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When I was studying practice test questions for Exam 70-431 last week, the type of questions and answers I read led me to the thought that certifications attempt to commodify knowledge and use it in place of thought.

Certifications commodify knowledge to use in place of thought

Not that this is a novel concept. I've always held a bit of disdain in my heart for certifications. Just as well, it seems like most of the IT industry agrees with me (or, at least those elite enough to be writing on the Internet).

After that, I wanted to find out what people thought about certifications in general. I didn't expect that almost everyone would be talking about how worthless they are. Nearly everyone questions their legitimacy.

Do certifications help or hinder your career?

One thing I found on the other side was in defense of high-end certificates:
But now, "We're settling into a pattern where a relatively small percentage of IT workers will need a certification to work in the area that they're in."

One of those areas is high-end IT architecture, and there are several certs that are profitable, in his view. They include the architecture-related certs offered by Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, and EMC.

A certification like one of these can make or break a job interview.
But the best defense was by a journalist for Computerworld:
Any hint that companies are de-emphasizing the technical certification process is troubling, because it could so easily have a negative effect on professional standards. I'm as big a believer as anyone in the importance of on-the-job training and real-world experience, but that doesn't begin to obviate the need for a formal certification program.

In a world where risk management and business continuity planning are essential pursuits for any healthy IT organization, every asset needs to be defined and monitored, and that includes technical skills. There's no better way to accomplish that than through a consistent, well-conceived means of documenting who has what skills. And that means certification.
Don Tennant caught a lot of flack for that statement.

Certainly if a certification helps you get a job, it is monetarily worth it, whereas if it doesn't, then it's not. Just as well, some employers want to see certifications while others do not. Some potential clients desire business partners to be certified in the technologies that interest them. Others don't care. So let's forget about "worth" as a measure of dollars for a moment.

Is it possible that conventional wisdom is wrong? Is it possible certifications can be worthwhile, personally or professionally?

It's simple to see that certifications are only worth the legitimacy conferred upon them by the community as a whole. If the larger community sucks as much as we often say it does, that doesn't bode well for certifications among elites. But the fact that so many people are making so much money in the certification industry says that the community at large gives respect to the process.

So why do we see so many people questioning that process? (We see the same phenomenon in questioning the value of a university degree, to be fair.)

The weak might bitch because they're lazy. The elite think they're above it, and that the tests focus on too low a common denominator, if not the lowest. What about the rest of us?

I wasn't terribly excited after having passed the exam I took on Saturday. I certainly didn't feel like I was a changed man. I know it helps out our company in becoming a Business Intelligence partner of Microsoft, but I was less than enthusiastic.

Since, according to Microsoft, candidates for the exam should be experts in "wizard usage," I thought I was an expert in Wizardry.

SQL wizard usage expert.

My reaction was a bit tongue-in-cheek. In fact, I do feel I learned something from the process - at the minimum I had to know much more about scaling and back-up schemes than I would have known before-hand. So I feel it was personally valuable in those respects.

Still, part of me feels the certification process is an attempt to commoditize knowledge and use it in place of thought.

So now I'll turn it on you: Do you have any certifications? (Why, or why not?) How do you feel about certifications? Why do you feel that way?

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