Fake Certs — what they are, and why they’re bad

A “Fake Cert” is a certification you haven’t earned and don’t deserve.

That might trigger some poeple — but it will make sense if you read on.

“Fake Certs” are bad for employers, they’re a risk for projects you work on, and they’ll negatively impact your career. If you want to avoid them, you need to understand what they are, and why they’re bad for YOU! so read on. 👇

What a cert should do

I want you to picture a new unit of measure … “Knowledge Units (KU)” (stick with me here — it makes this easier to understand)

IT certifications should measure how much knowledge on that specific topic you have. I use knowledge here to mean “theory” and experience of “doing” those things. The example certification I’ll use through this article is the AWS Solutions Architect Associate.

This is a mid-level AWS certification and passing it should mean you can function in a real associate-level solutions architect role..

Let's assume that the collective associate-level architect skills are worth 100 KU’s. This means, logically, to operate as an Associate Solutions Architect you should have 100 KU’s of knowledge.

Following on from this, for an exam to be optimally effective (and this is really hard to do) it should test that 100 KU’s of knowledge in that domain. If you pass, you should possess 100 KU’s of knowledge in that domain. If an employer interviews someone with this certification, they should be able to rely on that individual having the 100KU’s of knowledge and the certainty it brings when sending that person to customers to design AWS solutions.

What a certification should do..

So…..This is what a certification SHOULD be and what it should represent. I hope at least right now, we agree?… but we all know, that’s not how certs are in reality.

What certs actually do

Cert exams are generally multi-choice, fairly brief, and won't test your skills at doing the actual tasks which will be expected of you in the real world.

In reality, a certification exam covers maybe ~10% of the knowledge you SHOULD have. Worse still, It tests only the surface level of that 10%. Doing well in an exam is often more about 1) being good at exams and 2) being able to store and recall facts and figures.

AWS is better than many vendors, but even with them, it means that any AWS exam conceptually looks something like the image below where every exam is testing a subset of the knowledge you should hold at that level.

This is what cert exams really do

Exam Focussed Content

With capitalism businesses naturally appear and grow to fill a need — but this need isn’t optimal for all participants in this system.

Once it becomes understood that cert exams only test a “small subset” of knowledge, courses will appear which only teach that subset.

The certification market is full of courses which are cheap, quick to take, and do get you that exam pass which you’re told matters. That fact you’re “told it matters”, is part of the problem. Be on the lookout for courses much shorter than others, or which use mainly slides and bullets. They tend to have few demos and are often cheap.

Why thats bad

This part is simple — if you “fake certify” you have a certification against your name, but thats all you have. You won’t have knowledge of the in-depth theory or the practical exposure to the tech platform you’ll need to obtain and keep a job.

As a job seeker, it means you’ll get invited to interviews you don’t really have the skills for. Assuming the potential employer has competent interview staff, your lack of REAL knowledge will be quickly identified the second you interview.

You’ll find it tough, if not impossible to get a job, because while you FEEL qualified — you aren't, at least not really.

Learning is about improving your skills, value and confidence. If you aren’t able to get a job or promotion then you are just wasting your time.

For an employer, it devalues the certifications. They can’t be used alone to gauge skills and as more people pass them, they are less able to distinguish between skilled and unskilled applicants.

Instead of two sets .. skilled and unskilled, you now have three, skilled, fake-skilled and unskilled.

As you move forward in your career, the fact you aren’t building a real foundation of skills will make each level you move through less and less ‘real’. If you fake pass associate level certs and then move onto the professional level you will find you have to fake pass that as well — real passing will be tough without a real lower level foundation.

If you make the mistake at the start, fix it ASAP — the longer you wait, the harder it becomes to correct.

What you can do about it

This part is easy, you need to become more demanding of your training providers and stop focussing on the certification as the end goal.

Understanding fake-certs exist, means you can focus on REAL skills and gain a massive advantage over your peers.

Stop Rushing : learning takes time, and there is no way to skip, or speed up the process. Focus on gaining skills in an efficient and structured way.

There is no compression algorithm for experience’ -Andy Jassy, CEO AWS

Stop Using Exam Focussed Content : it might sound like a good idea to use content designed to pass exams as quickly as possible, but it’s not! You have to consider the value of this alone —

Certs without skills adds little-to-no value for YOU.

Use Self Study, Personal projects or In-depth Content : Focus on improving your skills. This might be via self-study, personal projects or by using in-depth content which focusses on developing your broad real skills.

Full disclosure I create AWS content with this aim over at https://learn.cantrill.io — while my courses have massive certification success, that’s because my students gain real skills, the exam success is just a side effect. My students are successful with jobs and promotions because they leverage the new skills they gain, not because of the certification alone.

If you want an example of a skills focussed course for the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification, look no further :)

Any Exceptions?

You might be asked to “quickly get certs X Y & Z” by your employer, and there is no harm? I disagree, we’re humans and while we think we will come back and study properly for the cert later, in my experience this never happens.

Studying towards a certification is a great way of putting in place a structured learning plan. If you fake a cert for the benefit of your employer, you skip this step, and this can impact your career long term.

Your employer might benefit, but unless you receive something in return, what’s the point in damaging your long term learning.

You might already have the skills, so getting the cert is just a “rubber stamp”. Yes, but equally, if you really know the topics you can speed through a real in-depth course.. because you know it all, right ? Who knows, you might learn a few nuggets which prove super-valuable later on in your career.

So What? Why should I care?

Do certifications the right way. Learn the tech stack which the certification “should” represent. You’ll feel proud and confident, you will know real & useful skills, and an employer can rely on you to deliver.

Trust me when i say this, a real cert can get you jobs & promotions wheras a fake cert won't. And anyone who has the real skills, can spot the people who don’t a world apart — it’s THAT obvious.

This is something I’m really passionate about, I teach to help people improve their lives. Certification is a great tool if done the right way, as the final step to a path of learning real skills.

Technical Trainer, Cloud Architect, Tech, Productivity & Efficiency Obsessed wannabe minimalist.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store