number of certification exams, and why am I about to embark on another series of tests? The main push for me has been to give myself a measurement of my learning. I have felt like the exams set a bar of understanding or knowledge on a topic that the vendor feels demonstrates an acceptable level of comprehension of the topic.

One of the complaints that people have about certifications is what has been called the “paper certification”. This is how people refer to those who simply cram information into their heads only long enough to pass an exam. Sometimes this comes from people using various exam cheats that are widely available. I have never used these cheats and I never will. I have taken the path of research, study and hands on experience to prepare myself for the tests I have taken. I have never earned the certifications for others - I've earned them for myself. If they give me an advantage in others eyes that is great, but the real purpose for me is to test my knowledge against the metrics outlined by the vendor. (Update - I just found this Dilbert cartoon that jokes about this kind of situation:

I have also taken part in the blueprinting and creation of a few certification exams. This has given me better insight into how the vendor sets those metrics and what they mean. Having participated in the process of creating exams I know that there are many opportunities in the exam creation process for picking the wrong things to focus on and measuring skills that do not matter so much in actual usage. However I feel that there are also many checks in place to minimize the number of these “misses” on the exams. There are experts involved in the creation process and they work together to make a final product that they can each be proud of – just like the majority of people who work on software projects. The process, and outcome, are seldom perfect, but the certification can still be useful.

Neudesic has been involved in the Microsoft Cloud (Azure) since before it was publicly announced. I have had exposure to, and worked in Azure since those early days. I earned the first Microsoft Azure certification and ran an Azure focused user group in the Salt Lake City area for a few years.

Recently I had the opportunity to take a class on Amazon Web Services. It was a short class that focused on solutions architecture using AWS. Through this and other study I have had an introduction to many of the features of the Amazon Cloud and am now pursuing the Amazon Certification track.

I am starting with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate exam. After earning that designation I plan to continue with the Professional certification. The Associate certification is a prerequisite to the Professional level – so it is a mandated path I am following.

For information on the AWS certifications check out this site:

Watch for some AWS focused posts in the future. And hopefully I’ll put some content together for one or more new Pluralsight courses too.

What are your thoughts on certification? How have you studied for exams in the past? What is your next planned certification?

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