Tuesday, January 20, 2009

When do I get a certification and why?

I see questions like this on LinkedIn - http://www.linkedin.com/ very frequently.

Will it help me make more money? Will it help me get my foot in the door? Are certifications just a waste of time?

The answer to all these questions is: it depends. I've been on both sides of job searching (looking for work and looking for workers) and I can tell you that I've seen lots of people who had or were looking for certifications. My Certified MySQL 5 Database Administrator #5739 "ticket" has helped open doors for me. I have seen people come to me looking for work with certifications obtained by cramming for exams to pass certifications without attempting to understand what they were memorizing.

When I've interviewed (on both sides of the table), it's often been helpful to be able to explain how I used my certification in a real-world business scenario. For example, I've been able to say things like this (honestly, of course) to an interviewer. "I had been developing code against MySQL databases and administering those databases many years before I decided to obtain a MySQL certification of my own. The additional learning I got from studying for the certification helped me be better at my job and exposed me to new concepts that helped me think in new ways about how to use MySQL." Flipping that around, I've asked questions like - "Why did you get your certification?" and "What has the certification process done for you?"

Are you just out of college and deciding on getting certified to gain an edge? Go ahead, but better yet - if you can find an organization who can use those skills, even as a volunteer, it will likely have more credibility with an employer over someone who has a degree and certifications without experience.

Looking for ways to use your MySQL certification? Look for local clubs, non-profit's, and other similar groups that have a website, keep membership lists, or do other things where a database could help them. If they already have someone that's maintaining their database, you might ask if you could shadow that person to help build skills. If you end up getting some work out of it, great. If not, at least you'll build contacts that could potentially help you find work or provide a professional reference for you.

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