Is Certification Worth It?

Yes it is! The usual argument I hear against certification is “When I apply for a job, they don’t care if I’m certified, they just care about my experience.” Well of course a hiring manager cares about your experience, but they also care about certifications!

Earning a certification tells everyone *you* are someone who takes initiative! When you walk up to your boss and say “I want to get certified on Windows Azure”, it says a lot about you. It tells them you want to build your skills, you want to grow, you care enough about your career to make the extra effort, you want to stay on top of technology. When a manager sees someone who keeps their certifications current, it tells them this is someone who can learn and keep up with new technologies, a skill EVERY manager wants their developer to have. It’s also a good way to convince your boss they should send you to a conference as well! TechEd North America has an entire certification area to help you earn a certification while you are at the show. Coming back from a conference certified is a very tangible return on investment.

Earning a certification will help your day to day development! You build web sites every day, you’ve written multiple ASP.NET applications, you’ve used Ajax and JQuery. You are a strong web developer. Why would you bother getting the ASP.NET certification? Have you looked at LINQ yet? How about ASP.NET MVC? I am not suggesting you should rewrite your old applications every time there is a new feature, but shouldn’t you know the features exist so you will know when you should use them? When you work with a product every day, you become very strong using the 20-50% of the product you use. But what about the features you haven’t used? The features you aren’t even aware of? Sure you have code that calls stored procedures from your applications, but did you know that in SQL Server 2008, you can pass multiple records to a stored procedure? If you had your MCTS SQL Server 2008 Database Development certification you would know that. I can’t tell you how many times I have been studying for a certification exam and had an ‘aha’ moment where I said “no way! You can do that? I wish I had known that 3 months ago on my project”, or 6 months after I passed the exam I had a moment where I said “Wait, we CAN do that, I remember seeing that feature when I was studying for my exam!” Gradually, you will be seen as the person who knows what we can and cannot do with the product, you will become the person who can provide advice on when to migrate to a new version of the product, you are becoming the expert.

Earning a certification can help you get a job or promotion! Taking a Visual Studio 2010 certification does not guarantee you will be hired as a programmer, because you are competing with others who have been programming for 5-15 years! However, if I am trying to choose between two programmers with similar experience and one of them has the certification MCTS .NET Framework 4, Service Communication Applications. I might decide that someone with a little extra knowledge on how to write and call services will bring more to the team. Certifications are particularly valuable on new tools and technologies. Have you ever tried to hire an experienced SharePoint developer? They are hard to come by! I think many managers would consider the MCTS Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Application Development certification sufficient evidence that you could be hired as a SharePoint developer.

So there you have it I am a big believer in certification, which is why I agreed to do a webcast with Microsoft Learning to help anyone preparing for the 70-536 .NET Framework Application Development Foundation exam. The webcast was recorded and you can view the recording here.

This week’s My 5 is all about helping you get certified, so here are

My 5 Steps to getting certified (in order this time)

  1. Set a goal – Go to the Microsoft Learning website and look at the certifications. Choose a certification you can earn which matches your existing skills and goals. Look up the exam or exams you need to pass to achieve your goal. Once you have set a goal, get it added to your annual commitments at work. Some companies will give you time and resources to study and most employers will pay for the exam.
  2. Find gaps – Look at the exam guide for your exam and check the skills measured tab, purchase a practice test at MeasureUp or Self Test Software, this will help you find out what you need to study to pass the exam.
  3. Fill gaps – Don’t spend a lot of time re-studying the exam content you already know. You found the gaps, now use resources around you to fill in the gaps of your knowledge. Check the Learning Catalog for a Learning Plan for your exam, or check the Preparation Materials tab of the exam guide for suggested books, and courses, and hey don’t forget MSDN and TechNet!
  4. Take the exam – go to the Prometric web site and schedule the exam. Set a date. Otherwise you will never get around to taking the exam, you can study forever! Worst case scenario, you don’t pass the first time you take the exam. Keep an eye out for promotions that give you a free second try Smile
  5. Be proud of yourself! – Some of these exams are pretty tough to pass, it is an achievement to earn a certification, give yourself a pat on the back, put it on your business card or resume. Tell your boss. Send me an e-mail and brag!

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