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The real dirt on programming certifications

Bob Violino | Aug. 11, 2015
With programmers and developers in such high demand these days, it may be tempting to think that a decision as stodgy as pursuing a certification is a waste of time. After all, doesn't it all come down to the art of your code?

Education and certification demonstrates "that you have taken the initiative to take a test, or series of tests, and be able to successfully answer the questions or problems posed," Wenzler says.

Certifications can be especially helpful early in your career.

"I'm a big believer in early career certifications and definitely found benefit before I was able to prove I had an established skill set," says Jeremy Steinert, who heads up the devops services practice at WSM International, a technical services company specializing in cloud migrations. Steinert is certified in technologies from Cisco, Red Hat, Puppet, and other vendors.

Usually, once a development professional acquires about five years of progressive working experience, certifications become less important because they have a demonstrated level of technical capability and confidence in their assessments and execution, Steinert says. "Then it becomes a measure of continued education through newer iterations of technology," he says.

Certification can lead to higher pay

More to the point: Earning a cert can help you earn more. Data gathered for the Robert Half Technology Salary Guides shows that salary ranges can be boosted up to 10 percent over the national average, based on specific skill sets and certifications, Reed notes.

"That said, employers are not strictly looking to certifications, nor, in most cases, will certifications supersede hands-on experience," Reed says. "But certifications can give candidates an edge, especially if they reflect an aptitude for using the latest technologies."

The more specific the knowledge, the greater the impact provided by certification, especially in terms of monetary compensation, says Igor Landes, vice president of engineering at enterprise software development company Exadel.

"For example, a consultant with a MongoDB certification would likely be paid more than a consultant without such a certification," Landes says. "Of course, if you have enough experience in a specific area and employers become aware of your expertise, the difference most likely goes away."

Programmer and developer certifications tend to be more important in larger enterprises and less important in small startups, Puranik says.

"Part of the reason for this is startups tend to use newer technologies, which may not have a certification path available," he says. "Another reason is that the enterprise space tends to have more legacy code, and thus older languages in use that would have certifications available."

Within "corporate culture I expect to see a correlation between more certificates and better pay," says Elijah Murray, CTO and co-founder of Lenda, a mortgage refinancing website. "In the startup world you're rewarded based on your ability, not accreditation. Experience is the best teacher, and startup culture rewards the hacker/hustler mentality."

It's reasonable to see these kinds of boosts happen for someone who is certified, "provided they also bring experience and legitimate knowledge to the table," Thycotic's Wenzler says. "We've seen many times in the past within other areas of IT and information security where individuals would become 'certified' by passing a test, but had no practical knowledge or understanding of the material.""


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