Why Bother with Professional Certifications?

By Jordan Sanders, Platform Solutions Manager

I was a high school math teacher for 3 years, teaching Algebra and Geometry.  The ubiquitous question that high school math teachers hear from students is “Why do I have to learn this?  It’s difficult and I’m never going to use it.”  Even (especially?) math teachers give what I consider to be a series of irrelevant answers to this question.  I agree with the spirit of the question only in the following sense.  Modern adulthood CAN be successfully navigated with a 6th grade knowledge of arithmetic.  Maybe less.

So why learn more?  The answer is “Because math teaches individuals how to think and think logically”.  And that’s what I think students should be told.

There’s a similar dynamic that goes on with professional certifications.  I used to be of the opinion “Why should I get certified?  It’s a lot of effort and professional experience is more important. I can just learn what I need on the job.”  And I hear this question, and its various permutations, from colleagues all the time.

Personally, I went through an arduous process of becoming moderately certified within Salesforce (I am a Salesforce Application Architect), and I am no longer of that opinion.  Here’s what I learned about professional certifications and why I have changed my mind:

Certifications Allow External Organizations to Promote You

I am a Salesforce Certified Application Architect.

That is not me bragging or failing to be humble or “blowing my own horn”.  It’s a simple, straightforward fact.  Who says?  Salesforce.  And Salesforce is a multi-billion dollar organization with credibility in the Salesforce platform that no one inside my organization has.

Certifications Can Be Used By Your Organization’s Sales Team

Organizations achieve different partner statuses by how certified their staff is.  Sales teams (I’m told) are routinely asked questions like “how many certifications does your staff have in this?” and “who are your architects?” and “do you have anyone who is willing to get certified in XYZ?”.  They are not asked “how many really smart people do have on staff?”

And sales is the lifeblood of consulting.  If you can help with sales, you are extremely valuable.

Certifications are Worth Money to Your Organization and Therefore to You

On that note, if it helps the sales team, it’s worth money to your organization.  If it’s worth money to your organization, it’s worth money to you.  If it’s worth money to you, it’s worth money to you.  Enough said.

Professional Experience is More Important

Professional experience is DIFFERENT.  And critical, obviously.  Anyone can become completely awesome at something, and never get certified in it.  BUT

Multiple certifications pile up into a holistic story.

Standing on the other side of a pretty tough battle to become moderately certified in Salesforce, I can say it HAS helped me skill up professionally.  The Sharing and Visibility Architect certification (yes, combined with professional experience) is the base from which I can answer client questions and design issues about the Salesforce security model as a whole.  I am still waiting for the project to come along where I am dealing with Large Data Volumes in Salesforce.  So, when someone asks me about LDVs, I don’t really remember the answers off the top of my head, even though I am certified as a Salesforce Data Architect.  But when I DO get the experience and see the various solutions in action, I will be able to relate it back to what I already learned, and know how and why Indexing and Skinny Tables and optimizing Sharing Calculations are helping.  Certifications speed up and improve the process of understanding.

Ultimately, certifications have helped me have a better view of Salesforce and how it works as a whole.  Can other people perform specific tasks better than I can?  Absolutely!  And that will always be true.  But I will continue to disagree with people who say that certifications are simply a way to prove to the outside world what you already know.

There’s more happening.