Training programs: What’s the point?
Training programs. What's the point?
There is much debate about the value of industry certifications. Opinions vary as to whether certifications alone increase the capability of engineers. Some people see certifications as just a piece of paper, but others hang them on their study walls. This article hopes to shed some light on the less apparent benefits of pursuing certifications regardless of whether we attempt the exam or not.
One thing that is certain, IT evolves quickly. In the last fifteen years, there have been many game-changing technologies that engineers have had to learn. Take server and network virtualization, SDN technologies, public cloud adoption as the obvious examples. The role of the network engineer is constantly changing. Today the modern network engineer is expected to know many more peripheral topics than, say, ten years ago.
Combine this with the ever-growing number of information sources such as vendor websites, blogs, training videos, podcasts, and whitepapers. It’s safe to say that having the time and focus to digest all this content can be difficult and frustrating. The term ‘drinking from the firehose’ sums up the concept perfectly.
Given the quantity and speed of change, many people say that it’s impossible to keep up with all of the developments in the industry in extensive detail, which is most probably true. Therefore, rather than dedicate time to a long certification program, some take the approach of learning just small chunks of information as and when required. With abundant information available to search for and read on demand, it’s understandable that some engineers discover the needed information on a need-to-know basis. Engineers often rule out certification tracks due to the time investments they require and prefer to perform a quick Google search to determine how to configure a specific infrastructure element.
If we can learn all the information we need on-demand, what’s the point of the certification program? Surely, I’ll just be reading a load of stuff that I don’t need to know.
The main element that makes certification programs so valuable is the syllabus. Not always because of the content that’s learned via the syllabus but because the syllabus exists. Having a prescribed list of topics to research and study is invaluable. A student can use an exam syllabus to provide structure, directions, and milestones in the same way an athlete uses a training program or a driver uses a map. This doesn’t mean that we can’t extend the learning outside of these topics. However, the syllabus keeps us on a set track with a defined start and end.
We achieve less in the long term when we try and learn new information without structure and a set of objectives. Frustration kicks in and then we focus on the next shiny thing that comes along.
Students can measure their progress throughout the program and stay motivated by the structure that the syllabus provides. When students commit time and effort without the feeling of progression, they become demotivated and frustrated. Being able to track the progress through ten modules of a program is hugely rewarding. As mentioned earlier, it’s not necessarily every single topic on the syllabus that adds value. Numerous exams contain seemingly irrelevant topics, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have defined topics and that we can tick them off once we’ve completed each of them.
There are other tangible benefits and excellent use cases for following certification tracks. They can facilitate a perfectly smooth transition between different disciplines within the industry. This allows students to dip their toe into the shallow end of the vendor training before deciding whether to progress further. Nearly all vendors have a tiered program, with perhaps Cisco’s CCNA/CCNP/CCIE being the most widely known and adopted. The entry-level exams are perfect for those new into the industry or changing disciplines. They provide a gentle upskilling without being overwhelmed.
A combination of clearly defined objectives with set materials and the ability to track progress is more likely to result in engineers staying engaged throughout their studies with a higher likelihood of success when learning new content to develop their career.
Think about the benefits that a structured learning path can offer before writing off certifications as a simple paper exercise. Remember, it’s not about the destination but the journey that matters.