After 12 years in the police force, I decided I wanted to make a career change into IT. The only problem was I had no experience to speak of and no qualifications.
I made a plan and put myself on a PC assembly course that had recently been created (it was back in 1999). It was the CompTIA A+ and gave me hands on experience, as well as a great grounding in basic theory for operating systems and networking.
I absolutely loved the course and studied the CompTIA Network+ next. I just bought some books, studied from home, and passed the exam after a few weeks.
I started looking around for help desk type roles and found a company that valued personality over experience, and after two interviews, I was accepted and started work on one of their help desks at Yellow Pages. The rest is a story for another day.
Over the years, I've worked with hundreds of IT people, from basic help desk support up to world class network architects (multiple CCIE exams passed), engineers working on top secret government networks, and IT managers for multinationals.
Many of these people were very well qualified, but some had no certifications at all. This brings me to the point of this post. Do you actually need to pass an IT exam in order to get a job in IT? The short answer is clearly no because there are people doing just that. But let me tell you a story.
My father drove a car for years without having taken his driving test. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we drove all over the UK on holidays, and he drove to work every day for 30 years and never had an accident. It wasn't until I was a grown man I found out he had never passed his driving test so was driving illegally and without insurance.
We made him take his driving test, and of course, he passed with flying colors.
The moral of the story is that you can do a job without the piece of paper but, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. The IT people I've met who have no qualifications are staunch in their defense. They angrily shout to anyone who will listen:
- “I can do the job already”
- “It’s just a piece of paper”
- “There is nothing you can teach me”
I wonder, would they get on a plane if the pilot hadn't passed an exam proving he could fly, even if he was using the above arguments?
You can get a job in IT with no qualifications, but it would almost always be by word-of-mouth recommendation or if you are self employed and the customer doesn't know what an MCSE or CCNA actually is. But what does that say about you and your attitude toward your profession?
For the rest of us, the piece of paper does several things:
- Gets our resume past the HR department
- Gives us valuable knowledge
- Shows that the vendors think our skills are sufficient
- Increases our hands on skills
- Keeps us up-to-date with industry trends
- Exposes us to the latest technologies
- Proves we are motivated to learn
From the point of view of potential employers, employing certified people does the following:
- Gets them discounts from vendors
- Cuts down support calls to the vendors
- Increases prestige of the company
- Improves network performance
- Minimizes outages and issues
You see, an IT cert isn't just a piece of paper. It’s actually a statement from the vendor saying that they are satisfied you are capable of doing the job they have tested you on. In the case of the Cisco CCNA, you can do the following:
- Install and troubleshoot small networks
- Create VLANs
- Design a small network using IPv4 or IPv6
- Configure and troubleshoot routing protocols
- Connect the LAN to the WAN
You may have to pass a technical interview to get the job, but if you studied hard for the actual exam, then this should be no problem. It all comes down to your personality and if you are a good fit for the role.
I always say to the people who insist they can do the job without the certificate, “if you are so good, why not turn up and sit the exam?” They put so much effort into explaining why they don’t need to, they might as well just take it. It would be quicker!
For the rest of us, a career in IT means a commitment to continual improvement with a mix of technical and non-technical courses (such as ITIL and project management).
What do you think?
If you are looking to get a break into the IT profession or progress ahead in your career then please check out my ‘Land Your First IT Job‘ course.