Lately I’ve been preaching about meritocracy and how actual skills and experience matters more than pieces of paper though I’ve never really directly talked about them yet.

And so I decided to take some time and summarize my thoughts on what people from the last century thought are absolute requirements in getting a job.

Seminar and Workshop Certificates are what drove me to talk about meritocracy in the first place. Having been volunteering in tech events for a few years, it’s pretty common for college students to ask for a “certificate” that they have attended the event.

Quite annoying, if you ask me.

Now it would make sense if these certificate requests are made for events that happen on school hours (so that they have proof that they didn’t cut class for no reason), but most of these events are either on weekends or at night.

So why do these students look for certificates? There are two main reasons:

First is that some colleges require workshop certificates in order to pass certain courses, which in turn makes it a requirement for graduation. This makes some sense in a certain context: requiring workshop certificates will force the student to go out and attend seminars and workshops and learn technologies not covered by the college’s curriculum.

It doesn’t work out that way, however. The reality is that students don’t really learn much from your typical seminar; week-long “sheep-dip” trainings don’t work, what would you expect from a 3-hour long one? It’s also an extra expense for the student, both in time and money.

The icing on the cake is that there’s no easily searchable document requiring IT schools to send their students out to find certificates. The closest document I can find from CHED is CMO 53, s. 2006, and that document doesn’t mention anything about certificates for students.

The other reason for getting certificates is that students and fresh graduates use it to pad their resumes. I’ve done my share of recruitment screening in my time and I can tell you that decent companies don’t give a damn about the seminars or workshops you’ve attended, mainly because it’s not a good indicator of skill. In my case, it’s a red flag: any job seeker who has done their homework knows that resumes should be as short as possible, with unnecessary info cut out.

In short, Seminar and Workshop Certificates are pretty much useless. Professionals know this, and you’d never see any of them demand a certificate even from a conference with a $500+ entrance fee.

Now let’s move on to the real “Certificates“, eg. OCJP, MCSE, CISCO certificates, etc. They’re pretty straightforward: pay for the exam, study for it, take the exam, and get the certification if you pass the exam.

Unfortunately, people get certifications for all the wrong reasons.

Most people think that certification guarantees employment. It doesn’t. This is because companies who have been in the industry for some time will have one or two run-ins with “certified professionals” who couldn’t code their way out of simple problems. Thus, any company who puts much more weight on certifications rather than actual skill will most likely not be a good company to work for.

Same goes for promotion. Nope, not going to happen. I was one of the few people in my old company that had both PhilNITS and OCJP (then SCJP) and I still got passed for promotion.

No, the real reason to get a certificate is to test and improve yourself. If you’re working in a slow-moving industry (eg. Enterprise), you tend to get comfortable doing the same thing over and over again without realizing that there are better ways of using the tools and technologies that you are using.

Now on to the sacred cow of the last century: the Diploma.

I wouldn’t go the easy and cliched route and simply dismiss the need to graduate from an IT course. But I’ll start with that because of the overwhelming (albeit anecdotal) evidence that supports it:

A lot of people I respect nowadays in the IT industry don’t have IT diplomas, either because they aren’t graduates of IT courses (eg. RJ) or haven’t completed their requirements yet. At the same time, however, the country has a lot of IT graduates but a good number of them are unemployed/underemployed. Heck most of the IT graduates from my esteemed university often disappear into the obscurity of their 9-6 jobs rather than be someone in the local scene.

On the other hand, while most IT companies shouldn’t care if you’re a graduate or not, there are still IT companies that require diplomas eg. shops that do work from government and financial institutions may require them because it’s stated in the work contracts.

Diplomas also serve as a backup route in case no one told the student the importance of practical experience and networking before graduating. For example, if the graduate can’t get a job in IT due to being under-skilled, having the diploma may give that person a better chance somewhere else. That graduate can also consider taking Masters. I have reservations regarding both alternatives (especially the former) but they’re better than having no job at all.

And finally we come to the grades.

Grades suffer the same problem as certificates: the idea looks good on paper yet deeply flawed in practice. It’s supposed to measure the skill and knowledge of students and identify gaps in learning, but this eventually leads to students having “good grades” as their ultimate goal rather than the true goal, that is, to obtain knowledge.

In other words, the passing grades of a student do not necessarily imply that the student has a passing knowledge of the subject. It’s more likely that the student just crammed for the test and has forgotten all about it by the time they receive their grades.

So yeah, at the surface, grades have lost their meaning a long time ago. Everyone knows this. Sure, you could do what Finland did and radically reform your education system, but I don’t see many countries doing the same, instead focusing on half-assed “reforms” that do little to improve their system.

As with diplomas, however, blindly bashing grades won’t give you the big picture – grades still have their uses. In my case, I got my parents to finally get off my case when I graduated with honors.

In a job hunting perspective, passing grades don’t mean much. On the other hand, good grades show that the applicant has potential. There are many ways to get good grades eg. passion and focus when doing something you enjoy, diligence in the face of something that you do not enjoy, out of the box thinking, etc… all good traits that can also apply to real world work.

Conversely, bad grades may mean that the applicant doesn’t those traits. So unless the applicant shows exceptional proficiency in the required skills or can give an acceptable excuse for the poor grades, the interviewer will have a much easier time rejecting the applicant.

In short, while certificates, diplomas, and grades, certainly have their uses in IT job hunting, they don’t guarantee you’ll get the job that you want.

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8 Responses to On Certificates, Diplomas, and Grades

  1. cms says:

    Nice post Bryan. There are many IT professionals I know that do not have degrees in IT that are awesome at their job. Certificates, diplomas and grades only really apply to fresh grads since those are the only credentials they can present to employers.

    Nothing beats true skill honed from years of experience and practice.

  2. Fully agree on all points but in the end, a reform to the method of educating is the way forward to this doom loop.

    Being in graduate school, I see a lot of students who still expect to be taught like that of an undergrad. That is a sure fire way to not being able to finish since the expectation is that the candidate devote their time to research.

  3. Theres also a huge problem on how IT/Technology/Computer Science is taught and perceived by people in schools (and a lot is because generally… education in this country has become nothing more than being proud of a piece of paper than actual learning). Ive seen a lot of people who “code a language” but give them an abstract or a goal without saying any other means to get there and they fall.

    Its a lot associated with people just pushing and pushing for tertiary education without really learning anything or making sure their kids learn anything so they have no real care in the world on the “quality” of education.

  4. alquanna says:

    Thank you for this post–I’ve been actually wanting to write something like this, although from a different perspective.

    You see, I graduated with a creative writing degree and currently work as a content/SEO specialist. In our field, it’s a must to have a portfolio of sample work if you want to get hired as a writer/designer as proof of your abilities. And that portfolio usually trumps a diploma/certificate.

    Yet when I ask friends who have graduated from IT courses if they have portfolios of their work (ex. a website they helped develop), they don’t have anything to show for it. One of them even told me that they were never taught about having a portfolio back in his school days. Then they complain about having to settle for a tech support agent position in a call center.

    Meanwhile, my office has been looking for a full-time PHP developer for months already, and we can’t find anyone to fill the role. Same with a lot of my friends (mostly content creators) who are looking for help in building their websites.

    I wish this post becomes required reading for any freshie in an IT course.

  5. Shumate Royo says:

    There are new forces that are shaping the minds of the learners. Unfortunately, Philippine education system is not adapting well. Degree must not be the end of education. It must be the start of education pathways, continue to upgrade the skills and learn to collaborate. A competency based training to be done with collaboration to industry will be the next big thing . School Systems that sustain improvement (like Finland, Singapore, S. Korea) over the longer term have learned both how to navigate the challenges of their context and to use their context to their advantage. Contextualizing is all about the tactics the system leaders use in tailoring the set of interventions needed on their performance journey to their specific context.

    We can put all the best strategic tools in place, all the training programs in place but if we don’t give people purpose, If we don’t give them guidance or if we don’t give them a path to where they should go, the rest of the stuff is garbage in, garbage out.

    Schooling should not be about making someone a professional, it should be about making somebody a professional learner.

    Can I share your post to others? Thanks!

    • Bry says:

      No need to ask permission for sharing. All posts in this site are licensed under CC by NC SA which basically means sharing (and even copying and modifying) is permitted as long as proper attribution (e.g. link to original) is in place.

  6. […] to acknowledge,  this article is also inspired from Bryan Bibat’s article similar to this but written on my own perspective so I might state some similar thought’s […]

  7. […] to acknowledge,  this article is also inspired from Bryan Bibat’s article similar to this but written on my own perspective so I might state some similar thought’s […]

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