The following PowerUp blog entry was written by Jim Oberholtzer, owner of Agile Technology Architects, LLC, a consulting firm that assists companies in the implementation and maintenance of an agile/SCRUM development environment.
Over the last 14 years I've helped author certification exams for IBM and other companies, most recently COMMON. In IBM’s case I helped write the technical exams that business partners must take to prove they have the proper skills to configure and sell Power Systems servers running IBM i and AIX, Linux on Power, IBM i system administration, and even the first two versions of the RPG exam. With COMMON more recently I was part of a team that created two new certifications. The COMMON Business Computing Associate certification is aimed at the recent college or tech school graduate that proves they actually learned something about business and how to apply computers to it. The professional-level exam is the COMMON Certified Business Computing Professional, which is aimed at the more seasoned professional in IT with knowledge of the business environment and how technology plays a part. Neither of them is technical, but based on the concept that you need to understand business just as much as how the computer works.
Having spent many hundreds of hours and weekends away at exam creation meetings I have invested quite a bit of myself in these exams and the effort to remain a subject matter expert to stay qualified to work on them. That said, I have to wonder if all of these exams are worth the effort to create and offer. I truly believe in the quality of the exams and the skills of the candidate that passes them, but I don’t see employment advertisements calling for certifications other than the Microsoft and Cisco certifications. So why keep doing them? The answer presented itself at a recent client engagement.
The client had hired another consultant to install, configure, and implement a Power Systems server running IBM i. This consultant lacked any of the IBM certifications, as he does not believe it's worth the effort to take and pass them. Since the client's application was being migrated from an older system to a new box, it needed to be installed into the rack, cabled up, DASD set up with the proper protection schemes and the OS loaded. Simple enough, I thought. I’ve done this too many times to count and quite frankly I do many of the steps without even thinking about them anymore.
The consultant that installed the customer’s machine--well, let’s just say he knew the correct words to say when needed to get the gig. Yes, he was cheaper. But in the end I wound up redoing almost 100 percent of the work he did because almost nothing was done correctly. The customer called me because after three days of messing around the consultant had not yet completed the migration. After evaluating the results of the work, we simply initialized the system and started over. One day later the new system was in production. The other consultant clearly lacked the requisite skills to do an installation and migration. The failure to have a certification from IBM was a strong indicator that this fellow had not invested in himself enough to be technically competent. The customer is now a strong believer in certifications.
The COMMON certifications are new enough that I can’t relay a similar story about them, but I can say that most of my clients are interested in the concept of the Business Computing Professional--someone who has a depth and demonstrated knowledge in the business that uses the computing rather than just being the computer geek. Since the professional-level credential requires a technical certification in addition to passing the COMMON exam, this person is not only technically competent, but also has a solid demonstrated grasp of how the business is affected by the technical decisions that are made.
So, are certifications worth obtaining? In my view, yes they are. You wouldn't let a non-board-certified surgeon perform an operation on you. Likewise you shouldn't trust your business to a technician who cannot show the breadth and depth of knowledge to accomplish your business goals, demonstrated first by the certification followed up with professional delivery of services to the business. This is regardless of the person's status as an employee or consultant.
I know many of you reading this are very competent but you can’t prove it without the certification, so go get certified. My customers are now looking for the appropriate certifications in all of their consultants, and several of them are pushing their own employees to get certified. Saying it and proving it are entirely two different things.