Why Do I Keep Getting Certifications?

I recently became a Google Cloud Certified Professional Cloud Architect. This certification expands on my existing extensive array of credentials including 8 AWS certifications, CISSP, and VMware Spring Professional. Which begs the question: why do I have so many certifications and why do I keep getting more?

There has been much written about professional certifications in the information technology industry: Are they worth the effort to acquire? Do employers care if candidates have them?

However, rather than diving into the contentious debate about the value of certifications for employment purposes, let’s explore some different, less discussed perspectives beyond getting a job.

Expanding Horizons

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein

I love learning. I love learning about a wide variety of topics well beyond my professional focus area of software/computing, such as physics, law, economics, finance, and electronics. With so many things to learn, it can be really hard to decide what to learn next. Unfortunately, physics, law, economics, finance, and electronics don’t have certifications – but technology does and they can provide great direction.

I sometimes look at the resume of colleagues or even random people to see what certifications they hold to get a sense of what I could learn next. For example, if I see a bunch of people whom I find interesting holding a GC PCA, that makes me wonder if perhaps I should learn a thing or two about Google Cloud too.

Hedge for Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck.

“Impostor syndrome” on Wikipedia

Imposter syndrome is no fun. I experience this feeling on a routine basis, most often when talking to someone who seems to know so much more than me, making me feel shamefully inadequate. Having quantitative proof that you know something can be a good way to convince yourself that you’re not a fraud. For example, my newly acquired GC PCA gives me confidence that I know a thing or two about Google Cloud.

Certifications as a Metric

If you don’t collect any metrics, you’re flying blind.

Scott M. Graffius, Agile Scrum: Your Quick Start Guide with Step-by-Step Instructions

“How well do you know calculus?” The answer to that is necessarily incredibly nuanced. However, educational institutions need a proxy to succinctly answer that question, so that industry fell back on the tried and true method of testing, creating the AP Calculus Exam. The result of this exam is a number, 1 through 5 (inclusive), which provides a benchmark to evaluate someone’s calculus knowledge. Now, the question “How well do you know calculus?” can have a quantitative answer that can be used to compare individuals (“Sally got a 5, while Samantha got a 4”) as well as gauge progress for the same individual over time (“Sophia got a 2 last year, this year she got a 4”).

That last part, gauging progress of the same individual over time, is of interest to me for my personal purposes. Even if the test is just a pass/fail result (like the Google Cloud PCA), it’s still a way to measure progress over time: I couldn’t pass the exam before, and now I can. I collected a metric, demonstrating progress to myself – that’s valuable and well worth the exam fee.

Having a metric also helps with goal setting. “Learn Google Cloud” has no definable measure of success, so it’s very difficult to time bound. In contrast, “Pass the GC PCA” is easily measurable, making it possible to set a deadline to achieve that goal. And having a deadline is a crucial means by which to avoid procrastination.

Gamification: Collecting Things is Fun

I don’t think any collector knows his true motivation.

Robert Mapplethorpe

Some people collect stamps, others collect beanie babies, and then there are those that collect certifications. Growing any collection requires effort and then there’s always the resulting reward. The beanie baby collector thrives on finding that perfect item on eBay, while the certification collector enjoys the dopamine hit from updating their resume with a new line item.

Gamification is frequently discussed in the context of mobile games, with people spending hours “farming” or “mining” in order to be rewarded with the dopamine hit resulting from a new icon in the game. But gamification can just as well be applied to continuing education too. Instead of having gamification used as a tool by mobile game creators to exploit you for ad views, how about using gamification for your own good in an effort to expand your knowledge base?

Sometimes, They’re Required for Compliance Purposes

It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.

Winston S. Churchill

Some industries require certifications in order to perform certain functions. For example, DoD 8570 specifies that people who perform certain functions must hold certain certifications. I’m not going back on my commitment to avoid the question of the value of certifications for employment – I am talking about acquiring certifications to meet regulatory or compliance requirements. These requirements aren’t subjective like employment evaluations nor are they “nice to have’s” (hence the name “requirements”). Therefore, sometimes, it’s simple: you just have to have a certification. These requirements can also provide a nice roadmap: if there’s a job/task you want to be able to do, and there’s a regulatory requirements to have a certification, then you know you need to put getting that certification on your personal roadmap.

Counterpoints: Certifications Aren’t Perfect

Certifications can be expensive. But, employers will oftentimes reimburse or at least subsidize their cost (after all, a better trained, better credentialed employee is a better employee). Training courses are even more expensive, however, so by self studying, you can avoid the more significant expenses yet still gain the benefits of certification.

Maintaining certifications is also work. Some certifications (such as those by AWS and Google) require re-taking the certification exam to renew; others use a continuing education / credit based system to review (such as those from (ISC)²). In any case, effort and expense is required to keep certifications active, and at least in my opinion, maintaining existing certifications is far less fun than acquiring new ones. A bit of strategy can be applied to mitigate some of the burden of the maintenance slog, however. A few examples include:

Looking Forward

Certifications are far from perfect, but I think they have a use and I find them helpful. I plan to continue acquiring new certifications and renewing existing ones. I have quite a number of candidates that I’m evaluating at the moment, preparing to learn something new and have a nice credential to prove it. Hopefully you’ve found my thoughts on certifications helpful (or at least thought provoking).

CC BY-SA 4.0 Why Do I Keep Getting Certifications? by Craig Andrews is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

5 thoughts on “Why Do I Keep Getting Certifications?

  1. Thought provoking as always, Craig! My main thought being where do you find the time to meet the requirements for all those certs while maintaining high productivity in your job?

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer. I just spend time studying on nights, weekends, and any free time I have (such as when on a train, plane, in a car, etc). I also tend to select topics that overlap with work that way I the learning benefits work and I can learn while working.

  2. Good read…totally agree with you & I can relate. Reminder for me to go & hunt/work/earn the next cert…good luck on your next one

  3. I get a sense of relief (and probably a dopamine hit), every time I learn something that I believe will allow me to be more independent when it comes to obstacles that in the past, I would need to rely on, and wait for, others to both define my problem and solution. Have you found that to be a factor for you at all?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.