Can IT Certifications Become a Liability?

I’ve been asking myself an uncomfortable question lately: “Can IT certifications become a liability? Have I reached a point where my IT certifications have become a liability to me?

I earned my first certification in 2001, the next in 2002, and just kept going from there. My background and work focus since 2001 has been networking so that’s where I’ve focused my certification efforts. I’ve been fortunate enough to have multiple employers who supported my certification journey. This certainly made the journey easier by taking care of (at least some of) the financial burden and providing an environment that supported taking time to study.

Of the certifications I obtained, some required taking just a single multiple choice exam. Others required passing up to four individual exams (within a certain time window) to achieve certification. One certification in particular required passing a multiple choice exam in order to qualify for an 8-hour hands-on lab exam (which I had to take twice).

Prep time for these exams has varied from a few weeks of reading/note taking to close to two years of intense reading, notes, flashcards, and lab work.

All but 2 certifications I hold (or have held) require regularly writing an exam to recertify my status; usually every 2 or 3 years. These exams cost anywhere from a couple hundred to many hundreds of dollars. And since the certification blueprints are updated from time to time with new content, recertification usually means purchasing updated study materials as well.

Despite the time and monetary investment needed to achieve and maintain certification status, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I love learning and I find the structure of following a certification blueprint keeps me motivated and on track. I also take a huge amount of pride in showing my certifications on my personal career data sheet and on my LinkedIn profile. I’ve also, unexpectedly, found it a source of personal growth. You don’t go through 22 months of concentrated, intense studying without learning a lot about yourself, your limits, and what you’re capable of doing.

I wrote earlier that my career and certification interests have revolved around networking. That changed last year when I shifted my career to be more software and cloud focused. Now as part of my job responsibilities and professional development, I’m pursuing cloud-focused certifications.

And this is where I arrive at the original question: “Are my certifications a liability?

In addition to the time and monetary cost required to maintain my original certifications, there’s a significant new one: opportunity cost.

Since my new certification path diverges from my original path, I now have to invest time and money maintaining both paths. Working on one path means I need to halt work on the other. For instance, I just went through a round of recertification for one of my networking certifications which meant I had to halt progress on my cloud certs. That means I’ve only got 9 months left to achieve the cloud certs I want to do in 2019 and that I’ve been busy brushing up and learning topics that don’t directly pertain to my current job. Opportunity lost.

I admit, it was probably short-sighted of me to expect to keep moseying along on a single certification path forever, but here I am. I’ve worked too hard, and frankly, am too proud of what I’ve accomplished over the years to let the certs lapse, so I plan to continue on managing multiple paths. But I will do so now with the realization that I’m making a sacrifice each time I have to re-up one of these paths. I also plan to use this new point of view to better plan my certification goals in a given year and better work recertification into my planning.

If you have any thoughts on the topic, please share in the comments below. I’d appreciate hearing others’ perspectives on this.

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