Certifications - Should I Renew Them?

People in IT often need/want to obtain certifications throughout their career. But few put much thought into what is required to renew those certifications, and many let them lapse. I think that’s a mistake. Recently a colleague found himself looking for a new job, and he realised his CCNP had expired. He’s got the right amount of experience, but he’s finding you need a CCNP to get past the HR filter. He would have no trouble proving his knowledge, but suddenly he’s looking at sitting 4-5 exams to get the CCNP again, instead of 1 to renew it.

There are many certifications across the IT industry, with many different requirements for obtaining and renewing them. Some vendors, such as Cisco, let you renew all certifications when you pass an exam at the same or higher-level. Others require you to re-sit an updated exam - e.g. VCP5. CISSP has a very different approach, where you need to show proof of continuing professional education. One common theme is that renewing is less effort than obtaining the certification - e.g. you only need to pass one CCNP-level exam to renew it, vs taking 4-5 exams to obtain it. Very few certifications are like University degrees, which never expire.

Renewal timelines can vary too. 3 years is common. CCIE is only two years, while other programs are based on product release dates. Before starting any certification, you need to investigate the renewal requirements. Otherwise you end up with an enormous amount of work just to keep up to date. Personally I have CCIE, CCDP, RHCE, CISSP, CCSE, VCP5, HP MASE, ITIL 2011 - and that’s just what I keep up to date. You can do the maths to work out what means for exams just to stay current. I let my HP-UX certification lapse some time ago.

When it comes around to re-certification time, these are the sorts of thoughts going through people’s heads:

  • I can’t be bothered, it’s too much effort.
  • The exam’s just pointless trivia questions, it doesn’t mean anything in my day-to-day job.
  • You only need certs when looking for a new job, and I’m not going anywhere.
  • I’ve got plenty of experience now, I don’t need a certificate to prove anything.
  • Nothing - i.e. the expiry date passed by without a thought, because you didn’t track it, or you used an old work email address, and never received notification of expiry.
  • The qualification is no longer relevant (typically stated by Novell cert holders).
  • It’s no longer relevant to my career, or where I want to go.

Of those, only the last two are truly valid reasons. If those apply, and you’ve properly thought it through, then go ahead and let it lapse. But make sure you actually do give it some thought.

You could get laid off, or your current boss gets replaced by a jerk, and you find yourself needing a new job. Regardless of what you think of the importance of certifications, there are many places that won’t even look at you without those pieces of paper. It’s a lot easier to maintain a certification, than obtain it in the first place, so do yourself a favour, and renew it. And hey - you never know - you might just learn something while doing it. After all, the vendors want you to update to learn about the latest features, not just to give them some more money.