I’ve had many conversations with colleagues over the years about the value (or lack thereof) of certification. I’ve always been a strong supporter of ongoing learning and certification, and I hope to provide some reasons here to continue in your efforts! For me, one of the primary reasons to continue certifying and updating my skills is my lifelong learning appetite. While my skills may advance naturally thanks to my experience and time in the field, I find that I always learn something when pursuing new levels of certification, exploring other fields of knowledge, and generally being open-minded to learning. In my case, I’m simply uncomfortable standing still with my knowledge, and feel a core need to further my learning.

Interestingly, in the case of Apple specifically, the “higher end” certifications have been slowly disappearing over the last few years, with only the “Support Professional” designation being offered now for Mac OS X El Capitan. This should probably not come as much of a surprise, given their move away from server hardware in 2011 (Xserve was discontinued in January 2011), and generally becoming more focussed on being a good “citizen” of the enterprise with end user products instead. This has prompted many to complement their technical learning goals with other fields: network device OSes like Cisco IOS, JUNOS, Vyatta, general networking and wireless, Windows Server, and cloud, among others.

Here are my top 5 reasons to keep certifying and learning:

Self esteem. A key to empowerment in any field is education. Learning something new, passing a test, and obtaining a credential can do amazing things for one’s self esteem, and ultimately empowers us to perform at a higher level. Not everybody needs this extra encouragement, and very self motivated with an amazing ability to just learn by doing.

Career path and opportunities. Certification can mean getting a pay raise, or even landing a specific job in the first place. It’s simply a key that can unlock new opportunities. I’ve not met any people that actually say “I’m comfortable with my current level of knowledge and don’t have any plans to learn anything new or different”. As silly as it sounds written down, it happens a lot due to many factors: busy job, family obligations, etc., or simply not asking one’s employer for the opportunity to further training.

Mastery and specialization. Just going through the exercise of evaluating possible certifications paths, helps me focus my interests. Further, a specialist in most fields usually commands a higher salary or fees. Even if I don’t necessarily pursue a formal certification from a learning path, I can still hone my skills in a particular area.

Commitment and followthrough. Certification (or a degree) can show one has the ability to commit to a goal and achieve it. In the business world, followthrough is one of the most desirable qualities an individual can bring to the table. In the IT space, followthrough is a cornerstone of service delivery. Not having a certificate does not mean one lacks commitment and followthrough however, but how would a prospect or client know?

Relationships. There is something inspiring about allowing oneself to be a student again, to pass the baton to another individual after we’ve been in the driver’s seat for so long. Going away for a course is also, not surprisingly, a great way to spark a little joy back into our lives. It changes up the daily grind, and affords us the opportunity of revisiting why we do what we do. All these realizations translate into an openness to connect with others.

My first exposure to a computer-related certification was while working for a local Apple reseller. I’d been heavily focussed on music for years, and Apple offered a trainer certification for Logic Pro, their music production software. I asked around, and nobody had ever been sent to get training for anything, other than the basic sales training Apple offered online. I figured, why not ask if they’d send me to California to get the certification…So I put together a small proposal, which included details about the certification, how it would provide value to my employer (becoming a subject matter expert), and that I would help cover some of the expenses. As surprised as they were to receive my proposal (nobody had done that there before), it was accepted! Off I went to Santa Monica, CA to get my Logic Pro Trainer credentials. The moral of the story here is: If you’re interested in pursuing additional training and certification, think about the value it might bring the business, put it down on a simple proposal explaining the costs, and present it!

Some employers will pad their risk in the investment by requiring the employee to stay on for a specific amount of time after the certification, or offering to reimburse the costs only once the exam is passed and certification is obtained. In either case, having an open conversation with your employer about their expectations is the best policy. Personally, I’d not work for an employer not invested in furthering its employees’ knowledge, and this is a crucial question to ask during the “have any questions for us?” part of a hiring interview.

Not all learning requires a certification however, and I’ve attended many IT and business conferences over the years that gave me more know-how and inspiration than any course I’ve ever taken. Conferences also provide another invaluable opportunity: being part of a community. I really do get all warm and fuzzy thinking of my colleagues, the opportunity to talk shop, or just hanging out with like-minded people. The Mac admin community in particular has an amazing array of very talented people that are extremely generous with their knowledge, and it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. If you are an IT consultant, I’d like to invite you to visit the ACEs Conference website. ACEs Conference focusses on the business aspect of IT, and is specifically geared towards helping small IT providers build their practice and their platform for service delivery.

I’d like to warn against certifying just for the sake of collecting medals, as it can become an expensive proposition. Unfortunately there are many organizations out there that prey on people in this regard, not really offering outcomes with any value. Please research your interest, ensure that your field has a demand for that specific knowledge, and ultimately engage your employer to get their buy-in and commitment to your professional development. Many vendors now offer training and learning at no additional cost, as part of the “gamification” of their strategy to build their product-loving communities. Check it out, but be wary of becoming a credential hoarder as this will ultimately distract from your job.

Not sure where to start? Many training organizations conduct surveys and polls to understand which certifications are in high demand. Here’s one example from Global Knowledge. This can give you some initial ideas for courses or subjects you may have not previously considered.

Thanks for reading!