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Career / certification advice for an old fart

 
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Hi all,
I'm at a crossroads in my career and wanted to know if anyone might have some advice. I'm 40, with about 17 years experience in different things. I started out programming 8086 assembly, move to C, moved to C++, and have been doing Java for about 8 years now. I was at the Solaris Network and Developers conference in 1995 when Scott McNealy and Marc Andreesen announced that Java would be included in Netscape Navigator. Along the way I've been a SunOS/Solaris system administrator, and a database administrator over 7 different database backends.

While certifiable, I have no SCJ* certifications. I've architected J2EE systems that are distributed across continents that serve hundreds of thousands of requests a day. I've architected x86 device drivers. I've architected, coded, debugged, and supported alot of stuff in between.

I am not a manager. I like to keep my hands dirty and I refuse to have my hair pointed. Give me vi and a fast machine and I can turn out a better quality and easier to maintain product than any IDE can generate. I know - I've been the DBA who has to partition a table across multiple raw partitions (being careful to use different SCSI controllers) because some developer thought it would be ok to hit the db with the exact same query hundreds of times per minute. I've been the O/S SA who knows how to partition these 4 processors to one process these 3 to another and the one remaining to the process that does a while(1); loop to delay between requests. And I've been the engineer who fixed these problems and architected a better solution.

But now it seems like everybody cares more about SCJ* than the fact that I can tell you how to best handle Solaris threads vs. Linux threads. I take the practice exames and they all seem to be written by language lawyers and .edu types - they don't seem to have any real world value. Yet, the MBA's who survived the bubble and now think that they can manage have decreed that you must have this, that, or the other certification - 'cause you can't have learned anything about architecture from 17 years of development experience.

So what is an old hacker to do? Did you have a bang address? If you don't know what that is then you're too young to answer the question. Sorry - I'm getting kinda crotchety too. Will the certification do anything to advance my career? In the Denver area it seems pretty important. Of course, from my window I can see the Sun training center so that may have something to do with it.

Any thoughts or feedback would be most welcome. Thanks in advance for your time.
 
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I've been interviewing and applying for development jobs a lot over the past month.

I would estimate that 5% of those jobs were interested in certification, and that interest exclusively stemmed from HR folks that were not familiar with the technologies involved in the job or on my resume.
 
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Agreeing with Dirk, I'd say that paid job experience with the exact software set currently running in a shop isn't the most important thing, it's the only thing at most US companies right now.

However, if getting a SCJP appeals to you, Kathy Sierra's book will drill you on all the nits you need for a good score. I agree that a lot of the test is a bit silly. Many of the questions ask you to spot errors that no one would make or that would be trivially flagged by the compiler, but like fraternity initiations or premeds taking organic chemistry, it's a rite of passage.

If you tell us more about your background and your current situation, maybe someone here can offer some practical advice.
 
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I'v never been a fan of certs and feel they are of little value to someone in your position (i.e. with experience). A few companies might overlook you, but those are probably not companies who value your skills.

--Mark
 
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Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
I'v never been a fan of certs and feel they are of little value to someone in your position (i.e. with experience). A few companies might overlook you, but those are probably not companies who value your skills.

--Mark



I also agree... Certs are generally for the HR departments who use that as a quick way to cut the number of candidates for interviews. In the past, and in some companies today, they also use tests to do the same.

Luckily, for people with experience, we have a small trick around this. We have contacts -- ideally, the longer you are in the industry, the more contacts you have. Hopefully, if you can get a friend/former coworker/contact to recommend you, you can bypass HR somewhat.

Henry
 
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If you're talking about the Sun certs... they indicate that Sun has certified you as being competent in a particular area. That means you should be able to walk into almost any company and perform well in that area using Sun technology -- sans knowledge specific to that business sector of course.

The fact that you had 1 or more jobs in the past 17 years means that 1 or more companies felt you were competent (perhaps in some area other than Java/J2EE), and paid you a salary. It doesn't necessarily mean that Sun would have sanctioned you as being competent in using their technology.

That's all the cert indicates, IMO. If you are REALLY using the Sun technology defined in the targetted cert, then getting it is not a lot of work. Fi: getting the SCJP indicates that you understand at least 52% of the Java spec. Personally, I don't think that's asking much from someone who expects to get paid from doing Java development.
 
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The SCJP offers another benefits, unrelated to getting past HR. It will widen your knowledge of all the basic areas of the language. I've used Java regularly, but far from exclusively since 1996 and found from mock tests that I could have got 75% on the SCJP without any studying. As it was i decided to do some studying and got 90% after reading K&B and doing Dan's mocks.

One of the problems with real world experience is that you learn the things your current job requires and then just use them to the exclusion of the rest of the tools available.

Other benefits are:
- you can answer those stupid questions about nested classes, even if you rarely use them.
- your compliles will get cleaner, after all that time pretending to be a compiler.
- you'll know all the methods of the Math class, wrapper classes and collection classes.

I'm now doing the SCJD and learning a lot, it may not help getting past HR, but it sure will help my actual work and will be useful if I need to interview for a Java position. In my current job I never use RMI, since most of the connectivity is via sockets to non java systems. So I've chosen to use RMI in the cert project. I could have used sockets, but then I would learn anything in that part.
 
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