Mar 8, 2014

Is the effort you expend on Java certification worth the results?

The answer depends on the individual circumstances.

Who can benefit from certifications?

Those who might really benefit from certifications are those who have no experience and are looking for an entry-level position in the industry. If they are competing against newbies who have no certifications, that might give them an edge in getting that first job. Beyond that ...

If you are job hunting

-- Experience and how well you perform in your pre-interview written tests and job interviews are going to carry far more weight in making hiring decisions than some test result.

If you are working as a Java developer:

-- How well you translate your "knowledge" to skills in "getting things done" and "solving problems" is what matters than some test results.

Employers do look for your soft skills and personal attributes that add value to them

More than the certificate you receive, the real value is in the
  • Learning process that disciplines you to sit and learn the core concepts. For example, prepare, learn, research, and practice.
  • Qualities you exhibit like setting goals, commitment, and taking pride in your accomplishments.

So, just one certification would do, unless you are such an individual who lacks motivation and drive to study without a certificate. In general, talented developers are self-taught and constantly educate themselves to keep relevant with the changes. Employers love these so called on-going learners and ask the following question in the job interviews.

  • Which sites do you frequent to get your technological updates?
  • Who are your industry role models?
  • What was the last article or book you read? When did you read that?
  • Why do you like software development?
  • How do you review quality of others' code?

Compliment your certification with the evidence of hands-on experience acquired via voluntary work, self taught projects, and open-source contribution. This will make you stand-out from other beginners who also happen to have certification.

Another differentiating factor is to prepare prior to your job interviews. Employers love good communicators. Unlike a test preparation where you work hard as an individual, in a real work environment you need to  interact with the multi-disciplinary teams and personalities to get the job done. So, you need to be a good communicator and have "can do" positive attitude to get things done.

Certified or not, you will be grilled in job interviews?

Prospective employers understand that lots of great Java professionals are not certified, and also not all certified professionals are good at getting things done. In interviews, your technical skills, experience, achievements, passion, confidence, soft skills, and personal attributes will be under scrutiny. So, it really pays to apply what you learn technically and non-technically to acquire the much needed hands-on experience. Some candidates look great on paper but are terrible at conveying ideas in the job interviews or team meetings. Prospective employers, especially the larger organizations with multidisciplinary teams favor hiring clear communicators with decent programming skills than hiring a superb programmer with terrible communication skills.

Do you talk up your on the job accomplishments or academic accomplishments?

Employers are after one thing -- "your ability to get the job done".  How do employers determine your ability to get the job done.

  • Pre-interview  phone interview screening.
  • Pre-interview coding and technical tests.
  • Job interview performance -- both technical and soft skills will be under scrutiny.
  • Once you get hired, you might be on probation and your ability to get the job done independently as well as in a team will be closely monitored.
 If you are an experienced professional, and try to talk up your academic achievements, your prospective employers will be concerned about your practical ability to get things done.

When technology is evolving at a rapid pace, can you afford to tinkering with the certification preparation?

When I changed my career from Mechanical engineering to Java in 1999, I had the same dilemma of preparing for Java certification (e.g. spend 3 to 6 months), or press ahead with  learning the sought-after technologies and frameworks. I opted for the second option.
  1. Researched online job advertisements and Google trends to short list the technologies/frameworks in demand to get some hands-on experience via tutorials and self-taught projects.
  2. Prepared for job interviews on the same topics via good books, online articles, and blog posts.
It did pay off for me. I always favor the path less traveled.

Do what works for you.  At the end of the day the most important thing is to get there and how you get there is up to you. So, ask yourself a few questions to determine what will keep you focused on your goals. Knowing and doing are 2 different things. So, become a doer. Start asking questions and writing code. Solve industrial challenges to succeed in your career.

What defines success?

Success means different things to different people. Failing is a life experience. Not getting that top grade on the exam you spent all night studying for, is an experience. Life experiences are a composite of all the skills necessary to get along in the real worldIn college, it’s all about grades. In the real world, it’s about passion, action and experience. Once you get past the first job, no one is ever going to ask you about your grades. 

Both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are men of tremendous achievement. Both of them did not succeed in a classroom.

Success isn't defined by what we manage to get, but rather by what we are able to give.

So, know your industry, be passionate, ask the right questions, and solve problems through innovative ideas.

Certification has its place, but enjoy it in moderation. There are other avenues like open-source contribution, learn-apply-let the world know, and self-taught projects to develop yourself as a well rounded professional, and I have covered them in detail in my book entitled "How to open more doors as a software engineer".

Take away point is this:

The least important thing is what you have like certificate, brainbench test score, or 1 year experience. The most important thing is what you have become like ability to solve business problems, dedication for ongoing learning, ability to communicate your thoughts, ability to work individually as well as a team, ability to market your skills, disciplining yourself to set goals and act on it, etc.

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