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Are certifications worth it?

I am at the point in my career where people start to veer off into either management-type roles or they focus on solidifying their technical skills to stay in the development game for the long-haul. Here's my story: I've got a degree in economics, an MA in Political Science and an MBA in Finance and Management. In addition, I've done coursework in advanced math and software development (although no degree in math or software). All-in-all, I've got 13 years of post-secondary education under my belt. I, however, currently work as a software developer using C# for desktop, Silverlight, Flex and javascript for web, and objective c for mobile. I've been in software development for the past 3.3 years, and it seems like it comes pretty easy to me. I work in a field called "geospatial information systems," which just involves customization and manipulation of geospatial data. Right now I am looking at one of several certifications. Given this background, which of these certifications has the highest ceiling?

  • CFA
  • PMP
  • various development/technological certifications from
  • Microsoft, etc. Other?

My academic and work experience are all heavy on the analytical/development side, esp. so given the MBA and the B.S. in Econ. The political science degree was really a lot of stats. So it seems that I would be good pursuing more of the CFA/analytical role. This is a difficult path, however, because I have no work experience in the financial sector, and the developers in finance are all "quants," which again, I am OK with, but I haven't done much statistical modeling in the past 3.3 years. The PMP would require knowledge of best practices as it pertains explicitly to software development. I also don't enjoy a lot of business travel, a common theme for most PMP jobs I've seen.

If certifications is the route, which would you recommend? Anything else? I've thought about going back to try to knock out a B.S. in C.S., but I wasn't sure how long that would take, or what would be involved.

Thoughts or recommendations? Thanks in advance! I turn 32 this weekend, which is what has forced me to think about these issues.

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marked as duplicate by Mark Trapp Sep 16 '11 at 2:29

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3 Answers

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Right now I am looking at one of several certifications.

There are different certifications and you have a lot of education and experience in different fields, but why are you considering certification and what are your work life goals.

Unless the certification serves your goals, its not going to add value.

For example CFA and PMP are like going east and west.

On the technical certification side, be warned (as you may well know) is that these certifications come with a 'shelf life' of about 2-5 years, whereas other certifications may have a longer life.

In short set the goals first and then choose the certification - In your case, certifications are optional, goals are mandatory.

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This is really good advice; my goals aren't well-formed. I don't have any career-specific goals, other than making a good living for my family. –  jdb1a1 Sep 15 '11 at 22:17
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With your broad experience, I would recommend finding a financial sector startup and joining it on the technical side, with the goal of growing into a CTO/VP of Development type role. Your experience seems to match the requirements well.

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+1, but right now is not a good time for financial startups ;-) –  quant_dev Sep 15 '11 at 22:40
    
It's the ideal time for financial startups. You have little to no competition - you can spend 1-2 years incubating before people start being ready to invest, and then you'll look really good to anyone with money to spend –  blueberryfields Sep 15 '11 at 22:46
    
This is actually an interesting thought; I might look into something like this. Thanks! –  jdb1a1 Sep 15 '11 at 22:56
    
"you can spend 1-2 years incubating before people start being ready to invest" - I wish I were so optimistic –  quant_dev Sep 16 '11 at 1:20
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Given this background, which of these certifications has the highest ceiling?

When it comes to topping out in your given field, certifications don't help much. Don't expect that getting certified will mean you'll get promotions or move up the ladder. I feel that certifications are potentially valuable, depending on a number of factors, such as your domain, your current position, and where you want to go. However, experience and education are more important.

The PMP would require knowledge of best practices as it pertains explicitly to software development. I also don't enjoy a lot of business travel, a common theme for most PMP jobs I've seen.

That's not true at all. The PMP certification is a project management certification that has nothing to do with software development. People with PMP certifications can be found running all kinds of projects, including software projects.

Also, the travel conditions of a project manager has nothing to do if they are certified or not, but the types of projects that they manage. I know some PMs who travel on a regular basis and others who have little to no travel.

Thoughts or recommendations?

Determine what type of position you want. You mentioned that you have over 3 years of experience developing GIS software, and it sounds like you're pretty happy in that field. If you are, stick with it. If you are happy in the field, but not necessarily your organization, look for other jobs in the field. If you are happy in your organization and want to change positions, work with your supervisor and human resources department to decide on the best course of actions to continue your education in a way that benefits you as well as your organization (you might even find that they'll help pay for programs).

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Thanks for the advice. I agree with what you said about the PMP, but it just seemed like the PMPs that I know, and who are project managers in the software field, all have degrees in CS with many years under their belts. –  jdb1a1 Sep 15 '11 at 22:15
    
@JDB I don't know the breakdown, myself. Being in the software industry, most of the PMs I know are in software or systems projects. –  Thomas Owens Sep 15 '11 at 22:20
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