degrees vs. certifications vs. ...

There are two questions I am asked routinely by (typically prospective) students:
  1. Should I pursue a certification in X?
  2. Why would I pursue a degree from a university as opposed to a tech school?
With respect to the first questions, a recent article by Warren Wyrostek on InformIT discusses issues with certifications. The problems span from the simple mechanics – vendor-centricity, inability for certification processes to truly measure competence and continuous renewals on the part of the certified – through more economic reasons for why the certification bodies will struggle.

The bottom line is that a certification is worth pursuing if it is immediately relevant to a specific job position for which you want to apply. Of course, this gives rise to the question of how often is it relevant. To understand this some I did a few searches on (date: 2008-03-19) in the categories of computer services/hardware/software, internet/e-commerce and IT/software development with no region specified :
After filtering the overlap by searching for positions requiring two or all three of the certifications, the count for such positions involving at lease one of the certifications was 1115. (Searching for “ccna msce” resulted in 22 position, “ccna a+” resulted in 134, “msce a+” resulted in 14 and “ccna msce a+” resulted in 3.)

I also examined random positions in each search to get a feel for whether the certification was desired or preferred. I wasn’t able to nail down a sense of percentage by visual inspection (there were too many jobs) and trying to use the search to discriminate between the two proved difficult since there are various ways to state that certification is required. It’s worth noting too that the jobs requiring A+ certification were primarily entry level help desk positions and something most graduates of a university would not pursue (though they may take such a position if other opportunities were not available to them).

I address the second question roughly by explaining that the program offered at Penn State provides a considerably broader set of experiences with one of the primary goals being graduates that are adept at critical thinking, are adaptable, operate will in the presence of significant ambiguity, can pull from a diverse exposure and able to be life-long learners. Technical schools tend to focus on a specialized set of skills over a specialized set of environments which may become obsolete over time.

While graduates of a tech school are able to find employment, they often can only advance so far. Organizations expect staff in the upper level positions to have obtained degrees at reputable universities or colleges. Though I don’t know for certain, the rationale is probably based on the intent of the university education. They want some sense of measure that the employees in positions making critical decisions for the organization are prepared for such tasks.

I’m still trying to organize my thoughts on this latter question.

No comments:

Post a Comment