Which way to go in my continuing education?
December 29, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I finished my associates two years ago and I believe it is time to begin taking classes again in order to improve myself. As an IT professional, should I aim for useful certificates or a bachelor's degree?

I completed a "Network and IT Support" associates degree with a "Network Administration" certificate from a local community college two years ago.

For the last three years I've been working as the IT support for a smallish law firm (50 attorneys + staff). I handle everything - network support, Exchange mail server, web page maintenance, PC hardware and software support, purchasing and inventory, phone systems. I also research future directions for the firm, such as a new VoIP system, security policies and document management systems. Most of this I was never specifically trained for.
(Aside: Best instructor I had never answered questions. She always replied, "You have Google in front of you, don't you? When you start working you'll be faced with all sorts of crazy things that you aren't prepared for and isn't documented." That was so, so true.)

Anyways, now that the wedding and house purchasing is over I have the time and funds to begin going back to class. There are several general directions I can take:

One is to go back to the local community college and take classes specific to things I am having to deal with but was never specifically trained in, like Exchange or Oracle.

Another option is to aim for certificates at the community college. Specifically I'm looking at the eight course Cisco Academy.

The third option is to go for a bachelor's of some sort, either online or at a local state university. I'm not sure what I'd go for, though. If they have degrees that naturally follow what I've been doing that would be ideal.

Financially, attending the community college would be ideal since my wife works there and I would be paying about $50 a credit. The cost of attending a full college would limit me to 1 class a term as I don't want to take out any more loans. My employers don't cover additional education.

Something to keep in mind is that I'm looking towards becoming more useful and effective at my current job but not at the expense of seeking any future employment.

All advice and ideas are welcome. Thanks!
posted by charred husk to Education (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW most of the jobs I see listed require or at least mention a preference for a degree. Few mention or require certificates. However having them would certainly be a major plus.
posted by Gungho at 9:12 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a person who has been in this position, do a little bit of both. Get a certification or two while you get the bachelors. But seriously, get the bachelors. Do it in any program that you can get through -- a B.A. in Underwater Basketweaving is fine, just as long as you can tic that HR checkbox.

See if you can get a job at a college or university and get discounted tuition for yourself. Honestly, I'd suggest taking the loans if you have to to get the bachelors.

Are you interested in security? Willing to migrate to work at a three letter agency? The government offers a "Scholarship for Service" program where they will fund your education in exchange for a few years working at said agency. This might be an alternate way to fund school.

Hell, switch to an employer that _does_ offer education benefits. But get that degree.
posted by bfranklin at 9:16 AM on December 29, 2011

Well, in software engineering, some (but not all) care about college degrees, but NOBODY cares about certs.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:32 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal: My bosses don't care about certs and won't even talk to you unless you have a degree. We are a software development shop.
posted by rickim at 9:52 AM on December 29, 2011

Software development is so different from networking though. In networking/IT all you need is job experience and certifications. Get a CCNA or CCIE if you can. That plus your job experience will open a lot of doors for you.
posted by empath at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2011

Degrees are also about the only thing that means anything in immigrations evaluations if you ever want to work in another country.
posted by -harlequin- at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2011


I work in a mega-huge firm that has an extremely large IT department. We care not about nearly all certifications.

The exceptions are CISSP, CCNA, and CCIE, even if you're not running Cisco equipment in your job. CISSP is the biggest one, many people even put it in their email signature, like as if it was "Esq."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:47 AM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

degree. I couldn't care less about someone interviewing with me holding 20 certs unless they also held a degree or enough experience for me to throw the degree qualification out the window.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:56 AM on December 29, 2011

Nthing degree. Also, while it may be slow, the ability to get your degree while employed and therefore not racking up huge student debt is a huge plus. I'd trim the budget as much as possible to be able to get this degree as fast and debt-free as possible. Maybe get an assessment of your transcript from the CS department, get the max transferable credits from your community college to economise, and then make the move.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:32 AM on December 29, 2011

« Older Can i make a reality show into a musical?   |   We know where we're going, just not where we're... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.