Logical Operations dares to ask: Can an IT pro live by certification alone?

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One of the most important legs of any certification journey involves the long process of preparation and learning that takes place over the weeks and often months prior to scheduling an exam. Even seasoned IT pros often have quite a bit of new material to take in when contemplating a new certification.

Do you need a college education to succeed in IT?

Nancy Curtis

The field of study and training providers is crowded. It’s difficult to carve out a niche, and difficult to hold on to it. One certification education company that’s done both successfully is Logical Operations, which has been in the business since 1982.

The Logical Operations library of learning materials has more than 4,600 title covering a broad range of disciplines. CertMag recently exchanged e-mails with Nancy Curtis, vice president of content for Logical Operations, to find out more about the company and its mission.

Note: Many of the questions in this interview were prompted by an opinion piece to be posted on LinkedIn by Logical Operations CEO Bill Rosenthal. In a post titled “Saying Yes to No College,” Rosenthal argues that a university education is not an essential first step to getting a high-paying IT job.

Q: What does Logical Operations offer that sets the company apart from other IT training firms? Other than the information itself, the actual knowledge provided, what’s the most important element of sound, successful IT training?

Two questions to answer here: As far as what we uniquely offer, it’s a lot. We have the most comprehensive offering of technical training materials and resources of any provider in the world, as far as I’m aware. And we provide all that in the context of our innovative CHOICE digital-delivery platform. The resources on CHOICE help delivery organizations succeed across all three dimensions of learning: Where, When, and How. Our whole conception of technical training goes far beyond the narrow confines of “What book do I buy?” into a broad and holistic learning experience.

We believe that people learn best from other people: So once you have a solid curriculum and platform as the basis for your delivery, the next, most important element is that expert facilitator — the knowledgeable individual to guide and support the learning.

Q: Some critics of IT training providers contend that many training products emphasize memorization of terms and formulas, but don’t actually help IT novices apply that information to real world tasks and problems. What’s the best way to ensure that exam candidates can pass a certification test and start doing productive work on Day One at their new job?

The Logical Operations learning philosophy has always focused on performance of job tasks. While it’s true that certification providers often test on baseline knowledge, such as definitions of terms, we recognize that’s only a means to end (with knowledge also being a testable “marker” for demonstrable skills).

Therefore, our learning objectives are job-outcome-based, and our scenarios and storylines put the students in a job context while they perform job-relevant class activities.Our approach ensures that students will practice job-aligned skills successfully during the class experience, before they perform those skills live in the workplace.

Q: Logical Operations CEO Bill Rosenthal has said that there are quite a few workers who hold high-paying jobs without ever having gone to college. Can a reasonably smart person really get one of those jobs just by getting a certification that maybe took them only a couple of months to plow through (study and testing together)? Or do you need to have a deep background in IT already, whether from past employment, high school, exhaustively pursued personal interest, or some other formula?

I think, hope, and believe that IT certifications as a whole have matured to the point that it would be hard to achieve them without some sort of practical experience. As much as I believe in training, it’s only one piece of the competence puzzle. I don’t really want people out there working as “certified” professionals based solely on a test-focused classroom experience.

But, as you point out, there are lots of ways to get applicable technical experience that may fall outside the bounds of a traditional employment track. Learning, experience, and certification make up a three-legged stool — each component makes the others stronger and provides professional balance for the individual.

Q: Is the IT security field an outlier in that regard, with high employment demand and pressing data protection concerns making it easier to get in the door with the right certification? Or can you get hired for most IT functions with no university background?

I also think, hope, and believe that an IT hiring manager would be savvy enough to weed out a “paper engineer,” and not hire someone otherwise unqualified for a particular position, solely on the basis of a bunch of certification acronyms on a resume. Recruiters and managers should be looking to match a candidate’s whole profile—experience, aptitude, and potential—against the needs of individual positions.

So, I’m not sure you can make a sweeping statement about “most” IT functions. A college background is great for general theoretical exposure, while certifications may be helpful in indicating current expertise, given the rapid pace of technical change in the IT field.

Do you need a college education to succeed in IT?Q: Related question: Is the whole IT realm an outlier in that regard? Obviously certain professions (law, medicine) are highly likely to continue to require college training. Are there other areas of specialization that come to mind where college isn’t worth as much as it may have been in the past? 

I think this is sort of an anachronistic question, because it presupposes that a college degree was always broadly perceived as a career prerequisite for most trades and professions. I’m not sure that was demonstrably true in the past.

The conception of “college = job training” may be more of a contemporary conceit. Ultimately, people who enter and succeed in the IT field do so because they have the desire and aptitude, and they are going to seek and find opportunities to learn and develop based on that innate interest and motivation.

Q: All other qualifications and personality variables being equal, if you were choosing between two candidates for the same job, one with a four-year degree, and one with no four-year degree, who would you choose and why?

Of course all of these other variables would never be equal; that’s sort of the point. (For example, if one person spent four years in college after high school, and another spent four years in the workplace during that same time, then that’s a difference.)

Nevertheless, if the two candidates were comparable, why wouldn’t I take the person with the college degree? Then I would know that they have the versatility, broader cultural and intellectual understanding, and experiential depth of field that come from a college experience. That degree demonstrates, at minimum, that the individual can learn new things, manage time and general life skills, and succeed in a competitive environment.

Q: Bill’s LinkedIn piece mentions that college education provides some intangible benefits. Are there other intangible that come to mind, beyond the well-rounded creative thinking mentioned in the article?

A great question to pose to the mother of a college student! There is so much value, in my view, in the need to communicate and cooperate with a range of individuals with different cultural, intellectual, and social backgrounds. Also, college gives an individual a chance to demonstrate that they are able to achieve goals and be successful in a context that’s different from their personal background or familiar comfort zone. Because working successfully with others is paramount in the workplace, the experience in working alongside others, fostering team environments, and properly managing a team dynamic is invaluable.

Q: How important is it to choose the right certifications if one is planning to forego college, and where’s the best place to go to seek along those lines?

If you don’t have a college degree, and you don’t have a related work background on your resume, then getting some well-respected certifications under your belt gives you a way to demonstrate baseline knowledge and competence.

Choose your certs well: Review job boards, research statistics in your field of interest, and mind the trends so that you understand where the need is. And don’t become a “certification junkie” at the expense of demonstrating your aptitude and capabilities in a practical way. Take courses that include hands-on practicum; volunteer your services to an organization; build a small network; develop a website; and stay up to date on the technical literature in the field.

Q: How important is it for people who don’t go to college, to keep pursuing certification once they have a job?

All IT professionals need to keep themselves informed so that they remain relevant and competitive in an ever-changing field. The degree to which certifications, as such, will play into career maintenance depends a lot on the specific function or subject area within the IT profession. And ultimately, I think the market is going to answer this question for all of us!

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CertMag Staff

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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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