Don’t Do It…

A few days ago, a former student emailed me the most unfortunate question.

I have been an IT trainer for fifteen years. For much of that time, and with few exceptions, I have been giving out my personal contact information. I have always told my students that even though the class is over, I am still available to answer questions. Many of the answers to those questions have become blog articles on this site.

“I am not a good test taker, but I know the material. Can I just download the exam and memorize it before going into the exam room?”

My heart sunk.

I have always been against cheating on exams. I did not do it in high school – although to be honest, that was mostly because I was never good at it – and I will not do it on a certification exam… and I will not endorse others doing it.

I have said for decades that certifications are the proof that you have the respect for your profession to study the right way to do things, and have taken the requisite exams to prove it. When people ask if I know what I am talking about on a particular subject matter I produce proof of my certifications, and that usually is enough to convince clients or perspective clients that I know the material.

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of “professionals” out there who give certifications a bad name.

When I got into the industry there were a lot of ‘paper certifications’ out there – people who had studied for exams, rather than learned the material. I have seen this trend resurfacing over the past few years, and it is worrisome to me. As Microsoft, CompTIA, and all of the other training providers work so hard to make it harder to ‘study to the exam,’ people do an end-run around that and just buy ‘brain dumps.’ A brain dump is when people copy the exact questions and answers from the actual test, compile them into a file (ranging between 50 and 1,000 questions) and either sell them or give them away for free.

The value of a certification should be that it is a badge that ‘I know what I am talking about, and here is the proof… before you hire me.’ If you do not know what you are talking about, but passed the exam anyways, your lack of proficiency will soon become apparent to anyone who works with you.

Over the last few years a number of potential clients (and employers) have told me that they have engaged certified professionals in the past, and they have regretted it. I told them that if they are concerned, they should still get confirmation of certifications, but also consider factors such as experience, interviews, and references. I am fortunate that on top of a bunch of certifications, I also have the experience and reputation to back it up.

Recently, a company (who had recently been bitten by a paper cert) told me that they had already spent the majority of their project’s budget on a previous consultant who had done a terrible job and left them hanging, and they only had twenty percent of the original budget left to offer me. They felt that it was my duty to stand up for the honour of my profession, and to do 80% of the work for 20% of the pay. While I explained to them that I would be happy to finish their project on the original timeline, I was not willing to do so for the IT equivalent of minimum wage. I was certainly not willing to do so after they had paid someone incompetent $80,000 on a $100,000 project.

There is an old adage that I have taken to quoting these past few years: If you think it is expensive to hire professionals, you should see how costly it will be to hire amateurs. I told this to that company’s project managers when they offered me $20,000 for a $100,000 project. He started complaining to me that it was not his fault that the other guy was not competent. I had asked why he felt that it might somehow it might be mine. He had hired the other guy…

There is an old story about a guy who takes his car to a mechanic and tells him the engine is sputtering and knocking. He starts the car and sure enough, that’s what is happening. So the mechanic opens the hood and listens for a minute, and then hits the whatchamacallit with a hammer. Immediately the car starts purring like the finely tuned machine it is supposed to be. “That will be $400 please.” The guy is irate. ‘You listened to my car for sixty seconds, then smacked it with a hammer! How can you charge me $400 for hitting my engine with a hammer??’ The mechanic replied calmy: “I am not charging you for hitting your engine with a hammer; I am charging you $5 for the hammer… and $395 for the years of learning and experience that allow me to listen to your engine, diagnose the problem, and know which hammer to hit it with, where exactly to hit it, and exactly how hard to hit it…”

Education and experience equal value. Unfortunately the cheaters make it harder to know who truly has the experience and the education… much like someone who claims to have a university degree from a prestigious school, when he is not a doctor but he played one on TV. When I present my CV and list of credentials it is honest and sincere. I studied for and passed every certification exam on my transcript, from 70-210 (Windows 2000 Professional) through MS-101 (Microsoft 365 Mobility and Security). I have worked with every technology on which I am certified, and I am happy to subject myself to the interview to prove it. What I am not willing to do is to accept a cut-rate fee because a company paid a liar who stole his certifications by cheating the full rate to do a bad job.

Cheaters never prosper. Okay, that is not true… many cheaters do very well at cheating. They also do a very good job of diminishing the value of the credentials that I and thousands of others have worked hard to achieve and maintain.

As I hold some of their certifications, CompTIA sends me periodic emails. Last week one had the following article in it: How to Cheat on CompTIA A+ and Security+ Exams? Well, You Shouldn’t. I read through it with great interest. While I have been involved with Microsoft Learning (Now Worldwide Learning) for many years, I have never been involved in CompTIA, but I know that they take cheating as serious as Microsoft does… and I appreciate it. They both spend a lot of money to create their certification programs, and seeing them cheapened (or worse, made irrelevant) by cheaters is quite difficult for them. I for one appreciate the steps they take to prevent cheating… and the penalties when someone is caught.

How can you cheat on a certification exam? Don’t. If you do and you are found out, then you are worth precisely the honest effort you put in to earning the credential… nothing.

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