I often get asked for career advice and the value of certifications. We live in a rapid pace world and people often look for the shortest path to success. They are trying to use the Dijkstra algorithm on their careers 😉
This post is not a “People with degrees are better than others” post and is written from my perspective as a network architect. I do believe though that the skills I will describe here are applicable to all networking/IT jobs and will be even more relevant further down the road. Here is some of the value I see in a degree based on that you get a degree in a relevant discipline at a good university and that you have the willingness to learn.
Consume information – Working in IT means you need to consume a lot of information. For topics that you aren’t familiar with you need to be able to know where to look for information, what to do with the information and be able to draw a conclusion based on this information. IT is moving at a more rapid pace than ever and people that can’t consume a lot of information will struggle stay relevant in the industry. When studying at the university you read a lot, both books and research papers and learn from that information. It’s also common to write a paper where you summarize your findings and possibly what conclusion you have come to.
Analytical skills – In IT we must be able to analyze information, analyze the state of a network, analyze while troubleshooting a network and so on. If you have a degree with a background in math and science you will have developed your analytical skills. You are also used to analyzing a lot of information which is very helpful when troubleshooting networks. In my role as a network architect I have found this skill to be very useful. I have to be able to analyze a customers current network, their business needs and what technologies are relevant to them. I had several math courses at the university where I didn’t see how I would be able to apply that knowledge in my career but I think it helped improve my analytical skills.
Communication – The days of where an engineer could be sitting in a basement working on arcane things is almost entirely gone. Working in silos is not efficient and the modern IT worker needs to be able to communicate with engineers with different specializations. He/she must also be able to understand more of the business side. The best value is created when people come together and work towards the same goal. A lot of the work we do in IT is done in projects where people from different disciplines work together. At the university you will be exposed to working with people in groups. These people will have a different background, gender, ethnicity etc. and you may or may not like these people. You still have to work with them to be able to get a good result. This is something that is useful when you start your career. You need to be able to cooperate with people regardless of your personal opinion of them and what background they have.
Writing – Some people are very strong in technology. Some people are very good at writing. When you have someone with both skills that is a very powerful combination. I’ve always been comfortable with writing which has helped med tremendously in my role as a network architect. There are people that have difficulty writing and spelling for different reasons and that’s perfectly fine. I try to stay professional in all of my communication even if it’s a simple e-mail. It looks so much better if you spend a little time thinking about what you are trying to communicate and writing it down in a proper manner. When you are writing documentation or a network design people will be able to consume the information much better if they can follow your line of thought and the formatting is good. When you study at the university you will have to do a lot of writing. Both personal notes and papers that you have to turn in. Sometimes you feel annoyed when you get a paper back with a lot of minor corrections but that’s what will make you a better writer in the end.
Presenting – This one ties in to the communication part. Many of us in IT have to do presentations. It can be internal training of staff. It can be presenting a solution to a customer. It can be presenting a solution or new technology to staff in management positions. It doesn’t matter how good you are in a technology. If someone else is better at presenting than you and they are presenting a worse solution/technology than you are, it’s still likely they will get the funding because their presentation was better. Many of us in IT are introverts by nature. So was I but I’ve trained myself to be better and to be comfortable leading a discussion and presenting. If you want to be really successful in your career you need to be good at presenting.
So choosing between a cert or degree. Which one should you choose? Both! That’s my response as well as my friend Russ White. Having a degree can be very valuable especially if you want to move up the corporate ladder. Most of us swear to never move into management but I’ve heard rumors of this happening 😉