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Navigating the world of professional certification and training options, alongside other dispatches from the new global workplace.

Should you pursue a degree in computer science or a collection of IT certificates?

Sunday 24 November 2013

I noticed that the posts on IT-related topics are already the most popular pages on this website and saw an awful lot of Google Auto-complete phrases popping up related to a dilemma that many seem to be having: "certification versus degree" or "computer science ma or certification," et cetra.  At one point in time, it seemed that a solid IT certificate - the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer designation, for example - was a fast track in and of itself to a respectable middle-class job, and perhaps even more success in the American labor market.  Now, it seems, certificates and certifications have lost their novelty.  Various career advising sources are suggesting that recruiters may now prefer degrees from educational institutions over certifications.  And, this makes some sense: perhaps point five on this list has proven true for some recruiters - emerging from a BA in computer science proves that you can show up for class for four years and accomplish something more tangible than simply demonstrating knowledge.  It shows initiative and perseverance - traits that are truly valued by employers - even if there are certainly socioeconomic factors that affect college success in most regions of the world.  And, the GPA and academic honors that may accompany a CS degree give a more precise idea of one's human capital than one can get from certification, which tend to be binary credentials - you either are a Network+ certificate holder or you are not.

One interesting point about CS that I found on a forum dedicated to technology certifications (, incidentally, is a great source for those considering their credentialing options for IT careers) is that certifications are better for demonstrating technical skill, but tend to fall short in terms of proving business sense.  Thus, one might want to pair IT certification with a business degree, enabling one to pursue a career with a foot in both camps.  And another factor to consider is that the learning acquired while preparing for certifications need not be mutually exclusive with one's degree work.  Indeed, one can strategically pick courses as part of a computer science major that will prepare one for certification exams - so take that course in hardware repair or information security with a handout listing the topics covered on the A+ or System Security Certified Professional examination close at hand, and use certification guidelines to guide your learning in your coursework.  Indeed, more and more universities are explicitly aligning their curricula with the expectations of certification organizations, so it's never been easier to "kill two birds with one stone" and work toward a degree and certifications simultaneously!

1 comment

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