Why Certify: David Fitzgerald

Why Certify:

April 2, 2008

David Fitzgerald clearly knows his way around certifications and the industry and we asked if he would be willing to share his views on whether certification is important and if so, why. We want to thank him for his time.

So, David, I know you got a certification in the past, do you still think it is important today?
Yes, I've started pursuing them (and continuing education) religiously, even though I'm currently working in a job I enjoy. Why? Well, for the main reason that it keeps you on your toes. It shows that one isn't content with resting on one's past accomplishments, and you don't get stale. That attitude comes across to hiring managers, and to one's peers and employees. You never know when the crap is going to hit the fan, and it doesn't hurt to be able to hit the ground running.
As an employer, I want to share back that I love it when my employees focus on staying sharp. What are you working on now?
At the moment, I'm working on prepping for the CISM (June - going to skip the CISA), a Microsoft Small Business Specialist (April), as well as the Server 2008 exams (after June), oh and working on a second masters degree, in addition to working said job. Note to all, if offered the chance to take two graduate courses in the same semester, you should probably decline. Oh, and maybe Aruba or CWNA. (No, I don't have kids. Why do you ask?)
So where did you get your start with certifications, what was your first experience?

When I was right out of engineering school in 1984, the only two certs that existed were the PE/EIT and the CDP exam. I didn't feel the need (or prepared) for the the PE path, and the CDP was very broad and didn't seem very interesting to me. I worked for the same large company for 15 years, and never needed a cert, as the company didn't really see the need for them. The work was challenging, and I advanced steadily.

About that time, my part of the large company got sold off for regulatory reasons, and long story short, 1,500 of us highly technical types got laid off. Since the bulk of us were in the Boston area, we knew it would take a while to get absorbed back into the work force with employment worth having. Luckily, I got a nice severance, and live a modest lifestyle. (OK, modest except for the routers and stuff I buy on eBay.)

Got it! You know in a way, getting laid off early in your career is a good thing, it makes you aware that it can happen! So while you were out of the workforce, you upgraded your resume?
In my off-time, I set a plan in motion to study for, in no particular order, CISSP, CCNA, and MCSE 2003. I attained all three in about 18 months, while occasionally looking for a job, paying for two out of my own pocket, and qualifying for a grant on the bulk of the MCSE.
Thanks David, can you tell us your opinion? Are all certifications made equal, what are your views on certifications in the industry?

Well Stephen, I have some comments about a handful of particular certs.

  • CISSP — For a technician, over-rated, but a good utility outfielder. It will get you in the door with HR, but almost everybody seemed to have one these days. For manager, cost of admission. If IT Audit is in your future, CISA is probably better, if you can only have one.
  • CCNA — Until about two months ago, this was an entry level cert. Over past couple of years, they've been beefing it up, trying to get its credibility back. Now that the cert can be had via a two exam method, the first exam is taking the place of the CCNA of yore and grants the CCENT. I've since super-sized CCNA into a CCNP, which, wasn't that difficult, even with the two new exams. Since I'm not currently working on a lot of Cisco gear, I'll probably stop this track here.
  • MCSE — Essentially dead, now that WS2008 is on the way. If managing Microsoft gear is important to a position you're applying for, have some actual background with the hardware in a production environment. My advice with this one is to pursue it if you're half-way there, and then take the easy upgrade path to MCITP with server focus.
  • CompTIA — With the exception of using them as a stepping stone to other things, forget CompTIA, unless you're just starting out in the field. Security+ is a good baby step for CISSP, Project+ builds confidence for the PMP, but Network+ is useless now that Appletalk, Novel, OS/2, VINES, etc., are all gone, leaving only IP (Cisco). I believe everybody who consults for IBM needs to have A+ and other entry level certs to be taken seriously by potential clients.
  • PMP — Supposedly, the hardest to actually qualify for, and is now supposedly the #1 cert in far as how it raises your salary. CCIE came out as #5. I got this information from Tech Republic. (#2 is a PMI PMP Lite, #3 is ITIL, #4 is CISSP). Don't know much about it any more since they updated it substantially last year.
  • Juniper has a neat almost free cert that is something I'll have to look into regarding the JunOS. Open to pretty much anybody at this point. Used to be just for CCNAs.
  • Lastly, GIAC seems to be the way to go. I only have the one of those (GCIH), but I expect to go for more. If only the CISSP earned me a GSEC... And the GIAC Gold program is the best thing to happen to certifications!