IT Certifications vs. Degree: What’s Better for Your Career?

March 11, 2019 Staffing + Recruiting

IT Certifications vs. Degree: What's Better for Your Career?As a hiring manager for an IT firm, I often get the question, “Is it better to have a degree or certifications?”

I get this question on employer panels. I get this question during candidate interviews. I get this question from folks that I am mentoring internally and externally.

For that reason, I have decided to dedicate an entire blog post to the question because this is not a simple either/or answer. Like most questions in life, the answer is “it depends.”

For full disclosure, I must reveal that I have multiple college degrees up to the masters level. I also hold several industry certs such as CISSP, PMP, Various CompTIA certs, AWS Certified Practitioner, and others.

Let’s start the discussion with the positive attributes of getting a degree. A degree will show a level of dedication and commitment to setting a goal and accomplishing it. A degree will also teach you how to study and learn, a skill that will serve you for the rest of your life. For some positions, a degree is necessary to get in the door. All of these are good arguments for getting a college degree.

The negative side of getting a degree for IT positions is also important to consider. Degrees take a long time to earn, typically 4 years and lots of courses that may not even apply to your chosen field. The information in IT courses is probably going to be outdated about 6 months to a year post graduation. The traditional degree setting may also not be the best way for you to learn. All of these reasons can lead you to question a degree’s value.

The positive attributes of certification can be summarized pretty simply: they offer pace and a consistent level of learning. Technical skills can be more quickly obtained by chasing certification and industry experience.

Certifications will keep you relevant. Manufacturers and vendor agnostic cert programs are constantly updating their programs to meet the latest and greatest technology. Many companies need certified individuals to participate in vendor programs and therefore will need those that have these certifications.  This may be a good path if your goal is to stay relevant and marketable to companies.

The downside of relying solely on certifications is also something to take into account. The certification cycle is constantly changing. Just when you reach the pinnacle of a particular certification path, it changes, and cert holders must start over.

Certifications can also pigeon-hole individuals. These certs become very valuable to a company and that company may not want the person to move on to bigger and better roles.

Certification can also be a lot to keep up with. Most programs track to their own dates based on when you met the requirements. This can mean tracking different end dates for different certifications to ensure that recertification is met.

At this point, you might be wondering, “Well, this is all great, but what do I do?”

The answer is one that might be as frustrating as “It depends,” but hear me out: What do you want to do? If you want to be technical and stay technical for your entire career, then certifications will get you there faster and keep you relevant longer. If you want to move to management or a position that requires a degree, then getting a degree is the way to go.

The last suggestion I have is not to limit yourself to one or the other. If the position you want requires a degree, then pursue the degree first and then get the technical chops via certification while you’re in the workforce. If the position only requires technical certification, then pursue those and go back to college in the evenings and weekends for the degree later, if needed, when moving to management or some other position that requires the degree.

The point of all of this is the individual gets to choose the path. Either one will bring success.

IT Certifications vs. Degree: What's Better for Your Career?

Jeremy Niedzwiecki joined ABS in 2013 as a Project Manager with over 20 years experience as an information systems technician, electronic technician, and project manager. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Management of Information Systems in 2003 from Saint Leo University and earned his Master’s in Business Administration from Old Dominion University in 2005.

Jeremy started his time at ABS as a certified Project Manager.