Letters to the Editor – November 2005
In February 2004, Certification Magazine printed my letter about certifications and my opinions at that time. Basically, I stated that the reading materials provide a framework for learning and that certification can be a positive way to influence your marketability, especially if you are unemployed. I wrote from an experienced point of view, having passed the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), Microsoft Certified Application Developer (MCAD), Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) exams.
Recently, my career focus changed to IT security from application development. In the past three months, I’ve earned a few IT security-based certifications to complement my new career focus and interest. The most challenging of these was EC-Council’s Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). I did the one-week course at an accredited training center before taking the exam because of my lack of actual experience in security. The course was a great hands-on experience, and my current employer paid the course fee, which wasn’t a trivial chunk of change.
The company I work for writes software for vulnerability detection, among other things. I find myself constantly challenged by friends and work colleagues on the value of certifications. I’ve also watched the certification market grow quickly in the past couple of years. Recently, I received a survey from a certification vendor that wanted me to state the “one” reason I took their certification exam, which I objected to in the available comments field. When you go buy something like a car, do you buy it for one reason? Because you liked the color? You might prioritize your reasons, but I doubt there is ever just one reason.
Having put a lot of thought into justifying certifications, I think I have found one reason that certifications are flourishing. Many years ago, I started my career at IBM in one of its labs. At this job, I had lots of people who acted as mentors and enjoyed passing on their knowledge in a non-egotistical manner, and I had a young mind that wanted to learn everything. Fourteen years later, I don’t have that young mind anymore, but I never lost that inquisitive nature, which is perhaps one of the reasons I’ve changed career direction. When I think back over the years, I wonder what has happened to all those people who were willing to mentor.
My hypothesis is that mentorship is becoming more and more scarce in IT. One reason for my own drive to continue with certifications is to learn, since there seems to be little opportunity to learn from others who are far more experienced. And unfortunately, I have a character that learns more if I force myself to sit an exam at the end. I think certifications are partially filling a gap that continues to grow. To those who challenge the value of certifications, I would pose these questions: When was the last time you went out of your way to pass on some relevant job knowledge to a colleague or subordinate? If you are in a leadership position and I asked your team whether you were a good mentor, what would the general consensus be?
Having been in many technical leadership positions, I don’t want to condemn those who don’t mentor well, or at all. Software cycles have become shorter, and the demands to do more with less are evident. But before condemning or criticizing the value of certifications, perhaps it would be better to understand the motivation for earning them. If you are an IT leader, provide positive feedback for those who seek them if you aren’t addressing mentorship and knowledge transfer within your organization.
David Breslin, MCSD, MCDBA, MCSA, CEH,
Linux+, Security+, Network+
Personal Best: Update
I was just asked by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 organization to take CertMag’s online Salary Survey, and it gave me a bit of a trip down memory lane. About five years ago, right before I started my job at Cisco, I was featured in Certification Magazine (see www.certmag.com/issues/oct00/dept_personalbest.cfm). I can tell you that I still continue to acquire certifications and currently work as a security specialist for Cisco Systems Inc.
Thank you for the feature in your magazine. It certainly helped launch my career at Cisco.
St. Louis, Mo.
Editor’s Note: Write and let us know how your career is progressing at firstname.lastname@example.org.