There's a lot of controversy regarding certifications.
Some people think certifications have no value. Much of this seems to stem from the possibility that a person having a certification may not actually have imbibed the knowledge for him to be effective and for his employers to reap the benefits. Some others think that like all exams, it's easy to cheat and get the certification. Some others think that the fact that some certifications have limited validity means their value to employers expires within a certain period of time. That is, unless the person demonstrates a constantly-learning attitude even without certifications coming into play, having a certification won’t help.
In my opinion, while all of these reasons may be correct, one shouldn’t ignore certifications. Here are some reasons why:
- To folks outside the industry, certifications provide a proof that you have skills and those skills have been validated by a standards authority. To explain that sentence better, I quote here something I learnt on the Internet: anyone can drive vehicles without a license, but when you want to hire a driver, you’ll hire one with a license. When looking for a driver, you’ll avoid looking for a driver without a license because you do not want to add to the problems you already have on your plate (like getting into accidents). The only way to achieve this is to look for someone who has had his skills validated by a standards authority (here, the government licensing authority).
- Another reason for certifications is that they are a great way to have a deep understanding of the technology involved. If you’re like most developers, then you probably have worked in a lot of technologies over the years. After doing so for a few years, some developers decide that it’s better to focus on a technology and become an expert at it, rather than jump from one technology to the other and skim only the basics of each technology. Once such a decision is made, the best way to achieve it within a reasonable timeframe is to get a certification in the technology. To get the certification, one will have to look out for some courses/books related to the certification. These courses/books teach basic & advanced concepts and also have mock exams where you can test your skills before taking the actual exam. Taking these mock exams (with all honesty & seriousness) helps in building your understanding of the technology, leading to better career opportunities.
A lot of folks will say, “This isn’t really different from the usual advice that developers must read books". True, but taking a certification really makes you understand a technology, since you have to pass the exam (or atleast the mock tests), rather than just reading a book & potentially forgetting the concepts later.
- If you’re totally new to the software field, having a certification helps to get a foot into the door. It demonstrates that you took extra effort to understand something, and that you have some basic knowledge. Keep in mind that that is all a certification can do - if you can’t code even though you have a certification, then you’ll not have a chance.
I want to expand on that last point. As Jeff Atwood says, software is a field where you can expect to work on multiple technologies & frameworks inside that technology. You’re often expected to demonstrate that you can do great work using a technology you may only a fair knowledge of. This means there’s going to be a frustrating period in which you ramp up on the technology only to be moved to a new technology later. It also means you’re going to get co-workers who are new to the technology, and are ramping up really slowly, making you wish they had read up on the basics before joining your team. In both cases, certifications come to your rescue - they guarantee that there is some basic knowledge that you (or your co-worker) have.
So to summarize, do not wish away certifications just because someone said so. Also, do not do a certification just because I said so. Think about the benefits that you get out of the certification. Think about the time invested in the certification and whether it is time that would return more value if invested elsewhere. Some certifications are valuable only for a certain time period; in that case, are you ok with your certification losing value some years down the line, or do you think you can keep updating the certification as the years go by? Think through the pros & cons from your angle (not from mine or someone else's), and take the decision that best fits you.