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VMware pros weigh value of VCP certification

The deadline for an upgrade to new VMware Certified Professional 4 exam is looming, but some question whether certification boosts salary and is worth the effort.

In a few short months, time will run out on a promotion that allows IT professionals with a VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification on VMware Infrastructure 3 (VI3) to simply take the new VCP 4 exam. After Dec. 31, these certified admins and managers will also need to take the two-day "VMware vSphere 4: What's New" class for which some U.S.-based trainers charge $1,495.

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Without prior certifications, VCP 4 candidates must take the four-day VMware vSphere: Install, Configure, Manage course for $2,995, or the five-day VMware vSphere: Fast Track class for $4,675.

Does virtualization certification boost salary?
The deadline for VCPs to upgrade to VCP 4 revives the old debate about the value of IT certification. Proponents of certification say that they demonstrate competency in a subject and make it easier for the recipient to get higher-paying positions in large companies.

Others say that those with certification actually earn less than those who focus on gaining skills and experience in their chosen specialty.

 The problem with certification is that most IT jobs require much more than just technical skills.

"From a pay point of view, in the past four years, certifications have been on a steady downward spiral, but pay for [noncertified] skills has not," said David Foote, CEO and chief research officer at Foote Partners LLC, an analyst firm that researches the IT job market. "In general, noncertified skills pay better than the certified market," he said.

Generally speaking, the problem with IT certifications is that most IT jobs require much more than just technical skills, Foote said. "There are so few pure-play technical jobs anymore where certifications are important," he said. "Most IT jobs are a hybrid, where people need to have a mix of technical skills, business savvy, and [they] need to be able to communicate with people."

Certainly, certification gives employers an easy way to determine whether a candidate is qualified. But even without certification, "companies have their ways of assessing [a candidate's] skills," Foote said.

Nevertheless, for about half of the positions she fills, certifications are crucial, said Ellis Blevins, the division director for Robert Half Technology, an IT recruiting firm.

"With some companies, you've got to have the certification, or they're not even going to look at you," Blevins said. Outsourcing providers, for example, "lean heavily in favor of people with certifications, because they use them as part of their marketing."

VCP 4 in reach 
Gabrie van Zanten, a consultant at Logica in the Netherlands, will update his VCP 2.x certification to a VCP 4. He is doing so "partly for myself, but also for my employer so they can sell me as a consultant." He recently took the "What's New" class and said that he got some new information during the two-day class.

Whatever the case, at least one newly crowned VCP 4 professional says that if they have some vSphere 4 experience, existing VCPs shouldn't worry too much about passing the exam.

Jason Boche, a senior systems engineer at large business intelligence provider, took the VCP 4 exam on a whim on the last day of VMworld 2009 to take advantage of discounted exam pricing from Pearson VUE, the third-party exam administrator. With no preparation except time playing around with vSphere in his lab, Boche passed the exam with a score of 350 out of 500 (300 is the minimum).

"There are some technical differences between VI3 and vSphere, but there's a lot of overlap too," he said. "A lot of VI3 [VCP] questions could still apply on vSphere and vice versa."

And ultimately, whether or not admins have certification, market demand for VMware skills is hot right now, said Robert Half's Blevins. "Anyone with this skill set has more opportunities available to them right now," she said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Alex Barrett, News Director.

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