A prospective student recently asked me an interesting question: “What is better to have— a college degree in information technology (IT), specific IT certifications or relevant work experience?” Since I have heard this question often, I consulted our IT Program Advisory Committee. The answer I received: “It depends.”
Every employer seeks someone with intimate knowledge, skills and ability in the exact area of the discipline for the position it is hiring. The more specialized the discipline, the more coveted the person who has that experience becomes. This also often results in escalated wages–regardless of certifications or degrees the person may (or may not) have.
Specific experience, therefore, trumps anything else. But what happens when the employer cannot find someone with the exact experience required?
All things being equal when it comes to experience, the next determining factor is the educational level of the job candidate. Anecdotally, I have heard of 22-year-old software developers—fresh out of college—who are receiving excellent salaries based on their recent education.
While earning a degree is still the gold standard, employers are also looking for relevant applied experience more than a piece of paper. So why not simply study a specific discipline and receive the associated certification?
Certifications are developed to assure the competency of persons in the discipline, or skill
set, for which they are awarded. When employer look to hire for a specific set of duties related to a discipline for which there is a certification, then they seek an individual with that certification or relevant experience.
Everyone would like to have the “alphabet soup” of certifications after their name (e.g., MCTS, CCNA, MSCE, ACP, CBIP, CCP, CDMP, ISA, etc.), but what I hear from employers is that they are looking for these certifications in addition to education and experience.
So, what did I recommend to the prospective new student? I told him employers seek candidates who have the knowledge, skills and ability required for the position. And every employer wants to hire “well-rounded and communicable” employees.
I encouraged the student to attend college for a broad-based education and an IT degree—that includes specific certifications and opportunities for practical experience through applied learning projects.
About the Author
Mark E. Smith holds a Ph.D., and is the chair of the information technology program at Broadview University-Layton.