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Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?

COW Blogs : Kylee Peña's Blog : Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
Occasionally I'll find myself in a discussion about FCP or Avid or Adobe certifications, typically on Twitter because where else do I ever talk to anyone? Usually a younger editor is asking about a specific certification, and a dozen industry vets jump in and go on and on about how certification is a complete waste of time and money, and no one should ever under any circumstances get a certification.

And I won't be surprised if any comments I get on this post are more of the same because I'm going to be uncharacteristically blunt and tell you that your opinion of certification is probably wrong.

Oh no I di'n't, girlfriend.

Yeah, I'll say it! If you can find no worth in a software certification for anyone, you're dead wrong. Boom. End of story. If you think I'm a moron, at least one of the following thoughts is probably yours. Here is why you are wrong.

"Certification just shows you can push some buttons."

EXACTLY. That is true, to an extent. If you have a certification, it shows that to some degree of accuracy determine by the powers that be, you can effectively control an NLE. Or you understand it well enough to feel your way through it. You have to have a good foundation in it, or else you wouldn't have passed the test. Does it mean you're a great editor? Hell no! Is it an indicator that you know what you're doing? Hell no! No one is saying that. They're just saying "I know where to hit the buttons in Avid to make the things do stuff, and here's proof." This is really useful for a younger editor. The job market is beyond saturated. If you don't have a lot of reputation or experience, you'll get filtered out quickly for the smallest reasons. A certification could possibly keep you in the hiring process through a round of cut-offs, simply because you have some tiny amount of demonstrable technical skill.

"A certification won't get you hired."

Nobody in their right mind gets a certification thinking it alone will lead directly to a post job. A certification is supporting evidence in two ways: 1) you can push the previously mentioned buttons; and 2) you are motivated enough to accomplish something that does require a good degree of studying and effort, not to mention some travel and time away is sometimes involved. Have you ever looked at a certification exam? I would bet many busy editors would fail because they aren't that deeply ingrained in the interface. They found their own path and have stuck with it. If you learn the software the way the manufacturer intended, you might be able to approach it a little differently. You might learn 3 ways to make something happen. You'll undoubtedly evolve -- and you should, because what the hell does a manufacturer know about real world editing? -- but you'll also be more open to taking different paths to the same end.

If you're naturally a good editor, you might find yourself a little frustrated at your technical skills. Your left brain can't keep up with your right brain. When I was in college finishing my degree, I was a little worried about my tech skills. I knew I had to be top notch when I entered the job market, and school just didn't give me everything I wanted. My professor suggested certification (I'm simplifying the story here though), so I did it. It gave me a broader understanding of FCP on a technical level that opened the doors to digging deeper which made me more confident overall.

"A certification doesn't help you tell your story."

Being fluent in the technology absolutely helps you tell a story. If you aren't distracted by the technical aspects of editing, you can work faster and spend more time on editorial decisions. A certification can serve as your foundation to being fluent in the tech.

"People who are certified always start off job interviews talking about it like it matters."

Maybe some do, but these are probably the same people who don't really understand their industry. Maybe they're inexperienced, maybe they're dense. You can't avoid either case in ANY industry. A few people that think their certification is a passport to greatness doesn't negate the entirety of certification.

And in many markets to many hiring dudes, certifications don't matter at all. However, if you're in a smaller city or you're applying to corporate jobs, you might be interviewed by an HR person, at least for the first round. You have to get past them to get to the person you really want to talk to, and they don't know anything about your industry. They speak in credentials. Lines on a resume matter to THEM.

"OK, take the class then, but why spend the money on the actual certification?"

Why NOT get the actual certification? You took the time to learn all the information in a specific way, drop the extra money for the piece of paper proving you did it. You can list it on your resume. You'll be in the database, have the paper, and maybe even get some logo you can use somewhere officially if you follow the 20 page rulebook on usage.

"There is no reason to get certified."

Let's see:
Gets you past the threshold of "does this silly person even know ANYTHING?"
Can help your confidence as an editor.
Shows you're committed.
Helps your storytelling skills indirectly.
A solid credential if it matters to your market.
A firm foundation of the NLE which might open you to things you missed in self-learning.
Motivation to keep learning, for the goal-oriented among us.
Newer editors can use it as leverage to show they give a damn. Older editors can use it to show their skills are still relevant.


That's my argument. Yeah, certification isn't for everyone. But it's not for no one.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Nov 29, 2012 at 5:39:58 pmComments (17) certification, post production


Re: Blog: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by walter biscardi
Nicely done Kylee. I'm still in the "it really doesn't prove much" category, but you make a very valid and compelling argument. You're a great writer too!

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

"This American Land" - our new PBS Series.

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Re: Blog: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Kylee Peña
Thanks, Walter!

You're right, it doesn't prove anything to you because you know what you're looking for and you aren't the audience for certification. But it's not a waste of time because it can help an individual on a more abstract basis beyond a simple credential. That's all I'm sayin'.

twitter: @kyl33t
Re: Blog: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by walter biscardi
More knowledge is never a bad thing.....

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

"This American Land" - our new PBS Series.

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Re: Blog: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Kylee Peña
Knowledge is power. The poster on my 7th grade science teacher's classroom door said so. Posters don't lie!

twitter: @kyl33t
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Paul Hawke-Williams
Well I've been on all three sides of the triangle - I've worked in University, freelanced as an editor and hired crew AND I'm a certified trainer!

As a company we know quite a lot of production facilities that don't put much weight on the certification but will think of it as a bonus point when it comes to having two candidates with equally good showreels - it can be a deciding factor sometimes, used in conjunction with a showreel.

And you're right - a certificate is usually about how you physically use the software and all of its features and not creativity most of the time, but what it does give you more often than not is efficiency - the ability to get to the same creative goal but using the tools that have been implemented within the software to enable a more efficient production.
We've had new editors and older, more experienced editors, come on our courses and 99% of the time at least one of them will say "I wish I knew that last week, it would have saved me so much time!" So whether the certification is gained or not we tend to train for real world scenarios based on the certified path with a little extra to boot.

There we are, 2 pence given lol

Paul Hawke-Williams
Media Trainer - Mac Support - Video Production
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Ned Miller
Once or twice a year, or when I am setting up a whole new computer system for editing (as in a few weeks with the new 27" iMac), and my favorite geek is unavailable, I will place an ad on Craigslist for a techno wiz to come to my office and help me set up the new system or perhaps save me from some techno mess I have created.

So getting a dozen or so responses, there is an assurance when I see "Certified..." I don't ask them to bring the diploma with them but from my perspective it doesn't hurt. I don't know what it costs to get certified but if you are freelancing I think it looks good.

I have a lot of sub specialties and one of them is (non-deposition) litigation support videos. I got certified by the American Guild of Court Videographers and it is a good thing I did because wow, there's a lot of things one can screw up and some cases are rolling the dice with millions of dollars. The point I am making is there is an assurance to the prospective client (I don't know about staff jobs) that someone who has been "certified" is a slight cut above someone who is not. Of course coming highly recommended is even more better! I have the certified mentioned on those business cards.

Ned Miller
Chicago Videographer
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Chris Potter
I think certifications also help with your own motivation.

An exam deadline forces you to make time to learn things that you might not otherwise do when you get busy. It's always easy to say I'm going read a book and then put it off.
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Bob Zelin
what I find interesting and amazing about "software certification" and traditional "education" is that learning a product thru "certification" is 1 billion times more worth it than going to college, and 1 billion times cheaper. A young person who becomes "certified" in AVID, Adobe, FCP, whatever, will have a MUCH better chance of getting a real job (because of his knowlege) than some poor schmuck whose parents spent between $30,000 and $100,000 a year to send him to "film school" or "communications school". The kid with the "certification" who actually can do After Effects, or Maya, or AVID, or whatever will get a job 100 times faster (because he is qualified) than some kid that knows nothing, but went to "film school", and has a 4.0 GPA.

So I am not a personal fan of certification, but for the young person who is not getting the opportunities that he needs, direct education from a REAL COMPANY that is going to teach him the ACTUAL PRODUCT, and not some theoretical nonsense, is going to be much better off. And his parents will still have a retirement account when they get done.

Bob Zelin

Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Todd Terry
I'll just make a quick observation not as someone wondering if a certification is right for me... but as an employer who gets job applications from people who may or may not be certified.

Admittedly it's been a while since I've hired anyone (we're fortunate to have maintained the exact same staff for quite a while now), but I still get tons of resumes and reels. And I do look at them (ok, maybe not right away... but eventually).

Personally, and this is just me, I couldn't care less if an applicant has any kind of Adobe certification. I only care that they can do what we need them to and do it well.

In fact, I can recall a few times through the years when watching a certified applicant's less-than-stellar reel wishing that they had spent a little less time working on grabbing that certification and a lot more time learning to be a great visual storyteller.

Of the five best editors that I personally know, I don't think any of them have any certification, probably don't even know there is such a thing. They are working pros and both terrific storytellers and technically savvy. Conversely, I can think of several certified editors that I'd never even consider hiring, their work is just not good.

In the American version of "The Office" whenever they did an interview with Michael Scott his shot was usually framed with a certificate or diploma of some kind over his shoulder in the background. Eventually I noticed that it was his certification as as Seiko watch owner. That's about they way I feel about these.

They just don't carry any weight with me.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Andrew Kimery
I agree that certifications are one avenue for self improvement (classes, books, webinars, etc. are others) but at the end of the day it comes to down your ability to edit, drawn, light, shoot... whatever your discipline may be. Learning how to use the gear is the simple part. I've worked with a number of great editors that surprised me with their limited technical knowledge but holy cow could they cut and that's the reason they were never short on work. I'm sure I could take a certification course for PS or AE and pass but lord help me if someone asked for anything beyond rudimentary graphic design work. That's just not where my skill set is even if I'm an ace at knowing how to sue the software.

Of course working in a major market like LA allows for more specialization than in other areas where wearing many hats is a requirement. As Bob said though, learning on the job from competent co-workers is the best kind of learning.

@Andrew Kimery
by Kylee Peña
I think as far as big markets go like LA, certifications can mostly serve as a confidence booster for a relatively green editor. Doesn't make you a great editor, but it can, at the very least, help you not freak out at the sight of an Avid.

twitter: @kyl33t
@Todd Terry
by Kylee Peña
Yes, but you aren't in the target audience of employers who like to see certifications because you actually have industry knowledge. An HR person who knows nothing might put value in it. For employees coming to you with a certification, it probably won't matter at all to you, but it may have helped them become the person they present to you.

A person with a certification IS trying to be a better visual storyteller by breaking down the technical barriers so they don't have to worry about the buttons and interface. It's rather unfair to look at someone's reel that might not be top notch and think "well, they really wasted their time working on that certification." Certification isn't an instant ticket to genius work. However, if I were in your shoes, I would think that a certification possibly shows that the person is committed to at least trying to improve themselves.

But it's fine if they don't carry any weight, I wouldn't expect them to which is why most of my blog post here is actually about how they help a person on a more abstract basis versus actually being the key to a job.

twitter: @kyl33t
@Bob Zelin
by Kylee Peña
Not only do they have a better chance of getting a real job, they also have a better chance of not having to eat cans of beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to afford the $500/month student loan payments.

Undergraduate degrees are another argument, but I'll say I kind of wish I had just majored in like art history or something.

twitter: @kyl33t
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Jim Biffle

Nice post! I had asked this question a few years ago on a COW forum. Got some interesting responses! I will say that although my ACE certificate in Photoshop hasn't landed me any gigs or earned me a raise at previous jobs I think it was a good experience. I bought a book, some practice tests and did all self study. It was nice getting that piece of paper! Felt like I accomplished something important!

At one point I had thought about getting certified in After Effects and Premiere as well. A while back I had asked a guy I was freelancing for if my cert helped make his decision to hire me. His response, "Nope! All I cared about was your reel and what software you know".

I think you're right in that they aren't a total waste of time but I think it all depends on what part of the industry you're going into. Personally, I don't think I'll be going for the AE and Pr certs but who knows! I may change my mind down the road.

If you're interested here is a link to the thread I posted a few years ago.

Take Care!

@Jim Biffle
by Kylee Peña
That thread is pretty much what I encounter when this comes up too. It's very short-sighted.

No one is getting hired purely on a certification. BUT, that certification may have still been a part in getting you hired. You internalized it and can't separate what you gained from doing it anymore. The credential and what you truly gained from it become two different things. It's kind of abstract, but for many people, doing stuff like this actually does help them evolve into a better editor.

I feel like that's the point that's always missed.

twitter: @kyl33t
Re: Are Software Certifications a Complete Waste of Time?
by Juan Salvo
Some jobs. Particularly those in a corporate environment do prefer applicants with certification. Mostly cause it takes the load off some poor hr person trying to hire someone qualified in a field they know nothing about.

So it's worth it in that regard.

Now, is the benefit worth the cost of the certification? That to me is not so clear.

Colorist | Online Editor | Post Super | VFX Artist | BD Author
@Juan Salvo
by Kylee Peña
Yeah, I mentioned HR people. Though when it comes to explicitly being asked for a certification, I can only recall 1 job out of approximately 4 million postings when I was getting ready to graduate where that was an actual requirement in the description.

Benefit vs. cost is like any other continuing or higher education-related thing. Is an undergrad degree worth the cost? Is online training worth the cost? A book like Avid Agility? Masters degree? The answer will be different for everyone.

twitter: @kyl33t

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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