How to Pick the Right IT Certifications

The right IT certifications can help IT professionals and IT hiring managers to grow their skills and their teams. If chosen correctly, IT certifications can lead to vast improvements in effectiveness, efficiency and communication within teams. Here, Knowledge Center contributor Rex Black explains how IT professionals and IT hiring managers can obtain good value for themselves and their teams by picking the right IT certification programs.


In a previous Knowledge Center article, I talked a lot about how to build quality applications, ones that work together using various techniques and processes. Another key to quality applications is the quality of the teams involved in creating and maintaining them.

One tool for increasing the quality of teams is through the training of existing employees, which I'll address in a future article. In this article, though, I want to focus on something that is often confused with training but actually is something entirely different: certification.

As IT managers, we want to hire qualified people. Certainly, IT certification can be part of the qualification puzzle in many IT fields. IT professionals often use certification in key skill areas to demonstrate their qualifications. However, with all of the certification programs floating around out there, how do IT managers and IT professionals distinguish the useful certifications from pointless wallpaper? In this article, I'll examine how you can pick the right IT certifications for yourself (as an individual) or for your team and the people you hire (as a manager).

Evaluate the certification's syllabus

Any certification worth considering will have, at its basis, a body of knowledge or syllabus. This document should describe the skills and abilities that the certification measures. Those people who have mastered most of these skills and abilities (sometimes called "learning objectives" in the syllabus) will be able to earn the certification, usually through some kind of exam.

So, the first and most important step is to determine whether the skills and abilities listed in the syllabus are useful. Does the syllabus relate to your day-to-day work? Will the benefits of achieving the certification (that is, increased effectiveness, efficiency and credibility of the team, etc.) justify the cost?

Of course, it's possible that your day-to-day work should more closely resemble what is described in the syllabus. This can happen when your organization is not following industry best practices. So you should also evaluate the source of the syllabus. If the syllabus was written by a broad, international team of recognized, published industry experts, perhaps you should consider moving your practices towards those required for certification. Adopting the certification as a guideline for your practices-and hiring people with the certification-can be a good way to move in this direction.