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Experience more important than VCP, VMware users say

The VMware Certified Professional is still a must-have virtualization certification, but with so many VCPs out there, IT pros say experience matters more than ever.

With so many VMware Certified Professionals now, the certification doesn’t mean as much as it used to when it comes to landing a job or making more money, virtualization pros said.

More than 70,000 people hold the VMware Certified Professional (VCP), VMware’s entry-level certification, the company said. And the pay premium associated with the VCP hasn’t gone up in more than a year, according to Foote Partners research. The VCP is still a requirement for landing most VMware-related jobs, but experience matters more these days.

“Going in and answering some multiple-choice questions, that’s not how you go about getting a job,” said Lane Roush, systems engineer at Realogy, a real estate services provider. “Employers interview the person, not necessarily the certification.”

Value of the VCP
The VCP may not do much to set IT pros apart, but employers still view it as a core requirement.

“The VCP is 100% mission critical,” said Cliff Schaut, an independent data center consultant.

Being a VCP can get job candidates “past the red tape” and help secure interviews, but the bigger value is in having experience with VMware’s products, said Sumit Sehgal, director of information security at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Sehgal said he’s seen job applicants who hold a VCP but don’t know what they’re doing in a production infrastructure. As a hiring manager, Sehgal said he asks interviewees advanced questions to ensure that they have the experience to back up their certifications.

Virtualization pros can also separate themselves from the VCP pack by getting advanced certifications such as the VMware Certified Advanced Professional -- which has two tracks, data center administration and data center design -- and the VMware Certified Design Expert. VCP holders should also make sure their certifications are up to date with the latest version of VMware’s product line.

“When I’m hiring people, expired certifications don’t bode well,” Sehgal said.

VMware provides incentive for users to upgrade their VCP by waiving course requirements (and therefore training fees) until a certain deadline. For the VCP 5, that deadline is Feb. 29.

But for some IT veterans, incentives aren’t enough. Some virtualization administrators said they often see a generational divide, with people who have worked on virtualization since its inception feeling they don’t need to get certified at all.

VCP test ‘made to pass’
Another factor that has people questioning the value of VMware certifications is the level of difficulty it takes to pass the exams.

The VCP 5 exam uses scaled scoring, which makes it difficult to tell how many questions are required to pass, because the scale varies depending on different versions of the test. But for a lot of certification exams, the minimum score candidates need is around 70%, meaning they can get about a third of the questions wrong and still pass, said David Foote, CEO and cofounder of Foote Partners.

“They really are made to pass,” said Roush, who mentioned the VCP test in particular.

Plus, it’s no secret how easy it is to access answers to VMware’s exams, virtualization pros said. Cheating on IT certification tests happens across the board, mainly through websites where you can pay for answers or even get them for free, Sehgal said.

Of course, it’s in vendors’ best interests to grant certifications. The fees associated with training courses and exams bring in money, and the more people who get certified, the more exposure the company gets. VMware heavily markets its certifications to ensure that third parties don’t develop VMware training courses and cut into its revenue, Foote said.

“Certifications are all part of marketing the VMware brand,” he said.

But VMware is working to keep the value of its certifications up and to combat cheating. Certified admins said the VCP 4 and 5 exams increased in difficulty, with more questions that covered troubleshooting and analysis, plus more of the VMware product line. VMware also requires projects, labs and even live defenses for some of its advanced certifications.

“Vendors upped the ante,” Foote said. “I think they’ve all been struggling with, how do we keep our certifications relevant?” 

What certifications mean to employees
Money is a big motivator for virtualization pros, too. Many companies offer bonuses to employees who have virtualization certifications, and some cover training and exam costs.

Others value certification simply as a matter of personal pride. Getting certified shows employers and co-workers that you’ve put in the effort to validate your skills, said Dwayne Lessner, infrastructure specialist at Husky Energy in Calgary, Alberta.

“Certifications aren’t really a big deal until you have to change jobs,” he said.

Changing jobs -- or at least shifting focus -- is becoming more common in the virtualization industry. Storage and networking experts often move into virtualization, and admins from all departments are expected to understand the whole stack, Roush said. With the increase in heterogeneous virtualization infrastructures, admins may have to learn entirely new products, too.

What certifications mean to employers
Hiring managers need to better understand the available virtualization certifications, Schaut said. Managers don’t always have the most technical skills, so they push employees to get certified, even if it may not fit their job descriptions -- just to cover the company’s bases, Lessner said.

With the right goals, virtualization certifications can be beneficial to both parties.

“I love for people to get certified while they work for me, because it’s professional development and helps the quality of their work,” Sehgal said.

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