Certificates, Experience and Degrees

The age-old question (well, relatively old) among a generation of IT professionals from various paths; which carries greater weight, certification, degree, or experience?

The answer is a paradox: all of the above, and none of the above. This sounds like a bad Zen riddle, but it’s truthful nonetheless. Each has its own benefits. None of them separately perfects a candidate, and all of them equally afford a unique advantage.

Certifications prove subject matter expertise. It takes nothing short of an expert to earn a CISSP or CRISC. These cannot be faked, and require demonstration of expertise at lower and mid-levels prior to testing. While this doesn’t necessarily require “experience,” the higher level certificates indirectly mandate experience, because something as rigorous as the CCIE is absurdly difficult without practicing for it in real-world application, and usually a few years with a CCNP first.

With higher level certifications, one can argue that how much experience doesn’t really matter – if one is proficient enough to earn a certificate, it’s sufficient for the career opportunity. For lower level certificates like CompTIAs A+ or the CCENT, on the other hand, experience is definitely vital – especially considering experience alone could empower one to obtain lower level credentials easily enough.

Degrees demonstrate a disciplined and very broad approach. If one holds a BS/BA in a computer science or networking area, it’s safe to assume they have a broad exposure to many different facets. A post-graduate will have an even deeper technical understanding, which certainly helps. Generally, a post graduate degree is comparable to some of the higher level certificates, albeit with additional classes – something many IT professionals consider unnecessary and expensive. At any rate, degrees are often preferred over certificates, all other things equal – but even that depends on the specific opportunity.

Experience is the ruler of all, with or without formal education or certificates. The downside of experience alone is that it’s alone. If you’ve done Pen Testing for years, but don’t have a GPEN, the chances of snagging an interview are roughly equal to someone with a GEPN and no experience– it depends on the company. Most recruiters aren’t interested in testing your skills without certification. However, the reciprocal is also true – an experienced person with lesser degree/certificate could win a position over someone with higher education but no experience.

Being self-taught says a lot about one’s abilities – but there’s no proof, and that can be difficult water to navigate. It also can be said that some areas, such as computer languages, don’t have a standard for testing, so experience alone is all one can look for.

There is really no right or wrong answer, everything is like a variable in a Java if/then statement. However, there are skills that are equally important for long term success that most recruiters won’t mention; soft skills. These are the skills that make you unique from a hundred other CCNA holders or SQL Analysts. It’s your business culture, the way you work, and how you fit into an organization. It’s not evident in your resume, but it plays just as big of a part.

That’s our area of expertise. At CultureFit, we spend a considerable amount of time getting to know you and discovering what you have to offer beyond the acronyms on your resume. We understand their importance, but we also understand the benefits of placing like-minded candidates and businesses together. It creates a symbiotic relationship for a low-stress, long term IT career opportunity, and that’s our focus. Contact us today for a consultation to see how we can help you take the next step in your career.