Opinion: Certifications are worth it

Every year, Certification Magazine conducts a survey to determine the effect of technical certifications on an IT professional's salary and career. During the economic boom, certified professionals could boast of huge salary gains that were higher than their noncertified colleagues. Salary disparities between the "haves" and "have nots" often reached 20 percent and more. It was easy to say, then, that attaining a technical certification was worth the time, cost and effort.

But what about today? The economy has soured, IT spending has slowed to a crawl, and many IT professionals have experienced or witnessed massive layoffs. Those who have been laid off are having trouble finding jobs. Is there still any value in getting a technical certification?

The answer is a resounding yes, according to the nearly 10,000 people who responded to Certification's 2002 survey. Despite the gloomy economic news and flat IT spending throughout 2002, certified professionals still had good things to say about the value of being certified. Nearly 80 percent of the survey respondents plan to pursue additional certifications during the current year.

They are doing so primarily for job security. These people - your peers - believe that certification plays an important role in keeping their jobs in these uncertain economic times. And not only do they feel more confident about maintaining their jobs, they also feel more confident about performing their jobs. Certifications verify your skills and knowledge for analyzing, designing, installing and supporting complex computing environments, and employers take notice.

Some employers even make certification training a formal step in their workforce development programs. This is sound reasoning on the employer's part; the Certification survey points out that employees feel that technical certification improves their problem-solving skills and overall job productivity.

But you don't get certified just to be more productive. You're in it for the money! Well, there's good news on that front as well.

Even though the tough economy has slowed the pace of raises and promotions, holding at least one technical certification increases your prospects of a better raise or promotion. Of the 2002 survey respondents, 31 percent received a job promotion within a year of attaining their primary technical certification. I interpret this as a sign that employers appreciate the increased knowledge, broader range of skills, and enhanced confidence and productivity that accompany the attainment of a certification.

Even if you don't see a promotion after getting certified, you at least can anticipate earning more money. Nearly half of the survey respondents reported receiving a raise within a year of attaining the certification. You might say that those raises were slated to occur anyway, even without the certification. Not so, say the respondents. Most of them believe their raises were mostly attributable to their certification.

OK, so promotions and more money are good. But what else can you expect from getting certified?

Well, there's the respect of your colleagues, customers and peers. More than half of the survey respondents believe they get more on-the-job respect because of their technical certifications.

There's also the attention from your key computer vendors, particularly if they are the ones that have issued the certifications. Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Novell Inc. and Oracle Corp., among others, issue well-respected technical certifications. If you make the effort to complete their certification programs, they treat you better than they do the average guy off the street. The special treatment usually includes access to preannouncement product information such as road maps and strategies; offers for discounted equipment, training and services; in-depth technical information and tools that help you perform your job better; and access to priority support. It all adds up to helping you be a better technical professional.

So times are tough and training money is scarce, but there's still value in attaining technical certification. Whether you're getting your first certification or you're adding on to an already-impressive resum‚, certification makes you more attractive as an employee. It's a classic "win-win" situation for you and your employer.

Musthaler is vice president of Currid & Company, a technology assessment firm in Houston. She can be reached at linda@currid.com.

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