Are Tech Certifications Actually Worth It?

You’ve no doubt heard that certifications can boost your salary. And to a large extent, that’s true: For example, Foote Partners LLC has conducted annual studies that show certain certifications in security and systems administration can boost their holders’ market value by roughly a third within a period of six months.

But does that mean every tech pro should spend enormous amounts of time, money, and sweat to earn certifications? According to the Dice Salary Survey, some 47 percent of tech pros have a certification. But another 24 percent said that a certification wasn’t needed for their role, and 29 percent said they didn’t have one for other reasons (for example, a portion said their company refused to pay for one).

Over the years, various pundits have argued against certifications. Some say that software evolves at a rapid pace, quickly rendering technology platforms obsolete. Others question the time and cost relative to the benefits of actually possessing certain kinds of certifications. Still others think the testing around certifications only shows that people can do tests—not that they can respond to the variable, often weird situations that tech pros encounter on a regular basis.

“Recruiters sometimes have trouble determining a developer’s degree of technical experience, and so insist upon certificates or tests to judge abilities,” Dice writer David Bolton wrote in an article about the worthiness of certs. “If you manage to get past them to the job interview, the interviewer (provided they’re also a developer) can usually get a good feel for your actual programming ability and whether you’ll fit well with the group.” In other words, companies can often get a sense of your skills without a certification.

All that being said, there are highly specialized jobs that definitely require a certification; in these cases, employers simply won’t hire tech pros who don’t have one. For example, a company with a tech stack that’s mostly Cisco-based will want network professionals with Cisco certs.

Even if their job doesn’t demand a certification, tech pros certainly want training and education, according to the Salary Survey. Some 71 percent told Dice that they thought education and training benefits were important, even though 40 percent actually received such benefits from their companies (a stunning gap). Tech pros realize that more education and skills can translate into raises and better benefits—whether at their current company, or another one.

In other words, certifications are worth it for specialized tech pros—but not having a certification isn’t an impediment to a successful career in tech for many. If you’re interested in advancing your career, ask your employer if they’re willing to foot the bill for training and classes; you might luck out.