Career Advice

Are Certifications Really Necessary?

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Relations

If you’re an IT professional, chances are you either have a certification or have thought about obtaining a certification at some point in your career.  These days you can find a certification for almost any skill, methodology or job title in the IT industry.  Are certifications really necessary to succeed as a technical professional?

I’ve been in the IT staffing business for more than 18 years.  I’ve placed more than a thousand technical professionals – some with certifications and some without.  I’ve talked with hiring managers about certifications, asking them why a certification is required, or even a degree for that matter, when a candidate obviously has a ton of real life experience and a successful track record.  Often times, certifications don’t help that much.  However, there are two instances when certifications make a real difference: (1) when you don’t have much experience and you’re trying to prove yourself; and (2) when it’s market driven.

If you’re a recent college graduate or a seasoned professional wanting to change your area of expertise, certifications may help you land that first or next job.  Certifications will show that you’re serious about your career choice – after all they are typically expensive and time consuming.  In addition, it provides some external, objective measure of your abilities.  You’ll still have to successfully make it past the interview stage, but you may not have even made it that far without the certification.  Finally, it provides agency recruiters with a reason to present you to a position when they otherwise may have rejected you outright.  Most recruiters are not technical.  They rely on your honesty and such things as certifications when deciding whether or not to present you to their client.  A certification may just tip the scales in your favor.

Even if you’re not a recent college graduate or changing your career trajectory, certifications can become necessary as a result of market conditions.  In this context, I’m referring to market conditions in two ways – the overall employment market for IT professionals and what the market requires of a particular type of professional.  With regard to the employment market, currently it’s a candidate driven market – experienced candidates with good interpersonal skills can write their own ticket in many instances.  In this type of market, certifications are not as important.  If, however, the market were to change for the worse, as happened in 2001 and then again in 2008, HR and hiring managers would be inundated with candidates and need some way to differentiate them.  One easy, although imperfect, way to differentiate candidates is based on education, which includes certifications.

With regard to the market for particular professionals, there are skill sets / job titles that appear to demand certifications.  Examples of this include the PMP certification for project managers and the CISSP certification for IT security engineers.  Certifications, like hair styles, seem to come and go.  A few years back it seemed like every project management position required a PMP certification.  Today, less than a majority of them do.  Now the big fad is ScrumMaster certification.  The point is that if hiring managers have bought into the certification and you want a job with them, you may need to bite the bullet and get the certification.

From my experience, certifications are typically not necessary.  They can be helpful when you need to prove your abilities or when the market requires it, but nothing can take the place of good old-fashion experience and the school of hard-knocks.

Never Memorize What You Can Look Up

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager

Never memorize what you can look up…one of my best consultants said that to me one day.  We were discussing interviews, and the questions that come up in many of them.  His basic point, as I took it, was that as a software developer, one cannot truly memorize everything one would ever utilize.  There are going to be things to look up, and the important part of development is in problem solving, and basically using one’s brain power on tackling difficult issues, not rote memorization of something that could be looked up in three seconds.  And that software development has as much artistry to it as it does rigid rules, which means there is often more than one right way to solve a coding problem.

It also took me back to my teaching days, when, on one of my first days, my chemistry students asked if I was going to make them memorize the periodic table, as teachers in the past had done.  I turned around and looked at the gigantic periodic table hanging behind me, then turned back around to the class.  “Why would you have to memorize it?  It’s right here!”  I then made the point – someone doing actual chemistry is not going to rely on their memory of the periodic table for the atomic weight of an element for a calculation; they’re going to look it up to make sure they have it correct.  They will, however, know why the periodic table is organized the way it is, and how to use it in doing chemistry.

So, to get the point…why would one ask “book” questions, things that can be easily looked up, in a job interview?    Is memorizing something like that truly indicative of one’s overall skill as a developer?  I would argue that it isn’t.  I suspect it has more to do with having an “objective” interview process, but I can tell you, you’re missing out on great candidates if you rely on these types of questions.

Here’s another quick, real-life example for you.  I had a consultant several years ago, a COBOL developer, about whom our client raved.  They said they would assign him tasks that took other developers two weeks, and he would finish them in three days.  He had a couple of other clients who loved him as well, and would basically go back and forth between these employers on contract because of the outstanding work he did.  Well, we submitted him to a different client as he had some downtime.  This client gave him a technical test, and let us know that he failed.  He got back to us and said “I could have aced that test right after I graduated, but it mostly covered things out of a book that I never use in actually coding.”  I’ve never forgotten that example, as that client likely missed out on a consultant who could have helped them greatly.

I want to be clear; I’m not advocating not asking technical questions in an interview.  I am, however, advocating making it more of a discussion than a “right or wrong” proposition.  And don’t base your entire decision about a candidate on a technical test.  Perhaps some of the factors mentioned above are in play, or maybe the person is a terrible test taker, but a crack developer.  That’s certainly something I’ve seen as well, and again, you don’t want to miss out on someone who could be a great asset to your team.

Hiring Managers: LinkedIn Profiles are Not Resumes!

By: Elias Cobb, National Recruiting Manager

I want to briefly address an issue I have seen from a variety of companies; this comes from direct observation and from feedback from candidates.

Here’s the issue: A candidate submits a resume to an employer.  Employer sees resumes, looks at the candidate’s LinkedIn profile, and for some reason decides the information on LinkedIn is more accurate or relevant than the information on the resume.  Employer rejects candidate based on assumptions gleaned from LinkedIn profile (not enough experience in X, etc), or because the LinkedIn profile doesn’t match the resume.

So, to any hiring manager who might do this, please keep in mind:  LinkedIn profiles are not resumes!!  People cannot put EVERYTHING they have ever done on their profile.  What people do is put out a general idea of what they have done, and the projects they have covered.  Many people do a terrible job of updating their profile when they switch jobs.  They might not have end dates.  They might not have their most recent title change.  But that doesn’t mean they’re being dishonest.  They put their most recent info in their resume, where it belongs.  They probably tailored the resume to fit the job for which they were applying, which might not be exactly the same as LinkedIn.  That doesn’t mean they’re lying; it actually shows more attention to detail and interest in your job and company!  They took the time to highlight specific skills and duties in the resume they sent to you!  Wouldn’t you think that’s a good thing, instead of something to punish?

In fact, even if there are employers missing on LinkedIn that are present on the resume, or the dates don’t match, I wouldn’t use that to reject the candidate.  Why not bring it up in the interview?  See what the candidate says, and then determine how you feel.  Again, a resume is designed to tell you about the candidate and their skills, and LinkedIn is for networking.

The Power of Networking

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services.

 

If you know me, you know that I love to network and I encourage everyone else to network – whether you are selling, recruiting, looking for a job, or whatever – networking is never a bad thing!  You never know where it will lead or what it will turn into.

The other day I was training a junior sales person.  She was shadowing me on a sales call with a client manager I had never met before.  She asked the question, “How did you connect with this person?”  As I thought about my answer, I began to laugh.  The seeds for the meeting in April 2016 were planted back in 2001.

One night in 2001, my wife and I invited some new neighbors (Cheryl and Dan) over for a friendly game of cards and a few beers.  I learned that Cheryl was an administrative assistant at a small insurance company.  She agreed to introduce me to the CIO of her company (Tim).  I met with Tim a couple of times and he introduced me to his manager of software development (James).  Shortly thereafter Tim was laid off, but luckily I had developed a good relationship with James.

James ended up hiring a bunch of contractors from me over the next two years.  I was meeting one of those contractors (Martha) for lunch and asked her what her husband did for a living.  Lucky me!  Her husband (Karl) was an IT manager for a government contractor.  She agreed to introduce me.  I met with Karl who introduced me to their manager of software development (Bob).  Shortly thereafter Karl left the company, but luckily I had developed a good relationship with Bob.

Bob and his team ended up hiring more than three dozen contractors from me over the next few years.  After a while, Bob and I got to be friends.  The other day I was having lunch with Bob and he asked if I would be willing to network with his wife’s, sister’s husband (Brent).  Being the networking addict that I am, I readily agreed.

Brent and I met for coffee a couple of times.  He had been laid off from his job as a CTO and was looking for a new gig.  I was able to introduce him to a few people, but unfortunately wasn’t able to directly help him find a job.  Looking for a new job, especially when you’re unemployed, can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.  I experienced it many years ago when I was changing careers and swore to myself that I would always be open to helping others.

Brent ended up landing a job.  We met for coffee after he got situated and he offered to introduce me to the software development manager at his new company (Susan).  You guessed it, Susan is the manager, the junior sales person and I were scheduled to meet in April 2016.  The meeting went really well, by the way.  I’m looking forward to how it turns out and who I’ll meet as a result.

What a crazy, wonderful world full of possible networking opportunities we live in!

Quitting with Style

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services

Quitting a job, especially a long term position, can be packed with emotion.  You may feel guilty, elated, rebellious, scared and excited all at the same time.  Those emotions are normal, but don’t allow them to control your behavior when you quit your job.  To the best of your ability, remove all emotion from the interactions with your employer.  Focus on being professional, accommodating and gracious.

Being professional includes:

  • Providing two weeks of notice. Two weeks of notice to your employer is the unwritten rule and the two weeks should actually be two full weeks – it should not include you taking vacation time or calling in sick.  It is, however, the employer’s choice whether to keep you the full two weeks or let you go sooner.  Don’t take offense if they let you go early.  In some positions, it just doesn’t make sense to keep the employee around once they’ve given notice.
  • Communicating appropriately. The first person who should know you’re quitting is your direct supervisor.  Your notice, if at all possible, should be communicated in-person and should be documented with a resignation letter.  Keep it short, sweet and professional.  Don’t let your emotions take control.  Telling your coworkers, even the friends with whom you work, should be controlled by your employer.  They may or may not want you to talk to your coworkers about it – that is the employer’s choice, not yours.

Being accommodating includes:

  • Completing assigned tasks. Upon giving your notice, your employer may ask you to document your responsibilities, transition tasks to coworkers or even perform other work you wouldn’t normally be asked to do.  Within reason, of course, you should do your best to complete all tasks assigned during the last two weeks.  Your leaving will likely create a hole in the organization.  Your goal should be to make that hole as small as possible before you leave.

Being gracious includes:

  • Focusing on the positive. Every job has its positives and negatives.  For some odd reason, many people think that after they give their notice, they have a free pass to let it all hang out and tell their boss and coworkers what they really think of them.  This is a huge mistake.  Instead, think of the good things that happened (there has to be something) and thank your boss for the opportunity.  Keep it positive and leave your employer feeling as good as possible about your time at the company.

Quitting a job is typically not an easy decision or a comfortable situation.  Employers don’t always handle it as well as they should, but you should do your best to leave on good terms.  Remember, you can’t control how others react to you, but you can control how you react to others.  When you leave an employer, do it in a way that would make your mother proud.

Advice to Computer Science Grads – Class of 2016

By: John Hutchins, Vice President of Client Services

First, let me provide my disclaimer – I’m not a software developer.  I’m a sales person who has moved into the ranks of management in the IT staffing world.  Although I couldn’t code myself out of a paper bag, I have participated in the careers of thousands of software developers and IT professionals during the last 18 years of my career.  I’ve watched some people thrive, some people limp along and some people fail miserably to the point of leaving the industry all together.

For what it’s worth, here are my recommendations to all the new college graduates entering the software developer ranks in 2016:

  • Chase the opportunity, not the money.

I’ve seen software developers who appear solely motivated by money.  They’re always looking around the corner for the next position that pays more.  They appear to have a minimal amount of loyalty to their employer or anyone else for that matter.  From my experience, they often burn bridges and end up both unsatisfied and unhappy.  Then I see other software developers who focus on being the best they can be within their area of expertise.  They are selfish in choosing positions based on the opportunity – will the position help them to grow?  Money is important, but it is not their sole focus and they would be willing to take a pay cut for the right opportunity – an opportunity that helps them refine a skill or add a new skill.  They build alliances, make a positive name for themselves and generally appear to be happy.  And by the way, they don’t need to chase the money, it chases them.

  • Be an altruistic team member.

I’ve seen software developers who are all about themselves.  They avoid the grunt work whenever possible, passing it off to other team members.  When they review someone else’s code, they butcher it.  When they participate in interviews, they are more focused on proving their technical prowess than on truly qualifying the candidate.  From my experience, the people around them may respect their technical abilities, but they are not well liked and don’t end up in fulfilling roles.  Then I see other software developers who volunteer for the more mundane assignments, help their teammates whenever they can and focus on the success of the project. They may get taken advantage of once in a while, but their teammates and supervisors like them.  As a result, they develop a solid network that enables them to move between teams and companies without difficulty.  Opportunity and good money almost always follow.

  • Enjoy yourself.

I’ve seen people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who really don’t like what they’re doing.  They may make a ton of money, but they’re miserable.  They are toxic to the people around them and toxic to themselves.  Then I see people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who enjoy their work, regardless of the fact that they don’t receive the highest pay or are required to work longer hours.  They’re happy and people like to be around them.  These are the people with whom I want to associate.  The people who lift up those around them and, by doing so, lift up themselves.

Congratulations to those graduating from college this year!  May you all prosper and be happy!

Response To “What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career As A Software Developer” By Michael O. Church

By John Hutchins, Quantix Vice President, Client Services

Disclaimer: This blog is in response to the article “What I Wish I Knew When I Started My Career As A Software Developer” by Michael O. Church 

First, let me provide my disclaimer – I’m not a software developer. I’m a sales person who has moved into the ranks of management in the IT staffing world. Although I couldn’t code myself out of a paper bag, I have participated in the careers of thousands of software developers and IT professionals during the last 17 years of my career. I’ve watched some people thrive, some people limp along and some people fail miserably to the point of leaving the industry all together.

I agree with Mr. Church’s emphasis on learning and taking responsibility for your own success to include keeping yourself healthy with exercise. There are other points he makes with which I don’t agree, but to keep it positive, here is some additional advice based on what I’ve seen:

Chase the opportunity, not the money. I’ve seen software developers who appear solely motivated by money. They’re always looking around the corner for the next position that pays more. They appear to have a minimal amount of loyalty to their employer or anyone else for that matter. From my experience, they often burn bridges and end up both unsatisfied and unhappy. Then I see other software developers who focus on being the best they can be within their area of expertise. They are selfish in choosing positions based on the opportunity – will the position help them to grow? Money is important, but it is not their sole focus and they would be willing to take a pay cut for the right opportunity – an opportunity that helps them refine a skill or add a new skill. They build alliances, make a positive name for themselves and generally appear to be happy. And by the way, they don’t need to chase the money, it chases them.

Be an altruistic team member. I’ve seen software developers who are all about themselves. They avoid the grunt work whenever possible, passing it off to other team members. When they review someone else’s code, they butcher it. When they participate in interviews, they are more focused on proving their technical prowess than on truly qualifying the candidate. From my experience, the people around them may respect their technical abilities, but they are not well liked and don’t end up in fulfilling roles. Then I see other software developers who volunteer for the more mundane assignments, help their teammates whenever they can and focus on the success of the project. They may get taken advantage of once in a while, but their teammates and supervisors like them. As a result, they develop a solid network that enables them to move between teams and companies without difficulty. Opportunity and good money almost always follow.

Avoid becoming political. I’ve seen software developers who jump in and play the politics found in many companies. They sabotage coworkers, are constantly looking over their shoulder and trying to position themselves for greatness. They spend more time on politics than on doing a quality job and eventually pay for it with their job. Then I see other software developers who give credit where credit is due, who help their coworkers succeed and who work hard for the benefit of everyone. They don’t necessarily ignore or avoid the politics, but they rise above the politics and do a quality job. These are the developers that end up with more career options than they know what to do with. These are the software developers others want to work with and are willing to pay for.

Image Credit: Modafinil

Image Credit: Modafinil

Be logical, not emotional. I’ve seen software developers who fly off the handle when asked to do something they view as beneath them, when required to interview in-person or asked to wear a suit to an interview. For these software developers, drama pervades their daily lives. They equate passion in general with being a good software developer, losing sight of the fact that they are developing not for the sake of developing, but to solve a business problem. Their coworkers become tired of the drama and let them get their way to avoid confrontation, but they don’t enjoy working with them. As a result, their options slowly become more and more limited, maybe without them even knowing it. Then I see software developers who understand that some short term pain can lead to long-term payoffs. They understand that sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to do, not because it is the correct or better approach, but because it is the approach the business has decided upon. These software developers present their opinion in a reasoned manner and then move on. Their coworkers respect them for both having a logical opinion and for being reasonable when that opinion isn’t accepted. They grow in their careers and do well.

Enjoy yourself. I’ve seen people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who really don’t like what they’re doing. They may make a ton of money, but they’re miserable. They are toxic to the people around them and toxic to themselves. Then I see people (software developers, sales people, attorneys, etc.) who enjoy their work, regardless of the fact that they don’t receive the highest pay or are required to work longer hours. They’re happy and people like to be around them. These are the people with whom I want to associate; the people who lift up those around them and, by doing so, lift up themselves.

Again, there are parts of Mr. Church’s article with which I agree, but there are other parts that seem to encourage a self-centered, it’s-all-about-me attitude. From the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met, I just don’t see that type of attitude fostering a successful career in any industry, let alone software development.