As I started working towards my career in IT I visited a few forums looking for some friendly advice. Instead I found a lot of angry and bitter people giving out some very bad information. So, after 14 years in the industry and helping many thousands of people pass exams and enjoy successful careers in IT, here is my take.
Myth 1 – Passing an IT Exam Gets You a Job
Of course it doesn't, but it DOES get you an interview. Think about it, if Cisco says you are at a certain standard then you are. The technical achievement is satisfied, and the interview is about if your fitness for the role. Sure, there may be a technical interview also, but if you studied for the exam instead of using brain dumps, you should be fine. If you don't have the certification, then don't expect an interview.
Myth 2 – An IT Certification is Worthless Without Experience
This is the biggest lie I hear repeated over and over again. There are so many benefits to passing an IT certification. The employer almost always gets a preferential rate from the vendor for employing qualified staff. They can brag to their customers about employing qualified staff. You increase you knowledge, confidence, and hands on ability. You can do your job more capably and faster.
If you can't get a job without experience, then how the heck does anybody get a job without a time machine? Passing the exam proves you have satisfied the vendors requirements; you are self motivated AND are serious about your IT career.
Myth 3 – Passing the Exam Makes You an Expert
No way will you walk out of an exam thinking that you know it all. The exam merely demonstrates you can do X, Y and Z. If you studied hard, you will know just as much before the exam as you did after it (pass or fail). We take exams for self improvement, for career advancement, and as proof to colleagues and ourselves that we are motivated and can do our jobs well. There are many experts out there who never take exams but when it comes to finding a new job, they may well struggle to get an interview (note I said “may” not “will”).
Myth 4 – Passing Multiple Vendors' Exams is the Way to Go
This is a classic newbie mistake. Hey, it's your career so you do what you think is right.
I see job adverts posted by HR people who don't understand the IT function. It goes something like “Network support engineer wanted. Desired skills: Unix, Cisco CCNA to CCIE, firewalls, voice, cabling, F5 load balancers, Windows Server 2012.” You get the idea. The novice then embarks up on a three year study-a-thon to pass all these exams and ending up and knowing a little bit about a lot.
I strongly recommend building a strong core AND then specializing if you wish. For server support, learn either Linux or Windows and then look at security, for example. For networks, learn Juniper/Cisco and then look at voice or security. The nightmare is landing a role for a small company who has you installing Windows 8 on a PC one day and doing cabling the next. What the heck are you going to put on your resume for your next job? There is no ‘Jack of All Trades' IT role.
Myth 5 – You Can Stop Studying
Dream on. Maybe if you had gone down the management route but IT will never ever stand still. Maybe when the world is run by computers and we have been made their slaves, you can stop studying but not until then.
Most certifications expire after a number of years. Technology undergoes a massive change every three years so what you knew is out-of-date. I know so many IT engineers who live in fear because IPv6 is coming but they think it's too complicated or just can't be bothered. If you choose to go the technical route then you will always be learning new stuff and facing new challenges.
What do you think? Agree or disagree? Post your comments below and share please.
Sorry but I disagree with ‘If you don’t have the certification then don’t expect an interview.’ This MAY be true for people just starting out but most experienced professionals will be able to pick out someone who knows their stuff from looking at their CV (as long as it’s well put-together) and will potentially ignore certifications.
I also disagree with ‘There is no ‘Jack of All Trades’ IT role.’ There is and lots of smaller companies have these generalists. OK you might not be expected to be a developer, sysadmin AND pro cabling expert, but lots of people have to be able to have 10 or 20 different skills to do the job. If you can become an expert in one field then you can maybe expect to earn decent money, but for lots of people a decent mix of skills is more useful.
Luke Hamilton says
Thank you for your advice. Just a note – many employers will dismiss resumes or cover letters that have obvious misspellings, grammatical mistakes, or poorly-used punctuation. Please consider proofreading this blog post. It’s full of small mistakes that will have others question your professionalism, and I’d hate for that to happen.
Paul, You’re right on the money with these myths. The only thing I would disagree with is “what you knew is out-of-date” part. I believe what you know is never out-of-date because you always run in to something. I would say it’s more like enhancing what you already know.
Carl France says
I totally agree with what you are saying whilst ever you work for a manufacturer or a re-seller. It is better to become specialized and extend your knowledge through the regular exposure to several related products.
As soon as you start working among the IT department of a business (small/medium/corporate sized) this is no longer possible. You have to be prepared to muck in and deal with a wide variety of support issues and project work which does not allow you to concentrate on one subject area and let this become second nature.
Jamie Caseley says
All of the above that you highlighted is absolutely bang on the mark. I am finding myself going around in circles trying to get help and advice on returning to the IT Sector. I was given so much conflicting advice that I got so stressed and depressed that for a time that I gave up because no-one could help me with my next career move.
I then came across your CCNA 60 day book and website and the fact that when I started reading about how you made a transition from the Police Force to Networking and the problems you faced getting there, I could identify with the similar problems I am facing and how I am trying to overcome them. Your material is written in an easy to understand format and you are passionate and committed to helping people like me attain their goals. I will enrolling on Juniper as soon as I have finished and passed the CCNA, which I am studying religiously as of present time. It is a pity more employers don’t get behind you to give people who are seriously studying these for qualifications an option to obtain real world skills and real prospects. I whole heartedly support your excellent efforts. May you continue to grow. I accept all the help and support that I can get to gain any contacts that can help me attain my goal.
Anthony Smith says
I have the hardest time convincing “experienced” people that don’t want to study for exams that they do make a difference.
I do like that you give the new guy with only the experience of passing an exam a motivational push by letting them know that the effort they put forth is worthy of a look.