Decertification ~Cleansing Your Career~

Binding Labels

You are so much more than your certification.  Recently, I was consulting with a technical organization to help understand the requirements for a custom system configuration.    When I walked into the server room I was greeted by a very nice man in his late 40’s or early 50’s.   His job for the past five + years was to build, maintain, support and grow a fairly complex system to support multiple custom written applications for his client.   Unfortunately, his work is being transitioned to another organization and he faces personal uncertainty with this transition.

We stood in the server room as he described in intimate detail the web of connections between this system of systems.   Through the years he had to add different technologies and make connections to other systems as the requirements came in.   I didn’t have days to evaluate the system or his work, only hours.  As we walked the halls of the building, I noticed that we couldn’t get more than about  10 feet without someone asking him for help.

We sat down in his work area, it was full of nuts and bolts and old computer parts.  It was a familiar sight to me as I had worked with a lot of shipboard engineering technicians and this was something that these guys would practice.  The “No parts left behind” philosophy is even something I have been known to subscribe to.   I decided to ask him about his day.     Are you pretty busy all day, or is there a lull?  What is a normal day for you like?   What is your schedule?  Do they ever call you in the middle of the night to come out here?

Turns out, most of the day he is helping people with day-to-day tasks.  It could be that he is helping someone with an excel question or something about one of the custom applications they are working on.   It could be that someone needed to find the “any key”  and he had to show them where that was.   The point is that while I was there for that short window of time, he was busy helping people even through my disruptive questioning.  I had a lot of questions about the servers and services but to him those things were simply in the background of what was important to him.  I found that interesting because it was the reason I had come in the first place.

No Certification for Tacit Knowledge

Tacit knowledge simply put is knowledge we may have that we don’t know we have or knowledge that is hard to transfer.   Tacit knowledge transfer requires extensive personal interaction and more importantly; trust.

I sat down with the management team on site and asked them a series of questions concerning their system, requirements, mission, vision, scope, objectives etc.   I asked them about the tasks associated with the custom applications and found that they had very little information themselves about the system that they owned.

If you aren’t bored yet and are wondering where I am going.. it is happening now 🙂

My job was to figure out how to replace this person running the system.  It wasn’t specifically to replace HIM but to find out what the system does so that if we are to put in someone else that operations would run consistently and there would be service continuity.  

I went back to the office with all my notes about the system.  The problem for me was that I had more notes about the person, the process of his work as he had explained and the thoughts about all those people who stopped him or grabbed him in the very short time that I was there.  The Program Manager asked for me to deliver a position description along with a short order report on the system findings.  In all the time and discussions, I never once asked what if anything this person was certified in.

I wrote up a fairly short position description that was titled IT Generalist,  I didn’t include any certifications as requirements.  I did put stuff like “Ability to work well with others.”  I submitted the document to the Program Manager which included a description of the role, daily responsibilities, some of the technologies that were involved and some of the requirements that the client had discussed with me.   The response to my description was  “This document is insufficient, where are the certifications?”

  1. Certifications never came up.
  2. How do you certify something that is custom and then create a certification or qualification for that and fill it?
  3. How do you certify whether a person is nice enough to approach to ask questions or not?
  4. How do you certify “ability to work well with others?”

I broke down the common technologies used for the operating system, any common applications, the switches and routers into categories and then came up with certifications that would line up.  I resubmitted the description with more of a technical focus and it was well received.

Certification Rehab

Hi, my name is Howie and I umm… I am A+, Network+, MCP, Cloud etc…  I have been certifying for over 15 years and now I am seeking detox .. I mean ..decertification.  This business of certification doesn’t put the “H” in business, meaning the “Human Factors.”   Are we robots? Are we supposed to be addicted to spending thousands of dollars a year on adding the letters to our name?  Aren’t we more than our certifications?  What just happened in this story is that human resources filtered out the very person who is currently doing an outstanding job where he is.   He created the job and he isn’t qualified for it anymore?

It made me wonder what certifications successful business people have.   Instead of pulling out old Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, I decided to put someone else in recent news out for consideration Sheryl Sandberg current COO for Facebook and author of a new book about women in the workplace.   I searched the internet for her certifications and you know what I found?  NOTHING.   She went to Harvard.. and umm she met her employer Mark Zuckerberg at a party a Christmas party at that!   Wow wow..

Sheryl in a recent interview on her book said that she wasn’t saying that all women are as privileged as she is or had the “CONNECTIONS” that she does but…  In other words, it is all about people.   IT IS ALL ABOUT PEOPLE.

Certification FILTER

I have an idea!  On your job application that you are posting for new hires ask

  1. Name the last five books you have read?
  2. Name the last three to five articles or documents you have read online?
  3. In three to five sentences tell me what you do now.
  4. How would you rate your ability to interact with others?
  5. How would others rate your ability to interact with them?… ask them and tell us the results.

Otherwise you are going to get exactly what the organization needs.  You are reading that correctly.  The organization needs by someone’s list of certain knowledge, skills and abilities and certification is supposed to pre-qualify people for these jobs.  The problem is that certification is a business and it doesn’t take into consideration the needs of a business other than itself. More to come on this in this perspective in the end of this blog.

Clarity on Certification

I personally read every night and study all sorts of information all the time.  I hold certifications and I enjoy the fact that I have learned the information from the courses and these studies.  That is not all that I am.   It shouldn’t be the lens or filter that tells the story of what I can do for an organization and if it is, then I want to be certified in everything or certified in nothing.   My MBA stands with my A+ next to my name, but my MBA represents a body of work that was so comprehensive that I would have tears and brain pain associated with the thought that went into my papers and my testing.  My A+ certification represents something I did over a weekend of cramming.

When I was a computer technician my primary repair guide was YAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, before Google stole the show.   I was a self-taught technician and my career has been all self teaching but I am certified in XYZ.    The real and true nature of me is my connection to people and the nature and depth of those relationships. My ability to know when I need help and ask for it.  My ability to share ideas and thoughts and learn from others.  My love of people and my passion for what I do.  You don’t see that in my certifications.

Should We Certify?

My Human Resources degree tells me that we need some mechanism to filter people and find potential qualified candidates for jobs. Certification should be a weighted factor in the big picture of a position.

Francis Bacon said “If you will begin with certainties, you shall end in doubts, but if you will content to begin with doubts, you shall end in almost certainties.”

There are various tools available for decision analysis and consideration of human factors.   How much money is spent on hiring the wrong people?  We need to consider certification as part of continuing education but not the sum total of a persons qualification even as a filter by itself.

What Happened in the End?

I submitted my report with the position description to the PM and followed up with a note concerning the man I met.  In this note, I talked about how this person had a connection with the others in the office and how he may not have a technical certificate but the work performed has met the needs of his management.   I also discussed the costs associated with a transition less a “Tacit Transfer” and that his business value should be considered relative to the custom applications over the known or common factors.    My expectation based on the PM feedback is that he will get  reasonable and fair consideration relative to my commentary and additional factors.


Should you get certified?  Yes, as long as it isn’t the only objective.  Certification should be a demonstration of some K/S/A’s aka Knowledge, Skills and Abilities.   It should be a helpful indicator and potential weight for consideration of employment.  It should not be THE factor and should not be THE filter.   If that is the criteria for success then I want to be Bill Gates or Sheryl Sandberg or Andy Sandberg for that matter because he is funny.   I am sure that he doesn’t have the SNL certification.  If this is the case of certification then it is my desire to be just “Howie Cohen” and my certifications and other explicit knowledge factors will live in resume as a point as opposed to on my name as part of who I am.



Decertification is just the idea that we are not represented as “Person x MBA, PMP, C|EH, CISSP, EIEIO, XYZ, ABC” but simply “Person x” and those other points of education don’t define WHO we are just some of our accomplishments.

3 thoughts on “Decertification ~Cleansing Your Career~

  1. This is an interesting phenomena given that it really seems to mainly be the govt that is so obsessed with certification. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have dozens of certifications but couldn’t manage a project, gather requirements, write code, or test a system. I personally an more interested in formalizing peer feedback. I really like some of the stuff LinkedIn is doing in this area. Your ‘certification’ could become the collection of peer and client feedback that you have garnered.


  2. Howie,

    Your post and Mick’s reply are sadly very true. government has not learned the art of looking at the people skills involved with positions. I have been involved with organizations with personalities so toxic that no amount of “expertise” or certification can overcome their lack of willingness to work with others. Many times these people are not hired or placed so much on certification but on the basis of who they know. This is why many governmental organizations are so hopelessly fractured. The ability to interact positively and effectively with both internal and external customers is certainly a key consideration when selecting a “qualified” candidate.


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