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Should I get certified for virtualization?

Two experts discuss the drawbacks and benefits of server virtualization certifications, including the proper weight that should be given to both certifications and experience.

IT managers are mixed on the importance of the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) and other similar virtualization certifications.

Obtaining server virtualization certifications communicates to potential employers a baseline of knowledge. They can also help IT professionals earn higher salaries or command higher billing rates. Certifications may be a requirement in many larger organizations, although fees for obtaining them are frequently reimbursed by employers.

But virtualization certifications are not a guarantee of someone's ability to effectively manage virtual infrastructure. Some critics maintain that they are more a measure of someone's ability to study a book and perform well on a test. For that kind of guarantee, the only reliable criteria in predicting job performance is past experience. Potential employers should be careful not to overlook experienced job candidates simply because they do not have a virtualization certification.

If you find yourself asking, "Should I get certified for virtualization?", you should read these opposing viewpoints by two experts on the drawbacks and benefits of virtualization certifications.

Jason Boche: The importance of virtualization certifications

Eric Siebert: Server virtualization certifications don't tell the whole story

The importance of virtualization certifications
By Jason Boche, Contributor

What are the benefits of virtualization certification? It's Tuesday evening, and the anxiety of the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) exam for which I'm sitting in two days is causing me to reflect on the importance of virtualization certifications. "Why should I get certified for virtualization?", I wonder. Over the course of my professional career, the case for IT certification has come in and out of vogue, but for me, the reason to certify has remained constant: I value certification.

Like many others, I started my IT career in an entry-level contract position. It wasn't long before my employer introduced me to IT certification exams and asked me to start scheduling some in an effort to build up my resume, marketability, and, ultimately, my billing rate. Along the way, I found out that I received incremental pay increases for each exam passed. Exams fees were also waived as my employer gave me all the vouchers I needed for taking tests. In my enthusiasm as a budding IT professional, I quickly had all the elements needed to be a certification machine. In 1997, my motive was career advancement, money and respect from peers. Being MCSE-certified in a pool of less than 20,000 was pretty cool -- not to mention extremely marketable. In six months, I had passed 10 exams and more than doubled my starting IT salary.

In 1998, I left the lucrative world of contracting and took a full-time position at a large bank. Without a doubt, the certifications are what landed me that job. During my 11-year tenure at the bank, I kept my Microsoft certifications up to date and expanded into Citrix and VMware, although the incentives were far less -- my employer didn't require or even ask me to keep up with them. Even more discouraging was the rampant availability of illegal exam material on the Internet, along with "paper-certified" unqualified or under-qualified candidates who were flooding the job market and dramatically watering down the perceived value of certifications.

Today, exam vouchers as a contractor are long gone, but not my employer-reimbursed fees for passing virtualization exams. VMware certification and the vendor-required training courses are particularly expensive, but as long as a budget for them can be acquired, I'm an advocate. Virtualization certification still has that new car smell, and by virtue of that, it's a good tool to use as a standard to measure competency and, consequently, an advantage to have on any resume. More importantly, virtualization certification exams are getting progressively harder, which forces me stay sharp and focused and not fall into a rut of complacency. Another benefit specific to VMware certification is a complimentary VMware Workstation license upon passing the VCP exam.

I'm fortunate to have access to my employer's training budget, but at the same time, any exam I do not pass comes out of my own pocket. As in the past, there's still a monetary incentive for me to perform well on any exam I take. The difference from 12 years ago, however, is that today it's cost avoidance instead of a pay increase. Lastly, there is the considerable amount of personal satisfaction I get from passing the challenging virtualization certification exam. It's the moment when I realize that all of my time and studying has paid off. This high typically lasts the remainder of the day, and with continued vendor support, will remain important to me well into the future.

Jason Boche, a 13-year IT veteran, runs the boche.net VMware Virtualization Evangelist blog. He is a senior systems engineer, VMware vExpert, VMware Communities user moderator and leader of the Minneapolis Area VMware User Group. He holds the following certifications: MCSE NT4/2000/2003, MCSA 2000/2003, MCP, VCPx3, CCAx2, A+.

Server virtualization certifications don't tell the whole story
By Eric Siebert, Contributor

Server virtualization certification, by definition, is an earned designation that demonstrates a person's qualifications to perform a job or task. What this means is that your level of knowledge on virtualization is high enough to be able to pass a written test. It says nothing about experience: You take a class, study hard and become certified -- all within a short period of time.

There's a classic Dilbert cartoon I keep in my cube that illustrates my view of the importance of virtualization certification:

"Step away from that network server, I'm certified."
"I summon the vast power of certification."
"Well, this is embarrassing; that's all I remember from the classes."

The same can be said for those who've earned the VCP. I've met a lot of VCPs who are extremely skilled, but I've also met a lot of IT professionals who are not VCPs and are more than qualified to become one.

The problem is, because certifications receive so much emphasis in the IT world, experienced professionals often get overlooked regardless of their talent. If I was looking to hire someone or get hired myself, I would rather focus on accomplishments and experience than whether or not an individual has a server virtualization certification.

The one exception to the issue of whether to get certified for virtualization is the new VCDX program. You have to really know your stuff to get this one. It's the type of certification that only the best of the best can obtain, as it is not a general certification that tests only a person's knowledge at a given moment in time. The VCDX tests both a person's knowledge and their experience, which is what really counts in my book.

I've never been a fan of IT certifications, and I have never aspired to obtain them. As Popeye was fond of saying, "I yam what I yam." If you want to know if I am competent in server virtualization technology, take the time to find out. Don't rely on a set of letters that don't tell the whole story.

Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains VMware-land.com, a vSphere information site.

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