Hot tip: Certification observations from Chris Ward of CBT Nuggets

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We don’t all learn the same way, especially when it comes to certification. Some people are most at home sitting in a classroom and taking notes from an instructor. For others, a book and a set of do-it-yourself lab exercises may offer the best solution. For many, training videos are an essential tool. If you’re in that last group, then you may already be familiar with the certification experts at CBT Nuggets.

The right certification can be a career-changer.Since its humble beginnings in the 1990s, CBT Nuggets has become a major certification training resource, offering thousands of videos to assist your certification efforts. Training expert Chris Ward of CBT Nuggets will be a featured speaker at the upcoming SpiceWorld conference in Austin, Texas, Sept. 23-24. With SpiceWorld approaching fast, CertMag exchanged e-mails with Ward to get some of his thought about the ever-evolving IT certification landscape:

CertMag: How important is certification as a means of career development? Isn’t it enough to rely on work experience and workplace training?

Chris Ward of CBT Nuggets: Becoming certified in a technology is building a foundational knowledge that allows work experience to become more efficient and powerful. It’s true that you can eventually learn something simply by mimicking others, or doing the same thing over and over. Not knowing the “why” of how things works, however, puts a worker at a disadvantage. Workplace training can be hit or miss. You don’t have an entity that monitors consistency and overall best practices. When I became a Project Management Professional (PMP), I found that understanding the overall best practices of project management made me a better project manager.

CMg: People often think of certification as a means of getting a better job or higher salary. Is that a good reason to pursue certification?

Chris Ward: A lot of that depends on the person and where they are in their life journey. If they are trying to improve the quality of life that they are currently experiencing, then I believe that wanting a better job or higher paying salary is a legitimate motivator. That being said, however, I also believe that money and position can only motivate to a certain level. Becoming better at your job, better in your career, expanding your breadth of knowledge in a field, and learning something new are far better motivators that bring lasting job satisfaction and life satisfaction.

CMg: What would you say are the most important benefits of becoming certified?

Chris Ward: I believe that it establishes self-confidence in your abilities. While passing a few certification exams doesn’t define who you are, it definitely gives you encouragement that you are learning something, and that you have the knowledge necessary to do things better. In general, people want to succeed and progress. Certification to me is one of those milestones or road markers in your journey that show that progress and success.

Personally, getting my first MCSE was a huge boost to my confidence and allowed me to see other areas that I could work on and improve. Secondly, I believe that certification can help benefit you financially as well. It won’t make you a millionaire overnight, but it will help improve your current situation.

CMg: There are often several options to choose from which picking a certification path. What’s the best way to decide which certification to get?

Chris Ward: Anytime you watch those who are very successful and highly certified in their fields, you can see the passion, the fire for what they do. Starting off with a baseline of a Comptia A+ (hardware), CCNA (networking) and MCP or Linux Certified SysAdmin (software) gives you a platform to then dive into whatever area you enjoy! I personally enjoy end-user environments like Office, so I spend a lot of time knowing and understanding that area.

On the other hand, I rose to CCNP in Cisco, MCSE 2000 and MCSE: Communications to know and understand the “behind the scenes” elements that allow end-users to accomplish their tasks. Be passionate! Also be knowledgeable about what future areas of technology you might want to work in. The only constant in IT is change. J

CMg: What are the most important things for a first-time certification candidate to know while preparing for that first big exam?

Chris Ward:  The most important prep tools you can have are: good training, good resource books, and practice exams. These tools get your brain working in the right direction. Pick a training experience that works best for you. For the majority, e-learning is just fine. If you’re pursuing a certification that requires hands-on demonstrations, however, make sure you get training that includes lab environments.

Another thing to think about before your first exam is that if you don’t pass, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Some people just aren’t good test takers, and if you haven’t ever had to sit in a small, well-lit room after spending more than $100 to answer questions on a computer screen, then you might not do well your first time out. You will, however, have had a chance to experience the testing environment, and won’t feel so overwhelmed the next time.

CMg: Once you have a certification in hand, what’s the best way to apply it to furthering one’s career?

Chris Ward: I’m actually talking about this at SpiceWorld in my session “I’m Certified! Now what?” One of the best things to do when you get your certification is to update your resume to reflect your new cert. Also, make sure you get a copy of your results to your supervisor and HR. Then start thinking of ways to put into practice that which you have learned.

Even if it isn’t at your place of business, there are plenty of groups out there or even individuals that could use your help. Perhaps volunteer to help your local charity or Boys/Girls Club. Now that you’ve learned something, one of the best ways to make it stick is to teach others! It gives you more experience and also looks good to your current and future employer(s).

CMg:  Does it tend to be true that certification improves job performance?

Chris Ward: I have seen studies that show at least minor improvement in job performance over the years for those who get certified in their areas. Personally, it has made me even better at doing that which I’ve been tasked to do. It has also allowed me to have a little more creative thinking in how to accomplish tasks. This helps me, my supervisor and my company.

CMg: Is it ever a good idea to certify in something that doesn’t relate to one’s present job or prior educational endeavors?

Chris Ward: It depends on where you are at in your journey. If you are stuck in a rut and feeling like there’s no challenge, then perhaps studying to be certified in a different field or aspect of IT could be a spark, a charge to get you back in the game. It also depends on your time and money capabilities. If you’re doing well and have some spare time, learning something new is always a big life boost.

CMg: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about certification?

Chris Ward:  Three things:

It’s a golden ticket that instantly makes you wealthy and wise. — Certification is not a silver bullet. It acknowledges a baseline of knowledge that allows you kick out of the starting blocks in a race. Your experience and practice will help you succeed.

It’s just a piece of paper.On the other side of the coin, there are those who think certification is useless. If someone truly trains and studies to get his or her CCNA or VCP or MCSE, etc., then they have put in time and effort to better themselves. They have said, “I want to be better at what I do and have something that shows that improvement or ability.”

I’ve worked 30 years in this industry and don’t need any certification. — I personally believe that getting certified shows a drive and passion for what you do. This will translate into your work habits and flexibility in the future. As one wise man said, “Happy are the flexible, for they shall be bent and not break.” If I’m looking at someone who isn’t even interested in improving or trying to show their abilities, I’m not as likely to promote or hire them.

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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