Face-off: Certifications are not important for career enhancement

Experts disagree on whether formal certifications still matter

David Foote, CEO of Foote Partners, argues that certification is declining in importance.

But let's set that aside for a moment and explore why, in my firm's ongoing IT-skills pay survey of 62,000 North American IT professionals, average pay declined 0.1% in the past 12 months for certification and rose nearly 8% for noncertified IT skills. And let's see why the number of new certifications received in the United States was down 18% last year, according to Brainbench's 2006 Global Skills Report.

Certifications are losing their luster. We speak regularly with more than 1,800 employers in our IT workforce research, and they tell us that not being certified isn't a big deal if a job candidate has proven technical skills and other important strengths -- business, customer and interpersonal -- in the right proportion to the job. Moreover, employers want workers experienced in their industry and with specific systems, software and solutions, and who can quickly deliver what customers want. They're especially keen on workers who flourish under tough deadlines and can handle a certain amount of organizational discomfort.

Face-off: Certifications remain important for career enhancement

IT career advancement has become like a jigsaw puzzle. Certification is only one piece, giving way to clusters of critical attributes that define the modern IT role.

Certifications are more concentrated in networking, systems administration, database, and security jobs and careers. How are they doing in the certified vs. noncertified pay sweepstakes? No different: Noncertified networking skills grew 2.5% in value in 2006, but pay for more than 40 networking certifications declined an average of nearly 4%. The value of systems-related certifications dropped 2%. In the last half of 2006, pay for 27 IT security certifications fell 2.1%.

Some IT certifications can probably still boost a career. Examples are the Project Management Institute's Project Management Professional, Cisco's Certified Internetworking Expert and ISC2's Certified Information Systems Security Professional.

But as important as certifications have been to vendors that built the market for them, and to IT professionals who responded by building careers around these vendors' wares, the IT profession has reached an evolutionary rung that is outdistancing certifications' importance. Marriott CIO Carl Wilson was spot on when he said, "There [are] no IT projects . . . only business initiatives that are enabled and shaped by information technology." The very definition of IT career advancement has shifted, and it's rocked the IT certification industry.

IT professionals mapping out their futures need to rethink their game. Technical skills still matter, but certification has lately lost ground to niche noncertified skills and other highly prized qualities that are redefining and reshaping IT jobs and careers.

Foote is CEO of Foote Partners, an IT workforce trends research firm and publisher of the popular IT Salary+Skills Pay Survey. He can be reached at dfoote@footepartners.com.

Learn more about this topic

The cheating industry that is devaluing IT certification - part one | NetworkWorld.com ... 04/02/07


Experience still more important than certification 03/07/07


Certification is about more than higher pay 02/05/07


Study: Non-certified IT worker pay gaining ground


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