ertification vs. Degree: What Do I Need to Succeed?

A common question in the IT industry is this: which is better for your IT career, getting certified or pursuing a formal degree? It has even been a topic of debate in the CLN community.  That’s because this isn’t a simple question and there's no right or wrong answer. There are significant differences that make both paths unique. Our answer is it depends on where you are in your career and your career goals. In this blog, we will touch on some of the many considerations that go into the decision of whether to pursue an IT certification, a degree, or both.



1. Cost and Time

One of the most obvious concerns is that earning a degree comes at a higher price than getting certified and will require a longer time commitment over the course of several years. To help with the decision, think about what type of job you are looking for and review existing job openings to see what the qualifications may be. Spending the time and money earning a degree may not be a good investment for you if the skills and qualifications necessary for a particular job can be demonstrated via an industry certification. If you do want to pursue a degree, you may have several options depending on your existing educational background. Would you want to pursue your Associate degree? Bachelor’s? Master’s? Also, will you be able to work while you are in school to earn valuable on-the-job experience? You’ll want to evaluate degree programs to compare costs, time commitment, job/internship opportunities, and career services they may offer.


2. Employment Opportunities

Getting hired – Having a Cisco certification often makes your resume stand out and gives you an advantage over other applicants in the hiring process.  It may even be a qualifier for a position since certified professionals demonstrate current competency in technology and job skills. As always, though, consider the job role. Is it purely technical or is there a management or business aspect? If the job is highly technical, it could be that a certification is more valuable. If there is a business or management component, a degree might be necessary. Additionally, some jobs may require a Computer Science degree whereas hiring managers may put more value on certifications and job experience for network or system administrator positions.


Geography is also important to think about.  Different parts of the world may assign different value to an educational degree vs. a Cisco certification. Hiring managers in one country may absolutely require a relevant IT degree, while in other countries they may be looking only for specific certifications. That is why it’s important to review existing job descriptions and understand what’s most commonly required by employers in your location.


Advancing your career – You’ve successfully landed that IT job you wanted and have been in the industry for several years. Gaining on-the-job experience is invaluable, but staying up to date on your certifications may mean the difference between career stagnation and career advancement. Becoming (and remaining) certified demonstrates your dedication to keeping up with the latest technology trends which will benefit both you and your employer. You need to continue evolving and there is no better way to show this than to earn a new certification in your current area of expertise or get in front of an emerging technology. Achieving specific or additional certifications may also lead to higher wages and promotions as you grow in your career. But, what is true for hiring decisions is also true for promotions: as you reach for more senior job roles, keep in mind that a degree might be a requirement for management-level jobs.


Employer benefits - One way to ensure employees have the necessary skills and experience in current and emerging technologies is through certifications and training. Certified staff can be presumed to have the specific knowledge and skills to be more productive and efficient. Companies that invest in their staff through training and certification will have a more technically advanced work force able to respond to tough challenges more quickly. If you are interested in pursuing a degree, find out if your employer supports tuition reimbursement so that you can continue gaining valuable experience while pursuing your education.


3. Relevancy

One benefit of a degree is that it doesn’t expire or require renewal like certifications do, but once earned, it doesn’t change with the market and can become dated rather quickly.  Having a Computer Science degree that is 10 years old might not mean much if you’re not keeping up with the technology or the industry and learning new job skills. Degrees also often focus more on fundamentals and theory rather than developing practical skills. If you have a degree but no certifications and you’re looking to try a new role or advance your IT career, a certification may be what you need to demonstrate new or advanced skills on a recently released operating system, platform or application. Additionally, earning a certification on a new product or emerging technology can make you the subject matter expert in your organization and make you stand out for your early efforts. If you’re already certified and looking to advance into senior level positions that require more than just technical skills, a degree may be the stepping stone you need to reach the next level.


4. Benefits of Cisco Certifications

One benefit of beginning your Cisco certification with our CCENT cert is that it is an excellent entry point for anyone who wants to test whether or not they are interested in networking.  Beyond the CCCENT, you may decide you would like to pursue a career in networking and once you obtain your first cert , it can help set up a career path from CCNA > CCNP >>CCIE. They are not all pre-requisites of one another however, it is a natural progression and once you begin to build solid work experience behind you, you can pursue your CCIE.  Even if your goal is not to pursue a CCIE, the entire portfolio of CCNAs and CCNPs and our other specialist exams all help you to establish a definitive career path for yourself. We will always try to stay current and ensure our portfolio of certifications will reflect what you are seeing day to day or emerging technologies.  Establishing your career through pursuing certifications in the latest technologies such as Cyber Security where you learn how to thwart cyber threats or obtaining your Cloud certification for instance will keep you in high demand for a long time in your career.


So which is better, the degree or the certification? As demonstrated by the debate above, this is a question for the ages to which we may never have a simple answer. What we can say is this: one of the wonderful and unique things about the IT industry is that you don’t have to have years of formal education to get into it. Anyone who has enough intellectual curiosity and passion to learn IT skills and technologies can find themselves with a foot in the door to a brand new career when they get Cisco certified.

Achieving both a certification and a degree is ultimately a great combination to qualify you for a career path which you might not otherwise achieve with a certification or degree alone.  However, if you are faced with deciding what path to take right now, remember to think about how much experience you currently have, what areas within IT most interest you, and the kinds of jobs you’d like to apply for. One key point we want you to take away is whether you are pursuing a degree, a certification, or both, real world experience may often be your most valuable asset. Whichever path you pursue, make sure you look for opportunities to gain experience that will be relevant in a day-to-day IT work environment.


If you are interested in pursuing a new Cisco certification or building on your existing career certification, review our current programs and get started today!