If you've been wondering whether you should go for a technical certification or not, then this article is for you.
In it, I will share with you how I approach such dilemmas to help you decide what to pursue.
Why You Should Get Technical Certifications
The main reasons to get a certification are, in my opinion:
- You demonstrate that you have a continuous learning mentality. There's nothing better in a field which is constantly changing.
- A certification helps you specialize and target jobs in the certification area. It can also help you attract clients if you are a freelancer or consultant.
- It can help you build a better "personal brand" at work (depends on the job).
How to Decide Which Certification to Get
Based on your current or near-future career plans
Getting a certification requires hard work and study. So if this certification is going to improve your career prospects, tangibly, by all means, go for it.
But if you don't think it will help you in your career, I recommend spending your precious and limited time elsewhere. Life is too short to spend time working towards something that won't help you in the long run.
Are you a bored DBA stuck in a dead-end job? A reputable certification in data engineering might help you land a job in a rising and exciting field.
The most complete certification is probably the Professional Data Engineer from Google. You will also learn some basic things about Google Cloud, which is also in high demand.
You might be a security engineer and you want to level up your game. Or you may want to chase a promotion next year. Luckily, there are tons of security certifications around.
Are you well-rounded? If not, maybe an introductory certification can boost your skills. A good example is Security+ from Comptia.
Are you seasoned but your hands-on is dusty? Try OSCP.
Or if you want to become a manager in a security-centric organization, CISSP is worth a glance.
You're changing tech tracks
A certification can help you land a new job, especially if this new job requires changing your technical domain.
Are you a mathematician and you want to become a machine learning engineer? You may want to study some hands-on courses in machine learning, first. Then go for a certification like Azure AI, to apply them in the cloud.
Keep in mind though, that not all transitions are created equal. It might be easier to go from a math education to machine learning, but maybe not from a UX background to ML (all other things being equal).
Both for this and the previous point, remember: some companies filter out CV keywords while hiring, so a certification can give you extra points for the next step of the process. You have fewer chances of being disqualified early on as long as you're a strong candidate all around.
Example 1 from the previous section applies here too.
Will you pay the tuition? Or will your employer pay? Certifications usually cost anywhere from a hundred dollars (e.g. AWS Cloud Practitioner) to a few thousand (e.g.Cisco Architect before it was terminated).
Sometimes the cost is in proportion to the opportunities (and the salary) this certification can bring. But hype around the cert also plays a vital role in the cost.
Make sure you evaluate the cost-benefit relationship beforehand. You need to carefully consider your options, and do some market research to make optimal decisions.
Based on your current knowledge
When I'm choosing a certification to tackle, I focus on one that I'll be able to absolutely crush – I want to be starting from a pretty advanced point.
I like to pair a certification with my battle-tested knowledge of the domain. That way you get more value as a professional and the certification makes you look really good. And as you give value, you get back value.
Let's revisit my above example on data engineering again. It is easier to get that cert (and it's more valuable to you and your company) if you back it up with existing good knowledge.
On the other hand, if you are working in IT support and you have no career change aspirations, whats the point of going for a cert like that? It might also take you 2-3 times the amount of study if you have never seen how a data pipeline works.
You have a desire to go deep
In your career, unless you love your comfort zone or you are pro-early-specialization, you will gain a good breadth in the sector within 5-10 years.
Not all knowledge requires a certification. I am very confident with Linux and Linux administration, as I have used it at home and work for many years. But getting a Linux administration is not something I've yet considered (at least for now), as it is not the focus I want to have in my career.
If you really want to dive in deep to one area, though, studying for a certification is a great way to hone your knowledge.
Anyone can create a certification. That doesn't mean the rest of the world (and especially the job market) will care about it.
We have limited time slots for certifications. As Wilfredo Pareto would say, 20% of your actions will give 80% of the results. Use your limited time wisely and do your research. You'll be able to tell which of the certifications are well-respected and in high demand.
What is your view on certifications? There are many opinions in the field, and I would like to hear other perspectives.