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In a Tough Economy, What Skills & Certifications Do You Really Need?

October 14, 2011 author:

I get asked this question a lot. In fact, since this will be read by a lot of students and faculty, I will share some advice I gave someone about three weeks ago. This person, who actually has an M.S. in Information Technology, was proposing that IT certifications alone would suffice to help a person get the IT job of their dreams.

I am with one of the world’s best companies at the moment, and I am very happy with my job and the people I work with, so I am planning on staying here as long as possible.

But I laugh at the people that think they can move ahead in the IT field without a degree or multiple degrees in this field. They do not realize that despite what they sincerely believe about saving money and getting a few certifications, and skipping the formal education, they are doing themselves considerable career harm in the long run, because they cannot get back the years they wasted believing that poppycock. And actually, it’s good because it helps decrease the competition for guys like you and me. Also, they don’t realize that despite what they believe about being successful without formal education, they have peers and people younger than them who will get a clue and realize what it takes to succeed, and set their course and do it.

When I was a young U.S. Air Force officer, we asked a USAF Colonel about the secret of advancing your career in the U.S. Air Force. Here’s what he said:
“Look around and see what your peers are doing. If they are getting master’s degrees and going to Squadron Officers School, you better be doing the same.”

In Houston, I lived through a severe economic downturn. There was a story about a guy who had a B.S. in Geophysics who went into a Burger King to find work because he had been laid off and out of work for three months. When he met with the manager, he explained that since he had B.S. in Geophysics he was probably over qualified. The manager said this: “Not so fast Buddy, all our hamburger flippers and cashiers have master’s degrees and PhDs.”

If you are a normal person like you or me, you will try to understand the laws of Supply and Demand and the Market and the Economy, and then do what it takes to succeed. if that means hard work, certifications, education, etc., we will do it. But if you are like the guy that asked the question, and you have an “inside scoop”, you can just pick up a few easy certifications, the ones that DON’T REQUIRE CPE credits, and you may be good to go, and then you can save all that money that people spend on formal education.

However, my experience, knowledge, and time in the IT profession tell me that person that believes that certifications alone are sufficient may soon find out the hard way that he is totally wrong. The trouble is that there could be a lot of wasted time if and when he wakes up and realizes the truth.

Anyway, here’s something about education that all of you can print and put on your wall:

Finally, if you think that you are planning a career in Information Technology, where you can be the world’s greatest programmer, or world’s greatest database administrator, or the world’s greatest networking person, or the world’s greatest system administrator, or the world’s greatest security person, or the world’s greatest project manager, Good Luck! Here is a big surprise for you: A future employer may expect you to be all those things. Don’t believe me? Look what happened in the IT career field between 1997 and 2007.

Almost forgot, most of those same employers also expect you to be polished and have strong communication skills in writing, speaking, and LISTENING.  (Yes - Listening a form of communication also.)
Your response? That’s not fair!!!
My response: Life’s not fair. So, do you want to work or be unemployed and live off your parents? If the answer to that question is, “No,” then you need to study hard and stay busy learning.
So study hard. And stay thirsty for Knowledge and Skills my friends!

Best regards,
William F. Slater, III, M.S., MBA, PMP, CISSP, SSCP, CISA, ISO 27002, ISO 20000, ITIL v3, MCITP, MCSE, MCSD, CDCP
Chicago, IL