Dear CertMag: How do I make time for certification?

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 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 have a full-time job and my wife and I have four active children who seem to produce a never-ending stream of homework and school projects. I’m involved in my church congregation and I have a couple of civic commitments as well. I have a few basic certifications (A+, Network+) and I’d like to get more training in cloud technology. It’s been several years since those first certs, however, and I’ve been a little frustrated trying to figure out how I can fit things in. What’s the best way for a person with a lot of time demands to certify?

— Charles Norris, Kutztown, Penn.

CertMag responds: 

Managing our obligations as friends, spouses, parents, community participants, and the many other roles we all play makes it difficult to balance our work and the things that can enhance our careers!

“Cloud” certification is a rapidly evolving area of certification as the training and certification for new technologies frequently lag the introduction and implementation of technologies by a span of time, often measured in months or years. As “cloud” certification evolves, the credibility of one credential over another, and where the industry looks for certification as a value-add or requirement will continue to evolve.

If you look at the state of the industry now, the value of cloud certifications is often vendor-aligned based on what an employer or service provider is working with frequently. If the organization doing the hiring uses Amazon Web Services to run their systems, arriving with a certification as an administrator or architect will probably hold significant value. If that same organization is using an Azure-based implementation, they will likely see the same certification as evidence that you are familiar with the concepts, but it will not correspond well with the systems knowledge they may be looking for in a candidate.

If you have a target organization in mind, see if you can figure out what they are using either by job postings (do they mention a provider or a platform?), or do a search for resumes.

What are people from that company listing on their resume? If a bunch of people are listing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure as a Service, the odds are probably good that an MCSE in the new cloud credentials would be a good bet. I would caution you to consider your investment in “industry” level certification more carefully. In the cloud industry picture, it is not yet clear that employers are placing much value on “any provider” cloud certifications.

Finding time to pursue your selected credential is a familiar challenge for many of us. Begin with your significant other and discuss the value of the certification to your family. Maybe the key for you is job stability, maybe it’s in moving up in your organization, and maybe it’s finding a new job with different benefits, or compensation or less time demand. Know what you want the credential for up front and make sure the family is on board!

Set a date for the certification, and be specific. When can you reasonably be ready for your chosen credential? Your date should have a small – but not excessive – cushion of time for events within the family.

Use as many avenues of learning as fit your personal style and time availability. Can you read books as an effective study method? Maybe get some e-books on a tablet or kindle? Or videos. Or tutorials. Choose what fits how you learn.

Finally, look for low cost opportunities to “stretch your legs” in the free tier of services like Azure or Amazon Web Services to reinforce what you are learning.

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Wayne Anderson


Wayne Anderson (@NoCo_Architect) is a Service Management Architect with Avanade, a company that helps customers realize results in a digital world through business technology solutions and managed services that combine insight, innovation and expertise focused on Microsoft® technologies. He holds the Certified IT Architect – Professional credential from IASA and has completed more than 30 Microsoft certifications in his career alongside credentials from CompTIA and other industry vendors.

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One thought on “Dear CertMag: How do I make time for certification?”

  1. Charles. It’s great to hear you are looking into more certifications, and Wayne, great feedback. In approaching training and certification, there are effective ways to go.

    – Online Learning: This is usually a more cost effective way to train and provides a great deal of flexibility in your time. eLearning allows individuals with high time commitments to train when they can, as they can. The challenge with so many people that choose eLearning is that they never quite finish. If the outcome you seek is certification, you will have to have a strong amount of self control to see it through.
    – IT Tech Training: If you Google “VMware / MCSE-Cloud / etc”, you won’t be short of places to go where you can attend a more traditional instructor-facilitated event. IT Training provided by an experienced trainer will help you absorb content effectively and prep for certification.
    – Bootcamps: Kind of like IT Tech Training, but with 4-hours more per day, and in-class certification preparation and testing. Folks leave a VCP, CCNA, MCSE, etc. These immersive programs provide a thorough review of the training content, and marry it to testing prep exercises throughout the class. During these events, you’ll also be taking the exam. Don’t be surprised to go away for a week or more, and be totally immersed for the program’s duration until you go home… 8am to 7pm kind of stuff.
    – Books: Don’t forget, the majority of IT professionals self-teach utilizing the plethora of books available on the market. Reading is an excellent way to not only learn new skills, but to sharpen the mind too.

    As for finding the time, Wayne is 100% right. To get buy-in, we all have to pitch the stakeholders and this happens in the household too. Figure out what method works for you and get everyone up to speed about the project. With support, you will do great!

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