Cloud Certifications: Are they really worth it?
Recently I wrote an article on How to pass GCP certification exams. I got a lot of positive feedback, including some private feedback on whether Cloud certifications are worth the paper (or screen) they are written on. I said unequivocal, yes, cloud certifications are valuable, but in the proper context. Let me look at this from two perspectives, a personal and an employer/client one.
I am a goal-oriented person, and while I enjoy learning, I prefer to have a learning goal. For me, cloud certifications and particular the exams (as strange it might sound) are such a goal. However, for me, the primary objective is not to reach the goal but rather the journey (though I am must admit passing the exam is rather nice).
I have prepared and taken over 20 cloud exams, and I can say that I always learned something new even when it was a recertification exam for me. The cloud is evolving quickly with new services being launched all the time. Learning for a certification exam forces me to look at the areas beyond of what I work with day to day.
I have been lucky to pass most of my exams. But there have been several cases where I failed the exam. In half of those cases, I decided that I expanded my knowledge as much as I wanted and did not re-sit for the exam. In the other cases, I decided that I hadn’t learned enough so I studied some more, and then passed the exams in the second round.
Thus, for me, cloud certifications give me a directed path with the primary objective to learn and the exam as the goal. I am happy if I achieve the objective (of learning) even if I occasionally don’t reach the goal (the actual certification).
Now, prospective employers or clients have a different objective. Their intention is to hire a person who can accomplish the job whether permanent as an employer or temporarily as a consultant. In my current role, I am frequently asked to interview potential candidates for various cloud positions. When I do, I look for are cloud certifications as well as their experience. However, as I stated in the beginning. I put the certifications in the proper context.
First, not all cloud certifications are equal. They vary greatly in difficulty and scope. Both AWS and Azure have associate certifications which I consider the entry level certifications for technical positions. Google Cloud currently has one associate certification, but it is on par with their “professional” certifications in degree of difficulty. The difference is that the associate is more “hands-on” whereas the professional certifications also requires conceptual cloud knowledge. Unfortunately, many of the associate certifications have become so ubiquitous that in my opinion a single associate certification by itself does not provide much value anymore. Thus, I look for multiple cloud certifications particularly the professional/expert and specialty certifications. Those advanced certifications are much harder to pass and show interest and commitment.
For technical positions, I generally disregard the fundamental or “practitioner” certifications which are too basic for any technical person. I also have seen people claiming to be “certified” by taking an on-line course and “passing” the end of course exam. The only certifications that count are the official certifications with an exam conducted under a proctor.
However, let’s be very clear: cloud certifications are no substitute for experience. Certifications are a “necessary but not sufficient condition”. To me as an interviewer, cloud certifications provide an objective starting point. If a candidate has a cloud certification, I can assume a common baseline both in terms of language and knowledge. But a certification does not show whether the candidate has the actual experience to do the job. So, I start with certification, but I am really looking for the experience.
I also have heard the argument that “I have lots of cloud experience, I don’t need a certification to prove my worth”. To those, I say if you are so good, just invest the time and sit for the exam. If you are really that good, you will have no trouble passing it. But if you actually study for it, I will promise you, that even with a wealth of experience you will learn something new. It also shows commitment and humility, that however much you already know, there is always more to learn particular in a fast-moving field such as cloud computing.
Now, this brings me to my last point, and my personal pet peeve. Over my cloud career I have interacted with technical personnel from all the three big cloud vendors. When I do, I always look at their LinkedIn profile to find about their experience and whether we have common connections. And yes, I look at their certifications. What does bug me, is seeing that many of the technical employees do not have certifications from the cloud provider they work for and represent. If the cloud providers really believe in the value of their own certifications (and I assume they do, given that they require their partners to have a certain number of certifications), they “should eat their own dog food” and require their technical staff to get certified.
So yes, cloud certifications are a valid tool both in your personal development and to evaluate a candidate, but they are just one piece of a bigger picture.