There has been an ongoing debate about the value of professional certifications since they became popular in the 1990s. Unfortunately, many of these professional certifications received bad publicity for producing professionals with theoretical knowledge and little or no hands-on experience.
Professional certifications have come a long way since then and have a place next to formal college or university education and offer verifiable proof of knowledge and hands-on skills.
This article will explain certifications and help you decide if they can benefit your optical networking career.
What are professional certifications?
Professional certifications are a third-party validation of an individual’s knowledge and skills in a specific industry such as telecommunications, information technology, project management, etc. Most professional certifications are affiliated with professional associations such as the Project Management Institute and ISACA or vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, and Nokia.
Certifications can require some of the following ways to verify skills:
- Passing multiple-choice exams (usually managed by a third-party (e.g., Pearson VUE, Prometric, etc.)
- Passing practical lab exams to test a candidate’s hands-on ability to design, configure, and manage optical networks
- Proof of experience
Most certifications are timebound and expire if they are not maintained or updated through additional testing or proof of continuing education requirements being met. These certification requirements show an individual’s commitment to the profession and continuous learning and should be considered more valuable.
Optical certifications vs degrees
Depending on your role or desired optical networking career path, you may only be required to have a professional certification.
However, in most cases, for the more skilled optical positions like those mentioned below, you will require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in optical engineering, optics, physics, electrical, or computer engineering:
- Optical Network Engineer
- Optical Network Planner
- Optical Network Architect
In many cases, professional certifications can serve as a bridge to the optics field from degrees that are not specific to optical. And certifications are often more relevant and up to date than degree programs that may be dated; this is especially important in optical networking. Many roles may also be required to have vendor-specific knowledge that can be validated through professional certification.
Individual and organizational benefits
Having a successful and rewarding career in optical networking, like many other fields, is highly dependent on your ability to keep your skills current. It’s also equally important for organizations to develop robust development plans for employees. And certification is the validator that says your skills are up to date and verifiable.
From an individual perspective, certifications offer the following benefits:
- Helps you gain a competitive edge with recruiters and hiring managers – When comparing candidates with similar experience, certifications can favour candidates with relevant certifications. In addition, certifications prove your commitment to continuous learning and your desire to stay current on the latest technologies.
- Increase your compensation and opportunities for promotion – Some employers will pay professionals more with certifications and promote those with certifications ahead of those without. It also makes it easier to ask for promotions when negotiating a raise.
- Improve your credibility and amplify your brand – Most optical networking professionals maintain profiles on LinkedIn and can promote themselves as they acquire new credentials. This can add to your credibility, help your profile stand out, and make it easier to find you through a search. Many certification providers also provide shareable, secure, and verifiable digital badges that make it easy to promote your skills.
- Improve your confidence and productivity – Becoming certified means that you have gone through a learning and validation process and provides you with a deeper understanding of best practices to improve your productivity and confidence in taking on new tasks.
From an organizational perspective, certifications offer the following benefits:
- Increased employee satisfaction and job retention when you invest in your employees – With the demand high for skilled optical networking professionals, the need to keep employees happy is paramount to retaining your talent. Investing in your employee’s development shows you are committed to them.
- Organizations that invest in training and certification will see a return on investment – Several factors can provide a return on investment in training and certification, including:
- Closing organizational skills gaps that could slow your ability to innovate
- Boosting organizational skills and productivity can result in faster time to market, less downtime, better support, and an enhanced customer experience
Is an optical networking certification right for you?
An optical networking certification may not be for everyone but can be a great way to highlight your expertise, shows your commitment, and amplify your brand. Here are some things to consider:
- Develop a career plan – When deciding if a certification is right for you, you should consider your future goals, interests, and what you want to accomplish.
- Understand what employers are looking for – Are you new to the field of optics, are you trying to be promoted, or are you looking for a new role? Research to understand the expectations by speaking with optical professionals already in a position you desire and reviewing optical job descriptions. For example, some roles will require general vendor-neutral knowledge, while others may require specific product knowledge (e.g., Nokia, Ciena, etc.).
- Does your experience or expertise need a boost? If you are new to the field, lack the right degree, or want to stand out, an industry-recognized certification could be right for you. In addition, many certification programs often include communities where like-minded professionals can share experiences and network.
- What are the certification requirements and credibility of the provider? Ensure you understand what is expected and choose an industry-recognized certification provider with updated requirements that test more than just theoretical skills.
- What is the investment? Understand the investment in time and money required to become certified; more advanced certifications can take years. Will your employer fund the process, or will you need to invest yourself?
Once you have considered all the factors, the decision to become certified will become clear.
Nokia Optical Network Certification (ONC) Program
Shaping you for the future of optical networking.
The Nokia Optical Network Certification (ONC) program is an end-to-end learning program mainly supporting Nokia 1830 Photonic Service Switch (PSS) and Network Functions Manager for Transport (NFM-T) based networks.
Demonstrate your expertise by achieving one or more of our four industry-recognized certifications that prove you have the necessary knowledge and practical skills to perform on the job. Whether your goal is to enhance your optical networking skills or verify your expertise through certification, we’re here to get you, your career, and your organization on the right path. Learn more.
This article was written by Darron Barr
Darron promotes Nokia’s industry-recognized training and certifications for the IP & Optical Networks Business Group and supports a global community of stakeholders to enable employee and customer success through continuous education.