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Are certifications worth it?

I'm curious what experience others have had, both from the perspective of an employer and an employee on Microsoft Certifications.

I'm kind of sitting on the fence myself on this issue. I tend to have a cynical view of folks with massive amounts of letters following their name, and sometimes think that these certificates are so specialized that they prove a candidate knows "almost everything about almost nothing". Deeply specialized knowledge isn't always needed in the real world, especially if it means total ignorance of related subjects. Nobody needs to here "That's not my specialty - we need to hire another guy on the team" very often.

On the other hand, everybody knows how easy it is to BS through an interview, and nobody wants the experience of hiring an employee and finding out two weeks later that they don't really have a good grasp on what you need them to do.


10 Answers 10


For me, a company's high regard for MS certs is the employer version of a "code smell". In other words, it's a fairly clear indicator that the company is not very good at evaluating a programmer's real abilities. The certification exams tend to focus on the minutiae of programming tasks; they're the programming equivalent of evaluating an architect by testing his knowledge of hammers and nails and paintbrushes and so on.


Many organizations are partners with Microsoft. In order for them to achieve certain benefits from their partnership, they are required to have a certain number of Certified Professionals on their staff. In such cases, between two equally qualified people, a cert may make the difference in your getting hired or not.

Also, a cert may show a potential employer that you have the motivation to that little extra for your career. Most employers know that a cert isn't a guarantee of a good employee, or even that they know their trade.. but in conjunction with great work experience can be a leg up.


Having a cert means that you passed a multi-choice test and does not/should not imply that have delivered or you're capable of delivering production code. But this is a point usually not considered by organizations that value certification. These organizations tend to be larger with non-technical people involved in the hiring process. And that makes some sense. How else does an HR rep evaluate the acronym gobbledygook found in every developer's resume? If an applicant has been verified to some point by a well-known and respected 3rd party I imagine that this is candy to any non-technical hiring manager.

So, do certs matter? Yes, at organizations that value and depend on them but otherwise not. But here's an important, related point: Having a cert will not hurt your chances at getting a job. Having a huge slew of certs might. (I would wonder how in the world a developer had the time to complete so many certs AND get work done. Never mind having any kind of life outside of the office.)

And for the last point, would you want to work at an organization where it's easy to BS your way through a technical interview? I wouldn't. If I was offered a job without anyone trying to somehow verify if I can deliver into production I would be highly suspicious of the organization's general technical acumen and my own ability to thrive in such a place.

  • 2
    Ironically, my former company encouraged employees to get as many MS certs as possible, even going so far as to allow 5 paid hours a week for studying for them. It was a major bone of contention between myself and my employers, because I refused to allow the programmers working under me to do this, because I needed them to do actual work.
    – MusiGenesis
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 17:49
  • Bizarro world: I tried numerous times to get a job at a fairly large local company... No luck. Come to find out (as I learned after they hired a co-worker for some contracting at a ridiculously large hourly rate), you didn't get interviewed, let alone hired, if you weren't MS certified. I went to linkedin to do some digging around and sure enough, a lot of guys had multiple MS certs... quite a few with the MCSD, MCSE, and MCDBA altogether.
    – red-dirt
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 19:13
  • @MusiGenesis - maybe studying for certification is not the best use of time, but studying in general can improve the actual work in the long-run. Also makes employees feel like you give a crap about them.
    – JeffO
    Commented Jan 22, 2011 at 21:36

Well, what matters is the preparation. We are all specialists of some kind -- means we get good at things we do every day and not so good at things we do rarely. For example, I never had to concern myself with finer points of database replication -- there is somehow always an operations guy (DBA) that takes care of that. But, for the certification I had to revisit the topic again. The exam (certification) simply forces you to poke in all corners of the subject area that you are suposed to be good at.

Does it matter that I have a MS certification on my current job? No, I work for an open-source shop -- we do not use MS at all.

In my current job I deal with PostgreSQL every day. Did it matter that I never used it before I started this job? No, when they hired me they did not even know which DB they wanted for the project -- other than it being an open-source. It helped that I was fairly good with some kind of a DB (MS SQL Server).

Is it a coincidence that my current job description matches the title of one of my MS certifications? Maybe.

For the job, a recruiter found me through some kind of a search engine somewhere. Did it help that names of my certifications match the search terms he used? You bet.


IMO, no. Our company does not hire based on what certifications someone has. Plus, it's far too easy, for someone with a good ability to memorize, to do well on these tests. We place far more emphasis on proven experience and passion for the profession.


Microsoft certification does matter to some employers, especially for those who claim to be Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. For every single MCP, MCSE employee, the company gets scores. The company can keep its Certified Partner status only if it reaches a certain amount of score.

I used to work in a company trying hard to keep that status. One of the easiest way to reach that scores is to sponsor employees to get the certificates. However, my ex-company never hire a person just because of their certificates.

To Employees, I agree with most of the answers here. The fact that you get the Microsoft certificates doesn't prove that you are a good programmer. You don't need to write a single line of code to get the certificates. Honestly, at the time we were asked to get the Microsoft cerfiticates, we are taking the most easiest way, brain dump. You could easily google a list of Microsoft certificates questions (well.. that was long time ago. I am not sure it's still true). That's exactly why my ex-company never hire a person just because of their certificates. We know how the exam works :).

I have said too much the dark side of the Microsoft certificates. Here is one I can think of from the other side. Even though I was doing brain dump during the examination, I did pick up some knowledge during my study of Microsoft certificates, some knowledge that I would never know from work if I am not taking the exam.


If your company is a Microsoft Partner, then you'll need a few employees with certifications. My previous employer was a Gold Partner, and participation in that program saved them around $100k/year in software licensing. That made it valuable enough to cajole the developers into getting certifications: they paid $500/cert plus the cost of the exam and study materials for passing relevant certs.


Certs only matter as much as others place value in them. Some orgs may have regulatory reasons for requiring certs. However, in some cases the certifying agencies have such a low standard and are driven by money. The more valuable thing is your ability to demonstrate knowledge. If you enjoy an organized learning environment these courses aren't bad. The piece of paper you earn, in the end is only as valuable as your ability to back it up. There are other ways for you to demonstrate this ability. Blogging, contributing to open source, and becoming involved in the local dev community may be as valuable (if not more) than certs.


There are a certain percentage of jobs where those making the decisions value certification. This is probably due to lack of knowledge, but you may have a savy IT manager that uses this to entice the company to pay for training. It can also help justify raises to the CFO.

You have to decide whether or not you want to work for these types of companies.

Being a "Microsoft Certified Gold Partner" kind of thing looks good some companies and I believe you have to have staff that are certified as well.


A few other answers touch on this, but my experience is that at organisations I have worked for the certifications carry no particular technical weight. They just aren't that big of a deal in that respect.

However, most development work comes through recruitment agencies. The average Recruitment Vulture doesn't know or care anything about what technical chops you have, they want to be able to tick some boxes. Having your Microsoft certifications is a big tick in the box for the relevant technology, so they love it.

So not a great technical hit, although they do indicate you have a vague overview of the examined field or fields, but certainly a good way to open doors when you're looking for your next job.