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Also, degree vs. experience: which counts more? Career Advisor hed: High-tech teaching options dek: also, degree vs. experience: which counts more? by Molly Joss

Q: Do high-tech employers give any more weight to potential employees with an education from a non-profit school versus a for-profit school? Do employers really care if I have a degree as long as I have the experience and the knowledge?

A: I have never heard an employer express a preference for graduates from one kind of tech school or another-I’m not sure they know which schools fall into which category.

Many do, however, know the name of an accredited four-year college when they hear it, such as Cal Tech, MIT, and RIT. Would a four-year degree in IT be more impressive to them than a certification from The-School-on-the Mall PC Training School? In a word, yes.

However, if the kind of job you’re trying to get involves a very focused IT skill such as programming or network maintenance, a four-year degree may exceed the employer’s requirements or salary range. Match the education to the job requirements.

I know this sounds confusing, but here’s the bottom line: For someone in their teens and early 20s who wants to look at IT as a career in which they will work various jobs over the course of decades, the broad foundation of a four-year degree in IT is the best bet all around.

As for whether employers care about degree versus experience, a degree is easier to quantify than experience, which is why many employers insist on an IT-related degree for IT jobs.

That said, my own experience in the IT world, and the experiences of others, has shown me that the longer you work in a field, the less people ask about your education. They look more at your years of experience.

People with many years of experience have more than a few people–including former employers, colleagues, and clients–whom potential employers can call for references.

They also have lots of war stories that can illustrate the depth and breadth of their experience. Perhaps they’ve also received more than one certification or have a track record of keeping up a single certification for a number of years.

If you’re too young or too new to the field to have the experience, however, degrees win out every time. Later in your career, experience can push the need for a degree aside, but there’s always going to be a line on the application form for your educational background.

Q: I have two more classes to go before I obtain an M.S. in computer information systems. I have been reading your articles on a regular basis, and I must admit that I’m starting to wonder if a degree in IT is enough. Would you recommend also obtaining certification, and if so which one(s) would you recommend? I am really interested in Internet/intranet networking. Would Cisco certification be the way to go?

A: I haven’t seen your curriculum vitae, but I have seen Cisco’s, so I’m going to generalize a bit. You can draw some fine distinctions by comparing the course content you’ll find on the Cisco Web site with what you’ve studied. I am hoping that by this point you have covered in depth some general theory behind networking.

Thus, you may already have covered much of the material required for the Cisco certification. What you haven’t studied yet is networks specifically–how the theory is put into practice by companies such as Microsoft, Novell, Cisco, and so on. That’s the information that a certification in one of these networking systems would give you.

It’s up to you to decide what to add to your education, and you’re going to need some more information to do that. You said you were concerned about whether an IT degree is enough, so ask yourself: Enough for what-to get a job, or to establish a career in networking? I’m sure you could get a job in IT with a master’s degree in the field, but will that be enough information for you? Will you be prepared to take on the tough jobs–the ones that potentially pay the highest salaries and offer the most satisfaction?

Take a tour of the Web sites belonging to the companies I’ve mentioned and review curriculum and training requirements for certification. Look for crossovers–what they cover that you’ve already done. Also look at the kinds of jobs posted on their job boards and see which ones resonate with you.

You may be able to pass the certification tests for more than one of these companies by doing a little studying on your own, using their books and interactive training materials. I don’t think you would have to take the full load of training courses for any of them. It may be well worth the money (less than $1,000 for training materials and exam fees) for you to get a networking certification.

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