To Certify or NOT To Certify…?

To Certify or NOT To Certify…THAT is a question facing systems engineers today. 

A certain leading IT organization whose certifications are highly sought after in our industry — i.e., “THE FIRM”, recently came out with a new certification (Cisco Certified Architect – CCA) and I started DROOLING!  Who wouldn’t?  If you have been certifying not only from “THE FIRM,” or “THE CORPORATION”, but also from other companies within the same industry, it would be natural for us to feel that way, just among us girls.   

I do not consider myself a certification monger.  You will not find any in-your-face certification designations on my business cards and my e-mail signature sure doesn’t name-drop the certification designations I have completed.  In fact, most people with whom I interact in this biz do not even know the various certifications I hold.  So why should I, or any systems engineer for that matter, even consider pursuing another one? 

Some of you may say that it is easy to get certified.  You don’t even have to open the book.  You just go ahead and memorize a bank of questions available on the internet, then take multiple exams until you pass. Presto-magico, you are certified!  That may have been true in the pre-Y2K days which gave birth to several “paper tiger” MCSEs and CCNA’s.  Today the certification environment is entirely different.  Most certification exams I have taken in the past few years have been incredibly taxing: 1) they are full of re-ordered questions, 2) the question bank has increased from three hundred questions to several thousand, and perhaps worst of all, 3) the real life, hands-on simulations.  Now, there are limits to the number of exams you can take if you do not pass at first blush.  Each exam is also expensive, ranging from $150 to $1,000.  You simply must understand the material.  Long story short:  IN ORDER TO PASS, YOU HAVE TO OPEN THE BOOK.  Ah, Crap!

So, should we all be trying to pursue another certification?  Before I answer, let me explore what certifications do and do not accomplish for us.   High school education, at a very rudimentary level, is designed to create a well-rounded person.  Students have to learn geography, go to home-ec, and must attend calculus right alongside the mandatory gym requirement and the foreign language of choice.  As we grow older and focus on a particular discipline in college and beyond, we still make an effort to keep in touch with other fields of interest to keep ourselves multi-dimensional and relevant.

Becoming certified in a particular IT designation demonstrates specific knowledge and skills.  But I must advise that it does not automatically follow that the certified person is best suited for a particular job.  It just means that the certified person took a considerable amount of time out of his or her already cramped schedule to pursue a particular skill set and to better himself or herself just a little.  It may not mean that person has attained expertise in that skill set either.  Take me for example.  It’s easy getting certified on a particular product set when you are working on it day-in and day-out, I’ll give you that, but as a pre-sales systems engineer I do not spend that much time configuring routers, switches, web servers, databases or Active Directory.   I can assure you, however, that being certified in those fields allows me to understand MY CUSTOMER’s point of view when designing solutions.  It helps me better understand their pain points and concerns, and most importantly, it allows me to relate to their needs as a solutions architect when I interface with their engineers.

Ergo, my friends, because the customer is always right, and I aim to please, I am “Firm” in my resolve to certify, and I hope you are too.  Go forth and be abundant in all your certification dreams, and remember, you’ll have to open the book.  Your customers will love you for it.

Abi Chandra
____________(insert certifications here 😉

Abi Chandra

Abi Chandra

My career in telephony has unintentionally mimicked the life cycle of contact center solutions. In the 1990's, I was working on Rockwell's legacy ACD systems after which I then used server board-based systems at Aspect Solutions. Now, for the past five years, I have been working on IP systems for Interactive Intelligence. My primary background is in Cisco Systems data and voice networking and integrations. At Interactive Intelligence I am responsible for designing and architecting large-scale contact center solutions for strategic customers. I also regularly train our channel partners in systems engineering design methodologies. In my spare time, I enjoy making movies and the creative arts. People are surprised to hear that I am an avid Jazzerciser.