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GeekNights Monday - Technical Certifications

edited July 2012 in GeekNights

Tonight on GeekNights, we present our candid advice on the value of certifications for computer professionals, especially if they already have university degrees. But first, Scott goes to great lengths to justify the purchase of his new computer (ahead of the UEFI UFIA), and we warn all of you that several disruptions to the GeekNights schedule are imminent, including Djangocon, The FPL Latin America Trading Conference, PAX Prime, and PAX Dev.

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  • I enjoyed this episode and also reminded me why headhunters are a pain to deal with. As a follow up question is your stance the same with more business certifications like a PMP?
  • With regard to the BS/BA issue when getting a degree in CS, my university doesn't offer BSs unless you are in the school of engineering which entails taking lots of useless classes in CAD and such. Kids who graduate with BSs in CS will have taken exactly the same (or in some cases fewer) CS classes than me.
  • Given the opportunity, attend a school where Computer Science/Information Technology are their own program. I also went to an engineering school that offered a CS option, and while I loves some maths, I took a lot more maths and other random stuff than I would have liked.
  • edited July 2012
    I'm surprised how much certain colleges focus on math as opposed to hard computer science concepts and programming thinking in computer science. WSU had a pretty good mix of maths and computery stuff.

    Also if you have a degree in anything you can still get a good job doing computers. I know people that get paid 6 figures that either didn't get a degree or got a degree in something like philosophy but also knew how to deal with technology and can learn skills in programming. It's all about demonstrating that you can learn and that you already know how to do difficult things.

    Like Scott said, experience is very valuable. Work experience, in my opinion, is the most powerful thing you can put on your resume. So you should always be trying to do cool shit and point out how cool it is on your resume.
    Post edited by MATATAT on
  • Maybe I'm just jaded by my corporate IT life, but I'd never counsel any child of mine to get into IT anymore.

    Embedded, etc, may be better, but I think that in all of it, you'd better be a wildly successful consultant by my age or you're done. Pigeon-holed and unlikely to be hired (either priced out or considered outdated simply by virtue of age.)
  • The terminal career path of IT is likely one of the following:

    1. CTO of a company
    2. Technical consulting
    3. Technical Project/Product Management
    4. Technical advisory position
    5. Further academia
    6. Managing a datacenter or technical department (like QA)
    7. Technical writing
    8. Production operations

    Most of the other paths lead to dead end jobs in the long run.
  • 3. Technical Project/Product Management
    I have been testing the waters of going down this career path. I do Systems Engineering (not to be confused with systems administration) which is DoD speak for product management. All requirements analysis/documentation, product testing and verification of contract deliverables, etc.

    The life-long job security of the federal government was too tempting out of college when I knew my wife would be in a high risk/high reward career and somebody needed to provide stability, but now that she is doing quite well for herself and has even caused us to move northward, the allure of NYC is calling.

  • The life-long job security of DoD consulting is ending. They're getting a 10% budget cut at the end of this year and so far their plan to handle it is utter denial that it will happen at all.
  • edited July 2012
    Consulting, yes. The past two years here have been a flood of contractors and consultants pulling up in life rafts and converting over to full-time government civilian employees, where the job security is still very real but the pay is less.

    They're getting in now in anticipation of this cut, and the real prospect of a government hiring freeze. Gov't already froze civilian pay, and they'll keep the budget in line by just letting all the old folks retire and asking the young ones to do twice the work.
    Post edited by Matt on
  • Opinions on Master's degrees/P.H.Ds in CS?
  • What do you want to know?
  • Do you want to be a computer science academic? Then it's mandatory. :P
  • Masters is mostly like I want to do some hardcore shit like develop complex algorithms for Adobe or I'm not ready for the real world and I want to do more school. I've noticed people who get masters degrees are more likely to get interviews quicker but I'm sure a good array of experience probably shines more than a handful of extra classes.
  • I'm completely undecided on what I want to do as of yet. Hardcore shit is interesting, but I don't know exactly what to do. I can tack on a master's degree in an extra year. Are there any fields in CS that open up once you have one?
  • The terminal career path of IT is likely one of the following:

    1. CTO of a company
    2. Technical consulting
    3. Technical Project/Product Management
    4. Technical advisory position
    5. Further academia
    6. Managing a datacenter or technical department (like QA)
    7. Technical writing
    8. Production operations

    Most of the other paths lead to dead end jobs in the long run.
    Option 8 can backfire horribly.
  • edited August 2012
    Like I said, a lot of it is research and not really programming type stuff. I know a lot of people that got their masters and then just got a job similar to what I have but spent two years giving more money to the university. The only jobs that I've seen that are looking for graduate students in the real world are places like Adobe's Creative Labs, Microsoft probably has research departments too, and things like Intel and AMD.

    The thing is school prepares you for a job in the computer world but only to a certain degree. Then a lot of it comes from self study and lots of experience and practice. It depends what you are looking for, which I know can be tough to figure out sometimes.
    Post edited by MATATAT on
  • Hello,
    I love the show but I have to disagree with the statements made in the podcast. While there is nothing better, for your IT career, then a degree. Certs help you get jobs and keep them. Certs show that your skill set is current.
    I have noticed that many degree holders get somewhat mad about needing to obtain a cert, but that is life.

    A degree and a few certs do the same thing, they serve as key words on your resume. When you are looking for work, some HR person who knows nothing about IT scans your resume and the people with the most keywords get passed on. Basically what I'm saying is that a degree or cert will not land you a job, it will get you the interview. So why not give yourself every advantage. All the skills you have are like tools in a toolbox. If a degree is a ratchet screw driver, do you no longer need a manual screw driver (cert)? The same can be said when layoffs come. If you look good on paper you have a better chance to keep your job. Often times it is not a person who knows you and your skills but some HR person that only sees your personnel record that makes the call.

    I think that there are 3 thing that is needed for working in IT; a degree, experience and certs. Why not level up all 3 if you can. How in the case of Rym and Scott, they are both in fields that don't need certs. If your upper management or a programer there is not really a demand for certs, but if your a System admin or Network admin the demand is most diffidently there. IT departments like to have there people certified in the OS or equipment they using. If you don't think I'm right just look at the job postings and you will see that most job postings will ask for or demand certs. Can you get by without every getting a cert, sure. I believe that you should open as many doors as you can and give yourself every advantage.

    Anyway Rym and Scott you asked for more of us to come to the site so I did.
    Thanks for all your hard work.
  • You are correct in that a cert may get you an advantage at certain workplaces. It will also give you the keywords on the resume to make it past the clueless HR person. We acknowledged as much in our show, if you were listening. What we also said is that if you are a good tech person you do not want to work at those places!
  • The problem is mostly that people who get real degrees from good schools dilute that with certifications and don't stress the degree itself enough. An RIT degree in IT, for example, carries a ton of weight.

    I've personally never applied for a job that said it required a "certification" in technology and actually required said certification. The degree was always enough, so long as I was able to prove my technical competence in whatever field the certification was for.

    I was a system administrator for many years, and the certifications were worthless. But, they were only worthless because I had the skills and the degree to back them up. If you want a specific example, look at RHEL system administration. No one cares about certifications for that specific job if the applicant is skilled and has the degree and requisite experience.
  • We're also talking I suppose about technical certs like Cisco or Red Hat: not industry certifications like Series 7 or compliance training.
  • We're also talking I suppose about technical certs like Cisco or Red Hat: not industry certifications like Series 7 or compliance training.
    Yes, we're only talking about technical certifications. Nobody is saying you should go be a lawyer without passing the Bar Exam.
  • Thank you for replying
    The industry I work in as a IT professional likes it's people to have or requires IT certs. The industry is one of the biggest employers in the country. I have overs 15yrs experience in this industry so I'm not going to witch out of principle.
    I'm currently a UNIX System Adm. I mostly work with Solaris and Solaris TX. We also have some RHEL and SUSE servers. My co-workers have been trying to get me to be Solaris certified, but I don't see the point. I will someday have to get a cert in one of the OS's listed above. I don't care so much because they will pay for my training, my exam and any travel involved. After I get the cert I will mostly get a raise. I may also need to get some cyber security type certs as well, like CISSP.

    In the end it only matters how well you can sell yourself. I was mostly against you guys telling people not to get certs, as they will degrade your degree. One has little to do with the other. If you can have both why not? Also some of my professors encouraged us to get certs that covered the same subject we where studying in class. Anyway I'm just seeing things from a different angle.

    Again thanks for the podcast and I look forward to the next one.
  • I pretty much agree with everything in this episode. That being said, let me relate a little story:

    When I was in high school, I worked a shitty job at a dry cleaners. It helped me finance my first home-built computer, so it wasn't all bad, but it wasn't really my dream job. After two years of working there, I realized that I was basically doing all of their IT management, but still being paid very little money (actually less than what new hires were paid, since we didn't get raises).

    I decided that I'd rather be an IT guy than a dry cleaner, but I was only 17. So I saved some money and took the COMPTIA A+ cert tests. They were laughably easy (since I was a techie nerd. Some of my fellow test-takers seemed to be having a really hard time), and they enabled me to get a job as an on-call tech support guy. It paid twice as much as my previous job, and I could basically set my own hours. I made industry contacts, and eventually switched to doing it freelance.

    I eventually worked my way up the ladder, doing a few different types of IT work (call center tech at Kodak, tier 3 at an IT management company, and finally tech support lead for a startup). After a few years of that, I realized I couldn't achieve any more unless I got a degree (or switched careers). I had tried and failed to attend RIT twice (long story, but basically made some stupid decisions and ended up not being able to afford it), and couldn't really manage to attend school full-time and work full-time, so I thought about my options.

    I had started doing some freelance web work, and it had become one of the hats I'd wear as a consultant, so I decided to do it full time. I've found that there's less focus on education, since most web devs are self taught, which has really helped in finding jobs. After two years of being a full-time web developer, I took my A+ cert off of my resume. It has lived out its purpose, and it was definitely worth the monetary investment I made in high school.

    So, I guess my point is this: if you're a techie nerd in high school, think about getting a cert or two. They'll help you get a "real" (non-highschooler) job, and get you into the industry. They're not the be-all-end-all, though, and a degree (or better yet, useful experience) will pretty much trump them every time, but they're good for starting out.
  • So I'm finally catching up with the episodes and got here. Everything in this episode is correct. I myself went through a Cisco certification, but as a part of my high school courses. Even then, despite my teachers insisting that this was valuable and helpful in finding a job, I already knew that this was BS.

    Oh yeah, and I was referencing Scott's thing, The Periodic Table of Elements, ages before he did :P
  • So I'm finally catching up with the episodes and got here. Everything in this episode is correct. I myself went through a Cisco certification, but as a part of my high school courses. Even then, despite my teachers insisting that this was valuable and helpful in finding a job, I already knew that this was BS.

    Oh yeah, and I was referencing Scott's thing, The Periodic Table of Elements, ages before he did :P
    That was Rym's thing.
  • A master's degree will get you more money. Depending on your program, your master's thesis will also involve some novel, if specialized, research.
  • edited October 2012
    So I'm out of high school, I can't go to collage unless I take another 10 hours a week of Norwegian in high school, over a year, because I skipped that class. And that sucks, so I'm not planning on doing that.

    Now I'm not sure how high schools work in the US, but here we have different types of high school "fields" or educations. Mine was centered around media production. So we had courses in web development, After Effects, 3D modeling, design and the sorts. To be allowed into collage, you need to, on top of that, take physics, history and Norwegian. I took physics and history 'cause it fit with my schedule but skipped Norwegian because there was so much of it. Also half of it was in New Norwegian, what the fuck?

    So officially, the only thing I'm qualified for is web development, graphic design or video production. But everyone around me was so dumb and incompetent within those things - As were the teachers - that I don't think my qualifications is worth jack shit, and even if it is, it shouldn't be. Also those things aren't really all that fun.

    I wanna be making games! I have the skills required to make games, my boyfriend has the skills required to make games, we wanna make games together. Great, 'cept working unpaid is difficult when you wanna eat. So I need some way of earning money.

    But even if my resume says I'm pretty lousy at stuff, I'm still a nerdy punk kid, so I've learned stuff on my free time. I need help playing them up in such a way that someone would hire me.

    I have: Configured, compiled and maintained Slackware with a confusing set of applications that all needed different versions of a bunch of common libraries and a bunch of breakage prone stuff, all native with no snapshotting, and I wasn't allowed any downtime.

    Made Linux from scratch sorta work really shittily.

    Set up Ubuntu's for various parents in such a way that they never have to worry about maintenance; And constantly thank me 2 years after the fact whenever I run into them. (Ironically, my own parents refuse to let me put Linux on their computers so I won't have to fix shit for them constantly)

    Often and reliably fix my boyfriends computer every time he breaks something for messing with it too much. To the point where he now isn't afraid of doing whatever to his computer, cause he knows I can just recover it. It sucks, because he changes stuff I didn't even know existed on a daily basis.

    Helped in very very tiny, insignificant ways on a bunch of big open source projects.

    I speak like 6 languages, some of which very well.

    I can fucking spell. Every email I've gotten informing me I wasn't considered for job X has had a typo or grammatical error in it. (Granted, there's been maybe 4)

    I've made a bunch of terrible YouTubes with a bunch of views.

    I've been tech support for my class of 6 teachers and 90 kids. Proper tech support, not just "People will ask me how to do stuff from time to time". I've had to recover from dying hard drives, give private lectures to the teachers about how to use a piece of software so they could present it to the class the next day, fix permission errors, reinstall Mac OS, a bunch of stuff that is the IT departments job, but they tell me to do 'cause I'm closer and am less scary. I also got teachers I don't know traveling 5 floors from a different branch of the school to have me look at their computer problems.

    Made a system based around XBMC for faster indexing of movies for the school library with a kiosk that showed if a movie was in stock and where on the shelf you could find them. (Also trailers and recommendations that were limited to movies we actually had) (This had to be very hacky, because they wouldn't give me access to their preexisting database of whats being borrowed, because government bullshit)

    I was in the student council at some point.

    Leader of the anime club, which I renamed movie club, solely for the purpose of putting it on my resume.

    I can beat Dark Souls in 3 hours flat. (I may or may not be wrong about this cause I always end up fucking around when I get close to the end...)

    Now as you can see, some of these things I'll want to mention without actually mentioning the specifics, because if you don't know, it can sorta seem impressive, while really, a lot of it is very basic, or in many cases, badly done. How can I present any of this in such a way that I have a chance of getting hired, and where do I apply?

    I'm currently 19, and any job at all would do, I'm not looking into starting a career, simply paying rent. (I already own a house, so not even rent, just electricity bills and such)
    Post edited by Aria on
  • I always say this to people who ask these types of things. Everyone has the issue at the beginning of their working life of "I have no experience but I can't get a job without experience!" So it is super important to do work on your own, which in employers' eyes counts as experience. So, if you want to make games, make games! Make a website, and put your awesome well-done games on it. Put up code samples of experiments you've tried. If you are in to web development, try to do freelance work. Even if it means making a free website for your friend's mom, its worth it.* You can make one main section for games if that's your focus, and do other sections for other stuff just to show off. I even put the lesser of my embarrassing youtube videos on my portfolio site. :-P

    I did all of that, and made a section on my resume for freelance work and listed my best clients like I would a job, since I didn't have any "real" webdev related jobs yet. This seemed to do the trick. I used to go back to college and review resumes/portfolios for kids in my major for the resume workshops and stuff. So many of them didn't have portfolios, and also didn't have anything to show for themselves bc all they did was the bare minimum schoolwork.

    Anyway, the moral of my post is always be doing cool stuff on your own. If you don't have a job, you're not making money anyway, so might as well be brushing up your skills.

    *Important note: Doing stuff for free is good if you're just starting out. Once you get more into it though you should be getting paid. People are terrible and try to shamelessly sucker freelancers all the time into making free/underpaid sites/whatever. Make sure you get paid! Unless you really want to help your friend's mom out. :-P
  • My experience has been that a small hurdle like a course requirement you don't feel like completing is way easier to deal with now when you're young and flexible and unattached than the attachments, momentum, and obligations you're going to have to deal with when you're 20 years older and decide that you should have gotten some sort of degree after all.

    Now I try to live in a way that won't piss off future me, or at least I try to be a little more aware of the possibility.
  • edited October 2012
    It's alright to try and fail. Go ahead and put out a couple applications for jobs you feel like you can do that you may not meet the qualifications for. Worst case scenario - you spent a little time. Slightly better scenario, you get some interviews - even if you don't get the job, they offer something to learn. Best case scenario, job of some sort.

    As for grabbing those other credits to get into college, it's probably worth it. But if you don't want to deal with this exactly right now, then you don't have to. Do what you think you'll be comfortable with. It's alright to need to get a little work experience and try to make it on your own first. The little bit of perspective that offers you before you go to college has some reasonable value, or if you figure out that you can make it without more education all the better possibly. It's possibly better to confront what it means to have to support yourself independently now, because (almost) everyone has to figure that out at some point.

    The biggest thing to me is that a person should try (pass or fail) a couple things at that age to get a better idea before committing completely to a single thing. That can take many forms obviously.

    And I obviously agree fully with Lyddi's point that you should actively pursue your interests and work your ass off at it. Never stop doing those things and if you're even basically competent you can usually make it work.
    Post edited by Anthony Heman on
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