IT Career Paths – Certification vs. Degree
Rob Hilley, our specialist Consultant for Technology and Business Intelligence shares his views on pursuing solid commercial working experience or furthering your education when choosing a career in IT.
Years of engaging with both applicants and hiring managers has taught me that this can be something of a hot topic amongst IT Professionals, with many conflicting viewpoints. Whilst I may not be able to solve the debate, there are a few points worth considering, particularly when it comes to job applications and career path.
IT Support v Software Development
In the local market, these job fields seem to be heading in divergent directions. The volume of candidates having pursued Infrastructure or Network related degrees is quite low, while conversely those entering Computer Science or Software Engineering degrees seems to be on the increase. Employer expectations tend to be very much in line with degree output.
Software Engineers are often sought with a solid foundation in Computer Science theory, which likely comes from a degree level education. In IT Support, relevant certifications tend to be in favour, with several high demand skill sets commanding a premium in terms of remuneration.
Commercial Experience or Further Study
I have often been asked, particularly by those at an early stage in their career, if pursuing an MSc or Certification would be better than gaining real-world experience. It may sound harsh, but in short, the answer is rarely. In a field like IT, there is very little substitute for hands-on practical experience. In my experience, few and far between are the employers who would prefer an extra acronym on a CV over 12 months of solid commercial experience.
Continuous Improvement and Passion
At the other end of the spectrum, those with significant career experience behind them should display a desire to learn and continually develop. Perhaps it is most relevant for those in hands-on positions, but good advice to any level of applicant is to evidence an interest in technology out with a professional setting. I am not suggesting everyone become an App developer in their spare time, but invariably you do find, that the best candidates display an intellectual curiosity and love of IT which keeps their interests in emerging technology. In most fields, employers expect applicants to display an interest in the field, I would suggest in IT, this is truer than most but can be easier to evidence.
Value of Specialism
Are you targeting an SME? Or a global corporate? A technology company? Or business with an IT function?
Different employers have widely differing requirements. A smaller business is less likely to need an accredited specialist. Team sizes and budgets tend to favour a well-rounded employee, the jack of all trades so to speak. In this case, it is arguable that those with a degree have the advantage as a degree indicates an ability to learn, regardless of topic.
On the other hand, if you are targeting a larger business or even a consultancy, a specific skill set is your value add. Certifications demonstrate specialism and commitment to career path which are a big selling point.
Whether it is degree, certification or just technology, if it is on your CV you must be able to evidence the skills. In this case, certifications may have the advantage in that chances are, they will be updated as years go by, whereas a degree becomes dated. That said, considering thoughts on Continuous Improvement above, nothing displays a lack of drive quick than a CV full of lapsed accreditations and no current replacements.
There is little more disappointing in a technical interview than to probe CV content only to be told, that technology was something you used ten years ago, once, for a project or something….
The answer to Degree v Certification is very much situation and person dependent. Less ambiguous is the fact that as the market continues to pick up and organisations compete to hire the best technical talent, candidates have unrivalled opportunities to put the above into practice and secure themselves their dream role. If you are considering career path at moment, and would like to discuss anything within this article, please get in touch and see how we can assist.