How certifications can help you
Certifications go beyond helping you showcase your skills to potential employers. They are a great tool to keep learning new tech.
5 min read
Over the past few years, the need to adopt more modern, cloud-native architectures and technologies has grown rapidly. And building skills in this field can give you a leg up in your career. This post looks at how certifications can help you in your journey.
The technology industry is awash in certifications. There are two primary advantages to pursuing them.
One: Employers are warming up
Firstly, employers increasingly value certifications more. True, employers do value real work experience more, but certifications are coming in to their own.
A 2021 report on critical skills, hiring trends and education, by the Linux Foundation says that 72% of employers were more likely to hire a candidate with relevant certifications, up from only 48% in 2018. The report also said that 88% of employers were willing to pay for their employees’ training and certifications, up from 55% in 2018. This trend shows how certifications are growing in value. I believe one reason for this is that, especially in the field of building modern, cloud native applications, tests such the CKA, and CKS have paved the path for practical exams that test real, technical problem-solving abilities, not just one’s knowledge of theory. As a result, employers see greater value as the certifications credibly signal to them that the candidate has hands-on technical skills. The Certified Istio Administrator by Tetrate (CIAT) is a good example of a certification that uses this approach. It tests you on your understanding of the Istio service mesh, how to use it to solve the problems it addresses and how to troubleshoot common problems that you may run into when deploying or configuring Istio.
Two: A tool in your learning toolbox
Secondly and more importantly, certifications help you build your knowledge and skills in your field and in adjacent or related fields. The best way to illustrate this is to tell you how I look at certifications.
Fifteen years ago, Carol Dweck taught us all about nurturing a growth mindset. I have an additional element in the mix, though. My regular meditation practice has taught me to cultivate a beginner’s mind – a mindset where you approach everything, not as a know-it-all but with openness and curiosity to see if there’s something new to be learnt from each experience. And certifications are a tool to nurture continuous learning.
Even if you’ve been in the industry for several years and you believe that your years of experience speak for themselves, and you don’t need certifications, you can still gain from the process of conscious, structured learning that you get from preparing for the tests. It is time to think of certifications differently - they are there not simply to prove to others that you know your stuff and to lend you credibility, but also to help you learn and grow and broaden your knowledge. It will help prove to yourself that you know your stuff and, in the process, give you greater confidence, too.
In the absence of such exams, learning new technologies becomes challenging because we need a structure to our learning. We get stuck on minutiae and miss out the woods. When faced with exams, we proactively go looking for content to help us pass. This provides that structure to our learning.
Precommit to your learning by signing up early
One good thing about the tech industry is the number of certification programs and exams out there. If you know what you want to learn and achieve, then they can give you a structured systematic path to learn new topics. People think of certifications as something you put on your resume to get a job. I use them as way to ensure I keep learning new technologies comprehensively and in some level of depth.
You can also use certifications as a tool to help you pre-commit to learning and thereby force you to learn. Dan Ariely studied using precommitment as a way to get things done. His research on “Procrastination, Deadlines, and Performance: Self Control by Precommitment” says that self-imposed deadlines do help in focussing your efforts.
Precommitment as a tool has been studied since at least the 1950s. Back then it was understood as a negotiating tool. By visibly limiting your own options, you could limit the options of your counterpart. Jon Elster, then studied how it could be used to impose self-control. He called it the Ulysses problem, referring to Odysseus commanding his sailors to bind him to the mast before sailing past the Sirens. Odysseus foresaw his weakness and planned on how to overcome it. Limiting your options in advance can help you overcome your inertia. I use this technique by signing up for the certification test in advance, even if I think I am not fully ready. This constraint that I impose on myself helps me focus my efforts.
That said, not all certifications are the same. Some are easier than others. And some are in a field that’s more niche than others. All of this has an impact on how much they’re valued. You will notice that the easy ones tend to be valued less. Either way, we are looking at which ones you should consider if you are using them to learn. Some certification tests require you to simply regurgitate memorised facts. These will really not teach you much. If you do learn something - you will forget it soon. There are other tests - for example the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) or the Certified Istio Administrator by Tetrate (CIAT) that need you to quicklysolve problems using the command line interface. These are open-documentation exams, meaning that you can keep a browser tab open to look at documentation while you take the exam. For tips on passing the Istio Administrator certification, look for my upcoming post on this.
The Istio certification
The Istio certification exam tests you on how quickly you can figure out what the problem is and how to solve the problem so it’s useful to understand the Istio really well. That’s why it’s necessary to have used the technology - either in your work or in home projects. (If you’re looking to set up a home lab to run scenarios in a kubernetes cluster, look for my upcoming post on setting up a Kubernetes home lab on a budget.)
Because this exam is quite challenging, you do get a practice test and two shots at passing the actual certification exam when you sign up. academy.tetrate.io also includes a 3 hours video course by Peter Jausovec that covers all the material and is a great starting point in your learning.