“I failed in some subjects in exam, but my friend passed in all. Now he is an engineer in Microsoft and I am the owner of Microsoft.” ― Bill Gates

Is college or certification more helpful to an IT career in India?India is a nation dripping with tradition. New ideas have almost always been resisted and slow to take hold. Now things are changing; today’s young professionals willingly embrace new ideas and practices. We want innovation! We want an easier world with technology and automation! Most importantly, we want freedom — to choose professions and vocations based on our natural internal desires and interests. We want freedom from being driven by the rigid stereotypes of the past!

Naturally, questions arise as to what sorts of professions young people should pursue and whether they need formal schooling or whether, with some sort of basic training, they can jump right into a job. Why does completing a formal education and finding a job have to be so difficult? Isn’t the purpose of life based on the truth that we all need to come together for the human race to prosper?

Fortunately, India’s largest skills based Industry, information technology (IT), is one place where freedom, flexibility and forward thinking are already a reality. The days of following a cookie cutter mindset are being replaced by visionaries who see a brighter future. India’s IT Industry is an arena of opportunity for those willing to dive in and chase their dreams.

The question naturally arises as to which route a young person should take: Earn an IT certification or pursue a university degree? Let’s take a look at both options:

Certification

For those who love and are comfortable in the world of technology, keeping their skills timely and up-to-date is paramount. For many of these tech-savvy individuals, taking a quick, thorough and no-frills approach is probably preferable to pursuing an expensive, years’ long degree from a university before they even begin to look for a job. Let’s look at some of the advantages of certification:

Relatively quick to earn. Grabbing a cert requires only a couple months in most cases, and can be handled in a matter of weeks in others. Students generally attend authorized training courses, though in many instances they are able to study on their own. A diligent student can purchase a certification course, study up on the topic in a short time, sit for the exam, and walk out with a certificate that has some value to employers.

Validation of your skills and expertise in a specific domain. If an employer is looking for someone with an understanding of network security, then you can walk into the interview, wave your CompTIA Security+ certificate over your head, and proudly proclaim your ability to do the job.

Make no mistake, employers do like IT certifications. They find great comfort in knowing that an employee has a paper, signed by an accredited testing organization, stating that they know what to do in a certain domain.

Additionally, because you earned your cert in a short-period of time, you land in the job market sooner, begin accumulating valuable, real-life, hands-on experience and, most importantly, you begin earning money sooner. With the level of worry and stress your poor parents must confront reduced, they will be proud to say, “My daughter is working at a prestigious firm and doing very well for herself.”

Fairly inexpensive. Many certs are going to be far less expensive than earning a university degree. Most basic certs can be had for approximately ₹32,000 ($500 U.S.) or less. A pittance, compared to the cost of a university degree.

There are, however, a few downsides to certification. An IT certification has a narrow focus and validates specific knowledge only. Maybe you know networks, but what if an employer needs more than that? Certs are also often tied to the product line of a specific vendor. Maybe you know Novell products well, but who really even uses those products anymore?

Most certifications have to be renewed on a regular basis, usually every three years, or when a vendor brings a newer version of their product to market. “Great. I’m certified in Version 1, but now there is a Version 2! With a version 2.5 due out next month!” Time to hit the books and stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, renewal of a certification will cost you more money in annual and exam fees.

Even without official renewals, certifications often require earning annual continuing education units (CEU). Someone has to pay for those extra classes and study materials. Maybe your employer? Your parents? Most likely, you! Good thing you started earning a salary so soon.

University Degree

What are the advantages of a university degree? Is there some value to investing all of that “more time and money” required by a years-long effort to get a diploma before you even get the opportunity to try to impress a recruiter with your resume?

Most university IT students graduate with degrees in computer science, information technology, or management systems. They usually understand and accept the time and cost involved in chasing a degree over a number of years. But what are the real benefits of a university degree?

Indian lass looking at book in university libraryPermanent. No renewals, ever! Graduate, get your diploma and you’re done. The University of Delhi will not send you a notice in three years telling you to renew. They of course will send you other posts asking for “donations,” but that’s something else entirely.

Broad and general knowledge of the subject you studied. You’ll take a fair number of classes in your specialty over several years. You’ll also be taught by professors with experience in the field who can spend time working with you and answering questions in-depth.

Ready-made network. There are many other students and professors affiliated with your university. This network is valuable. It can give you guidance and, even better, job leads. Perhaps they have an alumni association that can also help you look for jobs or other opportunities.

Don’t worry about finding the alumni association right away. Just before you graduate, they’ll find you — and begin encouraging you to “voluntarily give back” to help the school. Like all good universities, in the years to come, these alumni associations will regularly contact you to remind you that, “It’s our annual pledge week. Would you like to donate?”

Proof of dedication. The degree tells employers that you are the type of person who can stick to a long-term task and see it through. The real world of work is tough, and employers may be comforted knowing that at least you’ve done something that took serious time and effort to accomplish.

Time to mature. Spending several years at a university can give you time for your social development to catch up with your IT skills. There are lots of IT people who can make a computer “stand up and dance,” but can’t explain how to hold a mouse. The need in the IT industry isn’t just for skilled professionals, but for skilled professionals who can communicate with colleagues and clients in a clear and concise manner, without all of the techno-babble.

Exposure to university classes outside of an IT specialty can help make you a well-rounded individual. Clients and co-workers aren’t always going to talk about their IT issues. It helps to have a basic university-level knowledge of humanities, history and literature. You can use this knowledge to build relationships.

More money. There is ample proof that a degree can put you on the path to a more lucrative career. There might not be a huge difference in the salaries of a fresher with a degree and someone equally untried but who has no degree, but data show the fresher with the degree typically earns more over time. Spread out over the length of a career in IT, the difference can become quite significant.

Formal education does impact pay scales in structured organizations and, all else being equal, a university degree will often give an applicant the edge in hiring. This is the reality that one has to live with. Talented professionals either learn to ignore this factor, or find a way around it. A degree may also help protect you from layoffs.

Additionally, companies in the new economy often have creative compensation systems. One becoming more common is “variable pay,” where salary is computed based on actual performance. This works in favor of talented employees who, regardless of educational levels, perform at a higher rate.

Of course there are those nasty negatives to a university degree. Time and money will have to be spent at much greater levels than when earning a few certifications. Are you prepared to give up four years and tons of money? While the learning experience may be deeper and more extensive, there tends to be an accompanying lack of hands-on, real-life experience.

So, is there a solution to the question of “Certification versus a University Degree?” Honestly, it depends. It depends on the individual and their circumstances. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another.

One individual may feel they have the social maturity and discipline to earn certs on their own. They may not like the idea of putting off a career, or they may just want to start making money right away. Another may like the idea of delving more deeply into the subject matter and not mind the sacrifice of more time and money.

A third path is a hybrid experience. More colleges and universities are developing certification programs that are part of their four year degree programs. Students can pursue a general degree in computer science and simultaneously earn a number of basic certifications. They are also able to work as apprentices or interns with an organization already established in the field.

An Employer’s Perspective

As with any new idea, there are always the old and new ways of thinking. Some organizations remain strict on their entry criteria. Their recruitment style allows only the elite with degrees from top institutes combined with spectacular academic results. Other organizations are more liberal in their hiring practices and look beyond the book-learning and “educational pedigree” of applicants.

Is college or certification more helpful to an IT career in India?Fortunately, the law of supply and demand still works in favor of IT professionals with demonstrable talent. Entry into smaller organizations is often easier for them. More organizations are increasingly realizing the value of hiring for talent wherever and whenever they find it. Regarding niche skills, such as UI design, mobile development, agile programming, and so forth, organizations value relevant experience and certifications more than formal degrees.

The IT industry has an ample number of people and organizations who believe in grooming raw talent and are always ready to provide mentoring and guidance to aspiring individuals. Certifications and references from senior members can help these folks gain entry to the Industry. In fact today, with the mix of traditional and modern thinking, even those with formal education degrees are willing to work in unstructured talent based organizations with the aim of learning something new.

The good news is that India’s IT industry is becoming more inclusive. Whether it’s formal education or an IT certification, you can now select what fits you and your circumstances. There are ample success stories to prove that both directions are fruitful and a successful organization will be one that balances and harmonizes the diverse elements of their employees to achieve common goals.