#166: The value of certifications

In this episode, I discuss my personal experience with Microsoft Certifications and their value in the IT industry.

I believe that certifications provide a wider breadth of knowledge that may not be obtained through day-to-day work - but is still no subsitute for experience when it comes to recruitment.

Or listen at:

Published: Wed, 31 May 2023 15:52:50 GMT


Hello and welcome back to the Better ROI from Software Development Podcast.

During my recent break from podcasting, I re-certified two Microsoft certifications.

So I wanted to take this episode to discuss why I feel that certifications have value and why I invested that time into them.

Let's start with my history with certifications.

I've held one Microsoft certification or another for the last 10 years. The types of certifications have changed over the years following Microsoft's response to what certifications it feels serve the industry, and of course, serve its own wants. Originally, the certifications were concrete skills around programming languages. More recently, those have changed to be more about the use of their Microsoft as Azure service offering.

So 10 years ago, why did I start doing the certifications?

At the time, I'd recently left a Head of IT role where I'd had a team of software developers with varying capabilities, and within that role, I wanted to improve the team's capabilities by investing in training courses intending to result in Microsoft certifications for each of the team.

My hope was, by investing in the team, they would learn and improve together, providing a substantial uplift to the organization. However, oddly, even the good developers seemed to struggle with obtaining the certifications - which at the time I found rather baffling.

Around the same time I left the role, I wanted to be more hands-on. Thus, when I moved into my next Head of IT role, I devoted my own time and money into those same certifications. I felt that by doing the certifications, it would encourage me to sharpen up my rusty technical skills and try to understand why my prior team had struggled.

As it was I passed the certifications comfortably - thus, it was difficult to really see why the prior team had struggled, although in my case, I did it all through self-study, not through a course, so possibly that was a factor.

And as time progressed, I found myself yearning to spend more time on the technical side. If I had to spend another meeting talking about Microsoft licenses, I was going to cry. So I maintained my certifications to provide credibility to my technical capabilities, even though a large part of my working history was managerial.

And I believe that has helped a little in my transition to a technical consultant where I'm being much more hands-on and working closely with technology.

Now, it could be argued that, now that I've been more on the technical side over the last few years, that certifications would have less personal value - after all, I think everyone would agree that experience is more valuable than any certification. However, I do still see value in certifications.

Experience is great, don't get me wrong, but it can also be exceptionally narrow focused. It is likely experience is very focused on what you've needed to do for any given project or client, whereas certifications will have a much wider focus.

Certainly the two certifications I've recently renewed, Azure Developer Associate and Azure Administrator Associate, cover much more of the Microsoft Azure offering than any full-time job would. The breadth, if not maybe the depth, is considerably greater than any on the job experience is likely to provide.

And in combination with experience, this is incredibly valuable.

Not only do I have those on the job skills that I've learned through experience, but I also have the awareness of capabilities and approaches in Microsoft Azure that I would've never otherwise got a chance to understand. And it's that combination that I feel provides value to me in my career.

Even though I have the certification, I still personally wouldn't market myself as an Azure Administrator Expert. I simply don't have enough hands-on experience. I can, however, market myself as a rounded problem solver using a wide breadth of knowledge to compliment a long and distinguished career of hands-on experience.

So would I have recommended certifications to myself earlier in the my career?

I only started about 10 years ago and I'm into a 30 year career. The simple answer is probably yes. Again, it is giving that breadth of knowledge that isn't necessarily learned from day-to-day work. Yes, that breadth of knowledge can be learned simply by learning around the subject, reading books, listening to podcasts, doing other courses, looking at other technologies that aren't part of your day-to-day, so yes you can gain that breadth in other ways, the difference is a certification will give you a wider breadth around a specific product or service.

Say for example, the ones on Microsoft Azure give you a wide breadth of their technological and service capabilities, but all the time focused on Azure.

So certainly I would recommend to my younger self, and to anyone else in the IT technical industry, look at certifications as a way of broadening your skills and your capabilities and building on that knowledge that you're gaining from your day-to-day work.

Would I insist on certifications when recruiting?

No. I will always favor experience over certification. But that being said, having a candidate with both can be a differentiator if you've got a number of similar experienced candidates on the books.

So while I'd certainly recommend against having certification as a requirement for any job role, having a certification on a candidate's CV is a good sign and worth looking at.

In this episode, I wanted to explain why I took the time to re-certify during my recent break from podcasting.

I feel sometimes that certification within the industry has a bad name, but for me personally, I find a personal value in my growth and my development in doing those certifications. And I actually think there's some value in recruiting people that have gone through some of those certifications because of the breadth of knowledge it helps them obtain.

But this has to be married with depth of experience gained through hands-on experience.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to this podcast. I look forward to speaking to you again next week.