IT Certification Vs. Master’s Degree…which holds more value?


As an IT professional who has worked in the field for over 13 years, I’ve found myself in the past couple of years thinking more about what I can do to take my career to the next level.  What can I do to compliment the experience I have, which spans from programming to project management?

How can I use to my advantage the experience I’ve gained from working in different industries including retail, financial, and biotechnology?  And most of all, how can I make my MBA work better for me in the IT field to get to the next level in my career?

I used to think that my MBA could help me with this but now not so much.  From talking to a number of recruiters, peers, managers, and conducting my research I’m now thinking that an IT certification would be more valuable (maybe even MUCH more valuable) than my MBA.  But depending on your career path in IT one may definitely hold more weight than the other.

Obtaining a master’s degree is a really good option for someone who is looking to advance into management positions in their career with an increase in salary.  But it takes more than just having a master’s degree.  You should consider how the degree aligns with your experience as well as the career path you want to take.

I got my MBA only a couple of years into my career and quite honestly I think it would have been better if I had waited a bit longer…or maybe not have gotten it at all.  Looking back, I think it would have been better for me to focus more on increasing my experience in the IT field and obtaining a certification instead.

Since at the time I was doing SQL and some web development maybe a related certification such as Microsoft SQL Server or perhaps an MCSD Web Applications certification would have been a great option for me.  Getting one of these would have allowed me to get training that was specific to the work I was doing while putting me ahead of my peers who lacked such certifications.  Also, obtaining a certification could have saved me some money.

Although I was fortunate enough to pay much less for an MBA because of the special program my employer at the time had it was still more than the few hundreds to thousands I would have paid for a certification.  And considering  that the average salary for IT certifications holders ranges from the low 50k’s well into six figures (I repeat AVERAGE SALARY!), I think first considering getting experience, a certification, then possibly a master’s degree is an excellent plan for the IT professional (yes…in that order).

I’m telling you this from my own experience…maybe it’s different for others.  But just think about it.  For most jobs in the field of IT experience matters most. But from my conversations with numerous recruiters the next big thing to have that will win you the high-paying job is holding a certification.

It makes perfect sense…if you have experience AND a certification that required you take training specific to the type of work you do then of course that puts you ahead of many others vying for the same job.  And it’s quite cheaper than obtaining a master’s degree. Also, there are options available that make it easier to obtain an IT certification. You don’t have to go sit in a class to get the cert training you need….you can do it all online.

I’m currently taking PMP (project management) cert training online…via a program I purchased on Groupon for $99!  But I also recently joined the St. Louis PMI chapter and plan to take the training they offer via intense 8-hour classes that I’ll have to commit to for five Saturdays.  So options for taking certification training to fit your lifestyle are definitely available.

So when you are thinking about your next career move and how you are going to increase your value in the field don’t just consider getting more work experience.  Consider furthering your education.  But don’t just consider a costly master’s program…consider a certification.  Like I said, it can save you thousands and greatly increase your salary in less time than it would take you to complete a master’s program, which is typically at least two years.  Of course, if you aspire to get into upper management positions then a master’s degree is a great option.  But obtaining the certification first may allow you to increase your salary enough making it easier to pay for the master’s degree program.

Quite honestly, if I could do it all over I probably would have gotten a certification first before getting my MBA.  With options available ranging from help desk support to computer forensics that include in-class and online training, obtaining a certification is definitely something worth considering.  You certainly can’t go wrong with having experience AND an IT certification.

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