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April 18, 2020

5 Reasons Why Technical Certifications Aren’t Worth It

In 2018, my boss came up to me and asked if I would go out and get the Microsoft Certified Software Developer Certification. Not because they wanted me to get better at Microsoft programming, but because I was already good at it. My employer wanted sweet MSDN discounts for getting enough staff certified.

What’s in it for me? It begs the question, are IT certifications ever a good idea? My take is no, and here are my five reasons why.

1) Certifications Expire In Less Than 3 Years

I took the MCSD certification in 2018. By early 2020, Microsoft announced that it’s retiring the certificate.

You read that right. Two years later and the certificate is 100% dead.

And Microsoft flat out killing its cert might be an irregularity as this doesn’t usually happen as fast. That said, this happens a lot. There are very few certificates you could have gotten in 2010 or 2015 that I’d feel are still relevant today. That’s only 5-10 years and all those certificates are dead.

For example, an Objective-C certification probably made sense 5 years ago. A Ruby on Rails Certification may have made sense 10 years ago. Where are these languages now? Even platforms that are still around like Java or c# have changed drastically over the past 10 years.

2) Employers Also Feel Certificates Expire In 3 Years

The only valid reason to get a certification is if you work for the government and need it to fulfill DoDD 8570 to stay employed. But, you have to continually renew these certificates to prove that you’re still an expert. Taking 4-5 costly and time-consuming exams every 3 years is incredibly annoying.

My take is if you’re a software engineer in this situation, get a new job. I’m dead serious. Your job sucks. Leave.

There is a massive demand for software engineers around the world (or you can build SaaS apps for yourself). You would be better off finding something new than continuing to place yourself in this situation.

3) Employers Don’t Care About Your Certifications in Interviews

Perhaps if you have certifications, it will help you land that interview. But, so will an excellent resume writing service. The difference is a resume writing service is cheaper, and you don’t have to study for it.

When I’m interviewing software engineers, their education means nothing to me. Nothing.

I’ve interviewed Ph.D.’s that I’ve felt were awful programmers. I’ve interviewed people without college degrees who were fantastic programmers. Once you’re in a room talking with me, I don’t so much care about your credentials. What I care about is that you can last in a 15-30 minute conversation with me.

Meaning if you say you’re a web service expert, I’m going to ask you about REST. If you say you’re a .Net developer, I’m going to ask you about Entity Framework. If you say you’re a SQL guy, I’m going to ask you what various join statements do. If you say you’re a process guy, I’m going to ask you how a scrum should operate.

The multiple-choice certificate that you obtained will not help you in an interview with me.

4) Employers Won’t Pay You More Because of Certificates.

It’s purely anecdotal to say your employer won’t pay you more because of your new shiny certificate. But, I don’t feel like we pay people with certificates any more than we pay people without certifications.

For most professions, your pay is dictated by the market. Meaning you get paid according to what other companies are willing to pay you. And as I just said, employers don’t care about your certification level when determining your level of programming talent. Ergo, I can’t imagine you get paid more for having them.

The one exception of you working in government where a company flat out needs a developer with this specific certification to fill the contract. Then your certification might give you some leverage.

5) Certificates Are a Shameless Cash Grab

Each test of the MCSD I had to take cost $250 to attend. Meaning I had to pay $750 out of my pocket to prove that I was an “expert” in this field.

Except, did I prove anything? I don’t feel like I learned anything taking these exams. I learned how to study for a multiple-choice test. I learned that I hate my boss. I learned paying for certifications is stupid. But, that’s it.

And Microsoft rightfully retired those certs in 2020. When I was studying for the test in 2018 many of the “Answers” were already deprecated. They were effectively having people memorize the incorrect answer so that they could pass the test.

Programming is a fluid thing that involves looking new things up on the fly. The idea of a certification is stupid, it assumes that programming is a static thing with a right or wrong answer.

Do yourself a favor and avoid IT Certifications like the shameless cash grab that they are.

Shaun Poore worked in the government / software industry for more than 15 years and never once saw any benefit from painstakingly getting a certification. Shaun believes they're simply a way for your employer to check a box and if it's not required for your job you shouldn't bother with it.

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