Why system administration certifications have worked so far
A commentator on my previous entry on sysadmin education asked a very good question:
Now square your view with the fact that MSCE, CCNE, RHCE exist.
In thinking about it, I think that there are several reasons why people get such certificates.
- Historically, they've worked; getting a certificate has generally
led to getting paid better.
- Some certificates can be obtained more or less as a side effect
of your employer getting you trained on some specific technology
that the employer cares about. If your employer needs someone to
have a good knowledge of Red Hat (eg, for a RH-based deployment)
and sending you on a training course is an efficient way to get
you up to speed, any RHCE certificate which you can earn in the
process is just a bonus.
- Many certificates can be obtained sufficiently cheaply to be within reach of a job seeker who wants an extra edge for their resume (either to make it stand out or to make up for some other weakness they have).
Of these, I think the overall cost of certificates is a big driver. If it only costs a few hundred dollars to get a certificate, it doesn't take much of a raise or a better job offer (or a job offer that comes sooner) for you to make money on the whole deal.
(I also think that significantly more expensive training and certification processes would drastically blunt many of these effects, especially if the training was for general sysadmin knowledge instead of for a specific technology.)
Sidebar: certificates and hot new things
If you have been around technology for long enough, you will have seen certificates sprouting up like weeds in the wake of a popular hot new thing. As it happens, I have a theory about that.
To start with, certificates let employers outsource checking a job seeker's technical chops in a specific area to a third party, the certificate issuer. Rather than quiz the job seeker about their knowledge of technology X yourself, you just look for a certificate in the area (and thus you trust that the people behind it asked enough questions and so on). This outsourcing is especially valuable if the employer, or at least the people involved in the hiring process, don't know enough about technology X to do a decent job of checking out job seekers. If you can't tell a fast talker from the real thing you have no real choice but to rely on people who can, at least in theory. This lack of local expertise is especially likely to happen during the spread of a hot new thing, specifically at the point where it's got enough buzz that everyone wants in but it's still new enough that there aren't many people with actual experience with it.
This also suggests a reason why it's common to sneer at employers who insist on certificates. Who wants to work for people who lack the in-house technical expertise to evaluate your qualifications themselves?