A Response to the Cost and Difficulty of IT Certifications

For her article posted yesterday (Microsoft Certification Exams Are Getting Harder) on TrainSignal.com, Kasia Lorenc interviewed Erika Cravens and Krista Wall on how Microsoft certification exams are getting more difficult. While I have not seen the new format, I welcome the challenge – especially if it means that new question formats will eliminate (or at least make more difficult) the creation and distribution of ‘Brain Dumps.’

Lewis Roberts, in his comment, agrees that it is good that the exams are getting harder, but does not like a few of the other discussed changes, as well as the recent price increase of Microsoft exams (from $125 to $150). He writes:

“Let’s not forget that Microsoft have quite recently revised the price upwards of all exams so not only will it be academically more challenging to get a Microsoft qualification, it will also be more financially challenging too. A bit chicken and egg for some budding IT professionals”

Indeed, Microsoft did increase the cost of their exams recently (for the first time in a decade). The cost is now $150/exam (VMware Certified Professional = $225), which is not unreasonable, considering a) the potential benefits to your career that are directly shown in earning potential versus b) the cost of creating certification exams, which has never been cheap and seems to be, from what I read into Kasia’s article, getting more expensive for Microsoft.

I understand that Mr. Roberts is upset with the possibility of having to take multiple exams to earn a single TS credential, but that is not something new; when the MCTS and MCITP certifications were launched we were told that it might happen… it just hasn’t yet. If it is going to start happening with the next generation, then it is something that we knew about four or five years ago.

The reality of certifications is that they are an indicator that you have the respect for your profession to learn how to do things the right way and are prepared to demonstrate that experience in an exam. Among my myriad certifications are several for legacy operating systems, and you never hear me discuss them. When I cite a certification it is because it is relevant to now. Anyone can start using Hyper-V and build virtual machines; my MCITP: Virtualization Administrator tells people – potential clients, students, and whoever else may be interested – that I can architect a virtualization solution based on Microsoft virtualization technologies and following industry best practices, and support both the technology and the business case. My VMware Certified Professional credential says I can do the same on vSphere.

Is the MCITP credential worth the $375 it cost me (I did them last year) to take the exams? Absolutely. Is my VCP credential worth the $225 it cost me for the exam, plus the $3000 it cost me to sit the course (which is a prerequisite to sitting the exam)? Yes it is… to me, because they are both professionally relevant. That means that I earn money based on those credentials, and as such they were investments. It is why I do not take exams on Microsoft Office or .NET development… I could probably study for it and pass the exam, but it would be a financial and time investment that would not pay off.

Certifications are supposed to be hard… otherwise they are meaningless. Despite what the Occupy <Insert City Here> crowd believes, we live in a world in which we need to invest time and money in order to get ahead. People don’t question when discussing university education that it requires a lot of time and several courses in order to achieve a single credential… so why would you be so upset when imposing the same requirements on technical certifications? It is simply the cost of doing business and yes, if you want a career in IT you need to pay those costs.

Like most of you I love passing certification exams… at least, as opposed to failing them. Sometimes I take exams and pass them quickly and effortlessly not because they are easy, but because I am really well prepared. I am satisfied with that. I remember taking one exam several years ago that was not like that… I passed because it was a mind-numbingly easy exam that was poorly written and designed for a 90%+ pass rate. I took no satisfaction in that certification and never discussed it with anyone.

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap we esteem too lightly. Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.”

In other words, if it is worth having, it is worth working for. We do not value what comes easy or cheap, and if you want proof look at the attendance sheets for my presentations and courses… the ones that are free and sponsored by Microsoft or HP have a 25% no-show rate, while the ones that people have to pay for have a 100% attendance rate. If they were cheap or easy (or both) then who would bother?

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3 thoughts on “A Response to the Cost and Difficulty of IT Certifications

  1. Good Points!

    I also believe certifications are worth the effort and cost. If we look at the MCSE cert, 7 exams at $125 (old pricing) + study materials the price starts getting a little high, but it is still affordable for most professionals. The price needs to be reflective of the ROI. All of my certs have moved me forward in this profession. For hiring professionals it takes the guess work out of “is this person qualified?” Yes, I know there are brain dumps but I like to think most of us have passed the exams the old fashioned way with study and practice. Like you, I have many certs under my belt, but I look forward to writing the new and challenging exams as it helps me keep up-to-date and the gray matter functioning.

  2. I’m wondering if the question isn’t the price but the value. You are really talking about the value of certifications. The problem with several hundred dollar exams is that most people wait to do them until the value is extremely high but so is the cost — when they are working to get a new job or to change careers.

    I’m also with you on easy certs. There are some in my area that are 50 multiple choice questions. I just don’t get how that is of great value.

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