Dear CertMag is a weekly feature that addresses common questions about certification and related IT issues. Have a question? Send an e-mail to editor (at) certmag (dot) com.
Dear CertMag: I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for quite a few years, but my youngest is now entering middle school. I have a very modest IT background from way back and I’ve done a fair amount of reading and dabbling. I’m interested in web design and development. What certifications are there that would get me moving in the right direction? And what’s the best way to get back into that learner’s mindset I had in college?
— Jean Pitt, Lincoln, NE
As a husband and a father (with another child on the way!), I can emphatically relate with where you are right now. My wife faces a similar challenge in taking a year off and returning to her field as a teacher, and I find myself struggling to find the time to complete my own certification goals.
The first thing to do is to find something that really interests you in the field. Your interest will drive your ability to connect with the material. There are so many things that have branched out of “web development” in the last few years. A decade or so back, if you wanted to do website development, you pretty much did a little bit of everything. If you were a really serious developer, you likely were more engaged on back-end systems and less on the front end that people were seeing — and probably were only working on the top 5 percent of internet websites out there!
These days, there are many different roles and technologies, each aligned to different parts of the publishing platforms that companies use to get their message out on the web. Given how long you indicate you may have been out of the field, I would strongly recommend reading some basic texts on some of the topics that really have been emergent in the last few years. Without the essentials on things like website traffic generation, understanding the role of social media, and how your customers can (or should) build a web marketing campaign using a common platform (like Google AdWords), you may lack credibility in interviews.
Before tackling a certification, my strong suggestion would be this: Take some time to shore up those areas to be able to present well to customers or a prospective employer. One of my favorite book series in this area is the “Ultimate Series” published by Entrepreneur Press. Covering topics like the “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Website” and “Ultimate Guide to Facebook Advertising,” these books can provide the building blocks that will help you get “thumbnail deep” into some of the new areas of focus for modern web design.
Once you decide whether you want to get deeper into UI design, Front End programming, or the application programming that underlie many websites, that decision will help you know which certification to align with. One caution I might add is that few customers, in my experience, make a decision in this field based on certification. Outside of maybe getting you a corporate role in a larger entity, it may not have much resume impact. If you are going into business for yourself, or as part of a small- or medium-sized marketing organization, then building a portfolio of experience (and perhaps design samples) is going to be the most critical way to demonstrate that you are someone potential customers or clients should take an interest in.
Certification in design subjects breaks down into a minimal set of available credentials like the Prosoft CIW Associate certification, which then opens up the ability to pursue deeper credentials in the CIW certification program (like the master designer or master administrator). Otherwise, most of the credentials in this space are software- or platform-based. An example here would be certifying on Adobe products, or obtaining a certification from a particular IDE vendor or Linux software vendor.
For web design and development, certification can be a valuable part of demonstrating your overall “complete” value as a candidate to a customer or an organization. It is secondary, however, to the experience and design samples that demonstrate your ability to deliver success in your next web project.