As you know, I had the chance to sit down with Canadian MVP Mitch Garvis (@MGarvis) recently to talk about training and certification. So far, we’ve discussed:

Not Studying for a Certification Exam
Why Employers Should Pay for Training and Certification (This Post)

Getting certified is an investment of time, and further, it is an investment of money. There is a fee for the exam, preparatory books, and courses. However, these are needed in order to review the material for the prepare for the certification exam. Mitch believes that these are expenses that your employer should cover, or at the very least, assist with. So the question is “why?”.

The following is Mitch’s answer, offering up guidance to help you build your case for your employer:

That’s a great question. There are so many ways that we can learn a product… I’m going to use a horrible expression, but “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”. I’ll explain by using an example.

In desktop deployment, you, as an IT Pro would know how to install Windows 7 on your computer. You do whatever you need to do and three and a half hours later, you’re computer is done [on a good day]. I was at a client yesterday and they told me that they have their deployments down to an hour and forty-five minutes. “We took the time to learn it and how to do it – we did the research.” they told me. I asked: “what did you learn?” and they gave me a list of products that they learned, each of which was a generation or two removed from the current. I looked at them and I said “well if you just learned this, which is the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, the hour and forty-five minutes becomes 17 minutes. Did you know that?!” The gentlemen with whom I was speaking was shocked – he was the desktop deployment guru for his company and he realized that he learned it the wrong way.

So, you can learn something and it will get the job done, or you can learn something and do it right and get the job done better. You have to invest the time in training. You know my 13 year old son knows everything that he knows and has no concept of what he doesn’t know. Let’s take “13 year old son” out of that sentence. You know what you know very well but you will have very little concept of what you don’t know if you don’t know it.

Let’s relate that to development. You want (or need) to learn Windows Azure, let’s say. Windows Azure is a huge platform and as with any complex platform, there are many different ways to architect solutions targeted at the platform. Some ways are more performant than others, while some ways are more cost-effective than others. There are also ways to have a balance between the two (“do it right and get the job done better” as Mitch says above); however, finding out how to do so would be challenging unless you either have the experience of previous trial-and-error attempts or take training from others who have done it and learn from their experiences.

Imagine the IT pro or developer that doesn’t participate in community events (user groups) or doesn’t go to events held by Microsoft or Microsoft partners, and by the way, there is nothing wrong with that, but then how would you know that there are things that you don’t know? By telling your boss “hey look, there’s something out there that I don’t know, and therefore I don’t know what is the proper way to do it.” This is why training and certification matters. By the way, if you don’t think that you can have that conversation with your boss, and convince them that you need those training days, bring me in. I'll have that conversation for you and in no time, I’ll convince him or her.

You know what? CxOs don’t care about what’s cool out there. They care about one very simple equation – how do I increase ROI and reduce cost of ownership. The answer to that is – train your people properly, invest in their training.

I remember, back in the day, I used to have this discussion with one of my old employers and somehow, the discussion always came down learning something on my own. The thought was if I could learn it on my own, that’s more cost effective, and therefore additional paid training and certification were not approved.

I did say before that there is more than one way to skin a cat. There is more than one way to learn something the right way. I didn’t say there was more than one way to do something the right way. There is more than one way to learn how to do something the right way. If you can’t get the X days off to take a course – your boss says to you “learn it on your own time” – say to him/her “you know what boss? I could probably learn it almost as well as the course, but I still need books and still need the certification afterwards.” and get him/her to invest in that. You can learn the right way from books, online forums, and articles. Just make sure that you don’t hack your way through it and learn it the way you think you should be learning it. Don’t just get the frameworks and just start going at it and think you’re going to be an excellent, excellent developer.

Now It’s Your Turn

How have you approached training and certification with your employer? How did you pitch your business case? Which approaches have worked and which haven’t? Share your thoughts.

Conversation Continued

Stay tuned for more insights from my conversation with Mitch as we chat about actually taking exams, some tips and tricks, and what to do after an exam, whether you pass or fail.

Mitch Garvis

Mitch Garvis is a Renaissance Man of the IT world with a passion for community.  He is an excellent communicator which makes him the ideal trainer, writer, and technology evangelist. Having founded and led two major Canadian user groups for IT Professionals, he understands both the value and rewards of helping his peers. After several years as a consultant and in-house IT Pro for companies in Canada, he now works with various companies creating and delivering training for Microsoft to its partners and clients around the world. He is a Microsoft Certified Trainer, and has been recognized for his community work with the prestigious Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award. He is an avid writer, and blogs at http://garvis.ca.