Are DevOps certifications valuable? 10 pros and cons

DevOps is all about culture – and you can’t certify that. But recruiters say some certifications do help you get hired. Let’s examine the ups and downs of DevOps certifications
The value of IT certifications is great fodder for shop talk. It can even be a bit of a firestarter if you’re up for a more heated discussion. Witness the current debate around certifications in the security community – and likewise, in the DevOps community.

Some DevOps pros will tell you that certifications don’t hold much water; DevOps is about culture more than any individual skill or technology. On the other hand, evidence shows that plenty of hiring managers do see value in DevOps-relevant certifications, especially those around platforms or tools (such as specific cloud environments or configuration management tools) or processes or methodologies (such as Agile).

The majority of respondents in the DevOps Institute’s 2019 Upskilling: Enterprise DevOps Skills Report said certifications have at least some value.

[ Are DevOps salaries leveling off? How much does experience and certification matter? Read also: DevOps salaries: 10 statistics to see. ]

“From our DevOps upskilling survey, we learned that 15 percent of our respondents think that certifications are a very important (must-have) and 49 percent of the respondents think that certifications are important (nice-to-have),” says Eveline Oehrlich, research director at DevOps Institute and the report’s author.

Are DevOps certifications valuable?
Of course, that means roughly one in three respondents didn’t call certifications important.

When assessing the value of certifications for DevOps careers, you will hear a wide range of opinions. Context (such as role, industry, career level, and other variables) matters. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who says your DevOps career hinges on a particular certification.
“True DevOps roles – like many emerging or recently emerged spaces – requiring a certain skill set do not usually require certifications or formal education specifically in the space,” says Brian Dawson, DevOps evangelist at CloudBees. “However, certifications and the courses required to get there can help to fortify your knowledge, and/or help people transition from other areas of IT into DevOps as a new job role.”

Dawson, Oehrlich, and other DevOps experts stress the need to take a holistic view of DevOps and IT certifications. “Certifications certainly are adding to the marketability of a DevOps human,” Oehrlich says. “However, it is critical to see that in context of the person’s demographics.”

In addition to the survey findings, Oehrlich says the majority of HR pros she spoke with while working on the skills report said there was value in DevOps-related certifications in their recruiting efforts: “Certifications are something they look for,” she notes, “as that is their way of knowing and looking for pre-qualified individuals.”

What are the best DevOps certifications?
Just don’t look for a golden ticket that gains you entry to any DevOps role.

“There is no single DevOps cert or a specific vendor that certifies for ‘DevOps,’” says Wael Altaqi, pre-sales architect at OpsRamp. “There are some generic certifications, but it would be more effective for an IT professional to figure out where they fit in the DevOps chain and certify accordingly.”

Common examples would be certifications around cloud platforms, automation tools, containers, and orchestration platforms.
Common examples would be certifications around cloud platforms, automation tools, containers, orchestration platforms, and so forth.

Farid Roshan, head of engineering at Altimetrik, notes that a challenge with the notion of “DevOps certifications” is that you could potentially find yourself chasing 10 or more distinct credentials.

“The foundational pillars of DevOps requires the proper alignment of organizational delivery maturity, application architecture, toolchain framework, infrastructure modernization, and most importantly, transforming organization culture to a fail-fast and continuous learning mindset,” Roshan says. “The current challenge with DevOps certifications are they are limited to a fixed set of tools or infrastructure capabilities, which does not provide sufficient coverage for the holistic paradigm of change required.”

Ultimately, this means any individual needs to weigh the pluses and minuses of certifications for their current or future DevOps role. Let’s dig into 10 important pros and cons.

Pro: You can catalyze a new career or a lane change.
As Dawson from CloudBees noted earlier, high-quality certifications and coursework can be a good starting point for people who are just getting started or who want to pivot into a DevOps position from another role. Dawson’s not alone in that opinion.

“[You can] jumpstart or re-invent your IT career with structured courseware,” Altaqi says. Just remember it’s a start, not the finish line.

“Tool or software certifications provide basic levels of usage and with that, immediate ability to work in this area,” Oerlich says. Process- or role-related credentials can offer a similar baseline: “[A] process or role [certification] provides a common framework, understanding, language and articulates sometimes behavior which then can be leveraged for behavior changes,” Oerlich explains.

Con: You can’t certify culture.
You can test and certify skills in particular tools or processes, but DevOps is ultimately about people and how they can better work together. How do you certify DevOps culture? Moreover, how do you ensure a certification track doesn’t create bias or the kinds of siloed thinking that DevOps is intended to eradicate? Short answer: You can’t.

“Since DevOps is [a] culture, taking a course may result in one-dimensional thinking, or addressing DevOps from a specific tool or vendor perspective,” Altaqi says.

Pro: Certifications can boost pay and recognition.
There’s evidence in the market that in-demand certifications can help fatten up an IT pro’s paycheck. Since some of the hotter certs – perhaps especially cloud certifications – are DevOps-relevant, this holds true here. In addition to a potential pay bump, Altaqi notes that certifications can also help boost your overall visibility as a DevOps pro.

Con: Certifications aren’t a great fit for everyone.
Some people are better at taking tests than others. (Raise your hand if you still have nightmares about showing up to a final exam unprepared.) That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more qualified. Hiring managers need to take that into account.

“[The] pressure of certification might cause fear and anxiety in some individuals, particularly those who don’t like taking tests,” Oehrlich points out.

Pro: You can “zoom in” on particular tools or processes.
Altaqi says this is a good strategy for strategically selecting certifications that enable you to enhance your knowledge of DevOps-oriented technologies and processes required of your current job. (The same logic extends to the technologies and processes that you want next.)

Certifications can enable you to zoom in on specific tools or vendors related to your current position, Altaqi says. (All the better if your current employer is willing to foot the bill.) Altaqi points to the AWS Certified DevOps Engineer and the Certified Kubernetes Administrator credentials as possible examples here; essentially, you can map the actual technology stack you work with to particular certifications.

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