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Get certified, or get left behind


February 4, 2015


Dean Lewis, one of our UK & Ireland Cisco Champions

I live in the UK, which essentially means I live a life of traffic jams, and bad weather. It can sometimes feel like a never ending process, and it gets worse in the winter months, as I find myself going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, due to the short days. This overarching thought process leads to a saying stuck-in-rut, which I’m sure many of you have heard before.

What does this have to do with certifications? Just the common theme of being stuck-in-a-rut, which is something I found before I started undertaking my CCNP Exams in September 2014. My last networking certification was the CCNA in 2012, and my goal was to achieve the CCNP R+S certification within one year of passing the CCNA.

That date came and went, but I never noticed, I was caught up in a traffic jam that was taking place in my office. My routine involved the same tasks over and over, firefighting faults, keeping users happy, trying to balance my home life with the additional workload I took home. This is not an uncommon situation for most workers in IT, but how the person deals with it, is what makes the difference.

I left the traffic jam’s behind and moved to another job, and one of the most interesting questions I was asked in the interview, was would I be willing to undertake new certifications? Hell yes, and that’s when it hit me, for over two years I had not undertaken anything new, to either prove my expanding skillset, or improve my skillset. This is why we take exams to be honest.

Relevancy?

So there is the question about how relevant are certain exams, due to the high numbers of websites camps abroad which offer you more than just a fast track for the certification. This is something that has been covered many times, and I won’t go over old ground.

But by keeping your certifications current, you are keeping yourself relevant in the workplace, which means you can instantly trump those that do not, as you have then earned yourself some form of accreditation which backs up the skills you have learned.

The best quote I have read in some time, I found on twitter, and told the reader “Certify in the area you want to work, not in the area you work in”, which essentially is telling everyone to validate the skills for the area in which you next want to move onto.

And this is where the job market comes into it.

(The following section covers how certification is invaluable to the job market)

The job market…

I’ve wrote about the job market and the challenges faced, mainly based around my experience in the reseller world, in the UK. However I can say that do hear the same issues reiterated from other areas of the globe.

There is a candidate shortage, due to either everyone been happy in the jobs they currently work in (yeah right!) or because companies are asking too much. There is an ongoing trend for jobs to be advertised with a wish list of specifications that the company requires the candidate to have, however we (the prospective employee) look at these and laugh.

What we shouldn’t do is be put off, instead we should up or skill levels and back these with the correct certifications. Then we can confidently sit in front of an employer, and explain how we can add value to their company even though on paper we do not match the plethora of accreditations and experience they expect.

Getting your foot in the door without those certifications however, is very very hard indeed.

Why I went for the CCNP

My main focus at the moment is virtualisation, in particular VMware. However my hobby within IT, is still networking. My theory is that regardless of the changes in infrastructure, there is always going to be a network in which the data passes through.

So the CCNP to me was more of a challenge as although I do a lot of switching work, other areas such as those covered in the ROUTE exam, I do not. I booked myself into a two week training course, then spent the next 3 months, taking each exam and passing. I setup my own home lab, watched training videos and so forth.

The idea for me in taking the CCNP exams’ was to learn more, and finish off what I committed to when I passed my CCNA Exam.

But you haven’t certified in the area of which you want to work or are working? Have you?

Well yes and no, I don’t plan any time soon to work purely in networking, however within Virtualisation at the moment, there is a big push on the Software Defined Datacentre theory, which comes along with Software Defined Networking.

Therefore I can apply the skills gained to the designs and architecture needed to help implement these next generation designs. Because at the moment this is still a new thing, therefore there is s shortage already of engineers and consultants who can work effectively in this field, so by taking up the more traditional accreditations, I am working towards the big bang which will surely happen, and cement myself at the top of the pile.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of talented people out there who will be able to turn their minds to SDN very quickly and big successful, and gain the experience they need very fast due to their job roles. However for me, it is more of a struggle, as I don’t get the same exposure as others in certain areas. So to any prospective employer, when I sit down in front of them, they will see that I have done all I can to get myself ahead of the pack.

Final Words

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and time passes by very quickly when you doing the same tasks day in day out. By challenging yourself and taking these certifications, whether to do with your current work or what you are aiming for, you can help pull yourself out of the daily grind, as it’s a new focus.

If you are looking to move on, then it’s a perfect opportunity to show off your skills.

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