Why I Don’t Consider Your Certifications During An Interview

Madokai
CodeX
Published in
10 min readFeb 3, 2024

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As a DevOps engineer who has interviewed numerous candidates for diverse roles such as DevOps, MLOps, DevSecOps, and more, I’ve come to realize that the IT sector and the tech industry at large is more than just a string of certifications. Don’t get me wrong, IT certifications do hold some merit, and for some roles, they’re even mandatory. However, in my journey of parsing through countless interviews, I’ve understood that they are not the end-all-be-all during an interview.

Why I Don’t Consider Your Certifications

Certifications often don’t equate to actual skills or experience. In my experience interviewing DevOps, MLOps, and DevSecOps candidates, practical proficiency is paramount in IT roles. How one can apply their knowledge, deal with real-world issues, and provide effective solutions are skills that aren’t always reflected in certifications.

The unpredictability and rapid pace of evolution in the world of technology require candidates to be flexible and quick learners. Certifications often focus on specific techniques or tools and don’t always gauge the ability to adapt and learn new technologies quickly.

Most certifications tend to be theoretical and lack the practical, real-world perspective. As much as employers value technical knowledge, they equally appreciate a strong understanding of business needs and industry trends, an area where certification courses might not focus enough.

Skill and Experience Vs. Certifications

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The first and foremost issue with exclusively relying upon certifications is that they often don’t equate to actual skills or experience. Candidates need to demonstrate how they can apply their knowledge and provide effective solutions to real-world problems.

During an interview, I’m not looking for theoretical knowledge, I want to understand how a candidate will handle complex situations that come up in day-to-day work. Certifications don’t always reflect the ability to troubleshoot bugs in a production environment, collaborate with cross-functional teams, or adapt processes to meet changing business needs. These are skills that come with hands-on experience.

While certifications can validate baseline technical competency, they rarely showcase proficiency. Certifications focus more on knowledge while practical experience focuses on know-how. At the end of the day, being able to confidently execute responsibilities and provide solutions is what matters most in IT roles. Theoretical knowledge from certifications is supplemented by, but not supplemented for, real-world skills.

Adaptability and Learning Curve

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The unpredictability and rapid pace of evolution in the world of technology require candidates to be flexible and quick learners. Certifications often focus on specific techniques or tools and don’t always gauge the ability to adapt and learn new technologies quickly.

The tech landscape is constantly changing, with new programming languages, frameworks, methodologies, and tools emerging all the time. What’s considered a best practice today may be obsolete tomorrow. This dynamic environment demands that candidates be adaptable and able to pick up new skills rapidly.

Certification courses tend to concentrate on established, current technologies. They teach candidates how to use specific tools and follow defined procedures. However, they don’t necessarily measure how well someone can learn and apply unfamiliar methods and technologies on the fly.

The ability to adapt to variable conditions and absorb new information quickly is crucial. Technical skills can become outdated swiftly. Candidates need to be able to learn and implement modern techniques as the industry evolves.

Certifications don’t always reflect adaptability or gauge how fast candidates can climb new learning curves. That’s a key reason why hands-on experience and demonstrated capacity to pick up emerging skills are so important in IT roles.

Creativity, Problem-solving, and Critical Thinking

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IT roles demand more than just knowledge of processes and tools. Creativity, the ability to solve atypical issues, and critical thinking are just as crucial, if not more. These are soft skills that certifications do not always assess or validate well during the certification process.

The unpredictable nature of the IT landscape requires professionals who can think outside the box and approach problems in creative ways. Having a playbook of set solutions will only take you so far. Certification courses and exams often focus on established tools, techniques, and protocols. While important, they don’t necessarily evaluate how well a candidate can adapt when faced with novel scenarios and challenges requiring new perspectives.

IT roles are rife with complex troubleshooting situations and system ambiguities that call for strong critical thinking abilities. This involves not just identifying an issue, but holistically analyzing the root causes and coming up with thoughtful solutions. Certification tests are limited in how far they can go to measure these cognitive soft skills that are so vital on the job.

Technical prowess in using various programming languages, tools, or frameworks is a given. But being able to ideate innovative approaches, exercise sound judgement in resolving tricky issues, and make logical decisions under uncertainty set truly exceptional candidates apart. These are human capabilities beyond what certifications can encapsulate or guarantee.

The Real-World Perspective

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While certifications aim to validate technical proficiency, they often lack practical, real-world experience that companies seek in candidates. The theoretical knowledge gained through certification courses doesn’t always translate well in real-world applications.

Certification curriculums tend to focus heavily on concepts, methodologies, and best practices. However, employers look for candidates who can take this theoretical knowledge and apply it effectively in practical scenarios. Certifications don’t often measure one’s ability to adapt expertise to messy, real-world problems.

In addition, certifications tend to have a narrow focus on general knowledge on processes, techniques, and tools. However, companies need team members who understand broader business contexts, organizational needs, and industry trends. Certification courses don’t always prioritize building this well-rounded, real-world perspective that allows technologists to align their work with business goals.

The theoretical orientation of certifications is understandable given the need to standardize curriculums. However, employers seek technologists who complement technical know-how with practical experience and a keen understanding of organizational objectives.

What Certifications I Specifically Don’t Care About

In this section, I will be highlighting certain certifications that, in my specific experience, don’t necessarily provide the most accurate gauge of a candidate’s abilities or potential. This does not mean they’re universally insignificant or useless. It just implies that, based on my professional observations and specific role requirements, they’ve failed to demonstrate concrete relevance or predictive power in assessing the interviewee’s capabilities.

Remember that every role, industry, and company can have different values and expectations, and my viewpoint is primarily rooted in the roles I’ve hired for, including DevOps, MLOps, and DevSecOps, SRE, etc.

That said, I also want to present a caveat: this should not discourage individuals from pursuing these certifications if they feel it benefits their growth and understanding. The intention here is to broaden the perspective around the hiring and interview process, and not to categorically downplay any accomplishment.

CNCF Certifications

CNCF offers popular certifications such as Kubernetes Certified Administrator (CKA), Kubernetes Certified Developer (CKD), and Kubernetes Certified Security Specialist (CKS). While these certifications do validate a certain level of knowledge concerning Kubernetes and its related technologies, they don’t always correlate with the candidate’s practical proficiency or their ability to use the platform in production.

Kubernetes environments involve a complexity that is much more extensive than what’s covered in these certifications. Therefore, while these certificates might affirm the candidate’s understanding of Kubernetes components and basic usage, they don’t offer substantial evidence of dealing with intricate, real-world scenarios that we often encounter in the industry.

Cloud Certifications

Cloud certifications, such as AWS Certified DevOps Engineer, AWS Certified SysOps Administrator, and other similar cloud-oriented certifications, are becoming increasingly prevalent these days. However, like CNCF certifications, they too have their limitations when evaluating a candidate’s potential for DevOps or other IT roles.

Firstly, these certifications primarily focus on a particular vendor’s technology, in this case, AWS. Although it’s essential to possess in-depth knowledge of these platforms, they don’t fully represent the diverse and multi-cloud environments one may encounter in real-life duties. Today’s IT landscape is vast and the ability to work with various service providers, open-source tools, and custom solutions is often more valuable than in-depth knowledge in a single platform.

Secondly, these certifications validate if someone knows how to use specific AWS services, not necessarily why they should use them or if they are the best fit for a certain situation. The understanding of the “why’s” and “when’s” often distinguishes a competent candidate from a certified one.

  • AWS Certified DevOps Engineer
  • Google Professional Cloud DevOps Engineer
  • Microsoft DevOps Engineer Expert

Hashicorp Certifications

HashiCorp provides a range of certifications targeting their suite of tools, including Terraform Associate, Vault Associate, and Consul Associate, to name a few. While these certifications can help delineate a candidate’s knowledge of HashiCorp’s offerings, they come with their own set of limitations that make them less influential during interviews from my perspective.

First, similar to the cloud and CNCF certifications, HashiCorp certifications mostly verify a candidate’s familiarity with specific HashiCorp tools. It’s a segmented approach that doesn’t necessarily confirm a candidate’s overall expertise or ability to work with diverse toolsets. The real world of DevOps and IT, in general, is composed of multi-tool environments, and having flexibility in tooling knowledge is key.

Next, the intricacies of practical implementation, such as integrating these tools into an existing tech stack or resolving complex problems, are scarcely covered in these certifications. An individual might be certified but could struggle when facing real-world, complex scenarios involving these tools.

Lastly, possessing a certification does not guarantee the practicable experience of setting up, maintaining, and troubleshooting the infrastructure dealt by these products in a production environment. It also overlooks the vital soft skills required for effective function within a team and the wider organization.

  • Terraform Associate
  • Consul Associate
  • Vault Associate

But, What Your Certifications Tell Me About You

While certifications don’t fully reflect your competencies and experience, they do indicate positive traits about you as a candidate.

Desire to Learn New Things

Obtaining certifications demonstrates your eagerness and motivation to continuously build your skills and expand your knowledge. The time, effort, and commitment required to study for and pass certification exams shows you are serious about developing professionally. This thirst for learning is essential in the rapidly evolving tech landscape.

Continuous Learning Plan

The very act of signing up for certification exams exhibits that you have a structured learning plan to steadily upgrade your capabilities. Certifications help provide a roadmap for your professional growth and signal to employers that you are purposeful about advancing your expertise over time.

When I see certifications on a resume, it signals to me that this is someone who is self-motivated to keep improving their skills over time. The candidate has mapped out a learning plan for themselves and systematically completes certifications as they progress through it.

Desire to Progress/Evolve

Pursuing certifications year after year indicates your aspiration to move ahead in your career. It shows you are proactive about enhancing your resume and positioning yourself for greater opportunities and responsibilities in the future. This forward-thinking mentality is key.

Even after getting hired, this person likely has a roadmap for continuing education and skill development. They are not someone who is complacent doing the bare minimum. Pursuing certifications shows ambition and initiative to always get better.

Milestone For A Promotion

Completing a certification can mark an important career milestone that makes you qualified for a promotion. It enables you to meet the requirements for more advanced roles by formally validating your expanded skillset. So certifications can pave the path to elevating your position.

Conclusion

Certifications should never be your only focus when preparing for a job interview or evaluating your career progression. While they have merit in demonstrating baseline knowledge, practical expertise and hands-on experience are the true indicators of success in IT roles.

Rather than solely pursuing certifications, gain as much real-world experience as possible. Work on personal projects, contribute to open source, take on challenging assignments at your current job, and find other ways to develop tangible skills. This will allow you to demonstrate true competency during the interview process.

Use certifications as milestones for yourself rather than counting on them to impress employers. Set goals, challenge yourself to learn new technologies in-depth, and leverage certifications to validate your evolving expertise over time. But avoid relying on them as your only qualification. Hands-on skills and the ability to apply knowledge to real situations will prove much more valuable in the long run.

Certifications have their place, but should never be your only focus. Utilize them to expand your knowledge while prioritizing practical experience. This balanced approach will serve you best in interviews and career advancement.

About The Author

Nicolas Giron — Staff MLOps — DevOps — Co-Founder Madokai

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Madokai
CodeX

DevOps, Observability, Cloud Computing and Automation!