Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit with a teenager named Paul. Paul just finished his junior year and has landed a summer job with a local tire repair shop. As a reader, he is familiar with many of western civilization’s great books, and would be considered well-read even for one twice his age. His communication skills are top-notch, and he has a GPA well above his peers. He also possesses another valuable non-teenager like trait — he knows how to save money.
By all measures, Paul is an impressive young man working to build a future for himself. As he put it, “I want to take care of myself and be useful to others.” That’s why I was surprised when he told me he hates school. More precisely, he “loves learning, but hates the shenanigans that go on in the classrooms.” He explained that he finds many subjects uninteresting and wonders why teachers assign so much busy work. I laughed and said that, at times, a great deal of life seems like busy work.
Paul also mentioned that he wasn’t really interested in attending college, and instead had a plan that could get him into the workforce years earlier.
I was even more surprised when he asked if I’d ever heard of certifications in information technology (IT). I told him that I know a little something about the subject, and that‘s when he launched into a 15-minute dissertation about certs and some of the jobs he would qualify for. Paul has always had an interest in computers and technology and it was clear he had done his homework.
He also talked about the advantages of earning certifications for less money and in less time than pursuing a degree. Paul was confident that he could earn a couple of entry-level certs during his senior year and land an IT position upon graduation. He even had a plan to help him over the summer by earning a couple of micro-certifications.
Micro-certs are basically mini-certifications in a specific topic area. They can be broad or very specific and are designed to help one gain applicable skills and knowledge. They are also inexpensive and quick to complete. In recent years, more and more IT training companies have seen their value and have therefore begun upping their offerings of micro-certs.
One company offering a broad assortment of micro-certs is Maryland-based Cybrary. Cybrary presently offers more than 80 cybersecurity micro- courses and certifications. Each course and certification is categorized into Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels, and is designed to give users a “deep dive into the most critical skills in the field.” Cybrary is also a great resource for cash-strapped students, as each course is free and exams are conducted online for just $10 each — with one free retake per exam.
Like so many other young people interested in IT, Paul feels drawn to cybersecurity. He reads the news of data breaches and the shortage of qualified professionals in the field and sees the growth potential.
Now I’m a big believer in the value of formal education, but only if you feel it is the right thing at the right time. There are advantages to a degree: It never expires and it can give you experiences outside of certification, like negotiation skills that can help your career advance beyond a technical role. Make sure to study out whether college actually is where you want to spend your time and money.
It’s comforting to meet a young person like Paul, who has studied things out and come up with a plan for a career. He also knows that course corrections will be a part of any career plan, but at least he is starting out on the right foot by pursuing certifications.
About the Author — Calvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. Calvin's diabolical plan is to earn micro-certifications, and then use an embiggening ray to blow them up to full size.