Learning While Earning
In an ideal situation, certification candidates would be able to devote all their time and energy to the “vita contemplativa technical” — that is, they could focus exclusively on learning about the concepts and practices behind new technologies. Most IT professionals, however, attempt their certification, training and academic endeavors during the time when they’re not at work.
For a few reasons, having a full-time job isn’t particularly conducive to an all-out study effort. Almost any profession in the technology sector can take its toll in terms of time, energy and stress, and certification can be an especially difficult endeavor if it doesn’t have the active — or at least tacit — support of your employer. Having said all that, though, there are some benefits that can be derived from taking part in training and certification while holding down a job.
For starters, unless you’re trying to break into a new area of the industry and attempt a certification in an unfamiliar area, you’re probably already learning on the job by working on a daily basis with the technology the credential covers. Also, many certs out there have professional experience prerequisites. In these instances, you are furthering your credentialing efforts by simply showing up at work.
Additionally, if you’re already earning a steady income, you’ll know what kinds of discretionary funds you’ll have to pay for exam preparation materials, test registration fees and any other costs you might incur. If the employer has a forward-thinking view of certification and employee development generally, however, you might not have to foot the entire bill for credentialing and training. In fact, you might not have to pay a dime.
Many companies are willing to help out their techies by either directly financing their credentialing efforts (in part or entirely) or compensating them after the fact. If you’re asking your boss for certification money, though, be prepared to defend the request. It helps to have a few years of experience with that employer already and be recognized as a high-potential member of the team. A business is much more likely to dispense funds for IT credentials to a loyal, ambitious worker who’s on the fast track up the corporate ladder.
No matter whether it’s subsidized, though, pursuing certification also demonstrates dedication to the field, which, in turn, says a great deal about one’s career prospects. Most employers will appreciate the commitment shown by those who go after credentials to build up their knowledge and skills, as well as the fact that they can take on such challenges along with their workload.
As indicated earlier, it is not easy to fit certification into an already busy work schedule, but there are ways of dealing with it. First, honestly assess your major upcoming personal and professional commitments before attempting any certification. If you already have momentous, potentially time-consuming events in the near future, then you might want to contemplate holding off on getting certified.
Also worth considering is the credential itself. Is it going to be a highly involved process, in which you’ll have to devote more than 20 hours per week to getting prepared? How in-depth is the content? Are you already familiar with the subject matter, or will you have to start from a low level of knowledge? Assessing the material and your comprehension of it will help you determine how much time you’ll need to devote to getting ready for the certification.
Finally, try to get some sort of assurance from your employer that he or she will be flexible on scheduling throughout the certification process. See if your employer will provide you with some extra paid time off or allow you to telecommute, particularly in the days closely preceding the exam. Whether it’s time or money, you might be surprised at what your employer will give you if you just ask.