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Are your IT certifications killing your career?

Bruce Harpham | Oct. 28, 2015
There is no shortage of ways to advance your career, or your earnings potential. Racking up a bunch of certifications is one of them. But be careful it doesn’t have the opposite effect.

The dark side of technology certifications

The endless pursuit of additional certifications and credentials is a major challenge for many IT pros, who often think that an additional certification in a given technology is the solution to a stalled career.

“Many people in IT hold too many technical certifications but still fail to deliver success,” says Piyali Das, Information Security program manager at Fannie Mae. “I think many technical professionals fail to understand that having many technical certifications doesn't make them a good technical leader, until that acquired technical knowledge is practiced in a real-time project/program scenario.”

While lifelong learning is valuable and admirable, there needs to be a strategy to the process. It’s easy for specialization activities to conflict with career goals. For example, if you seek promotion to a program manager role, it would be best to focus on leadership development rather than earning an additional technology certification.

“In real project environment situations, we cannot completely rely on the knowledge we gain from certifications,” says Vara Vegunta, IT project manager at Cisco. “I find that certifications provide helpful guidance and a process perspective.” Viewing certifications as a mental framework or overall approach is a productive way to view certifications.

Before you embark on another certification or time consuming learning program, take the time to reflect on that option. There are two ways to evaluate specialization and continuing education. First, start by looking at your own interests and career goals.

Developing business acumen: specialization for management

Many people decide that management is the right way to grow their careers. For technical professionals, moving to a management role presents new challenges and uncertainty. Fortunately, there are many paths to management and leadership career success. If you’re seeking to move into management or further climb the corporate ladder, start developing the following skills and experience:

  • Develop your customer focus. Management expert Peter F. Drucker once observed, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” If you wish to transition to management, customer satisfaction matters. That means asking good questions and seeking to understand the business problems that customers are attempting to solve with technology.
  • Cultivate curiosity. Brian Grazer, author (with Charles Fishman) of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, significantly grew his career by conducting curiosity conversations with people in many fields. Grazer attributes much of his success in the entertainment industry to the inspiration he received in these conversations.

Growing your people skills is an excellent way to derive more satisfaction and job security. As Thomas L. Friedman pointed in his book, “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century:”

“No matter what your profession – doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant – if you are an American, you better be good at the touchy-feely service stuff, because anything that can be digitized can be outsourced to either the smartest or the cheapest producer.”


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