Getting a Cisco Certification or a College Degree

Please provide advice. I want to work in the computer industry. Should I get a computer oriented college degree or my Cisco certification?

Over the past month or so I have received a number of questions on this topic. Interestingly, most of these questions referred to Cisco based certifications versus undergraduate college degrees in computer science. Thank you to all those who wrote to me with this question.

If you currently have neither a college degree nor a professional certification, such as one of the Cisco certifications, both would be of professional advantage to you in different ways and for different reasons. As a result, the one you should work on first is based upon your personal and financial ability to go to school full time for a four year Bachelor of Science (BS) degree.

If your answer is yes and you have the opportunity to do a full time four year degree program, then I would suggest going to college for a BS in Computer Science first. Not only will you learn an enormous amount on a wide range of technical topics, it will also give you a permanent credential that can increase your life-long earning power. Additionally, don’t underestimate the great benefits of being immersed in a full time academic environment in regard to:

• The non-technical topics in your curriculum will broaden you as a person by providing insights into topics outside of your chosen professional vocation • The people you will meet that will ultimately become professional contacts • The wide range of personal and professional opinions and outlooks you will observe • The power of having your university’s alumni as potential employers and mentors • Having a little fun in the process

In effect, the full time academic experience grows you as a person, increases your worldliness, and helps prepare you for both work and life in general. Then, with your degree in hand, and hopefully a job upon graduation, getting a technical certification early in your career will help you gain and illustrate specific technical proficiency. This proficiency, in turn, can help you move up more quickly within the technical ranks.

If your answer to my earlier question regarding your ability to attend college full time is no, then I suggest getting the certification first and then attending night school on a part time basis for your degree.

The reason for this rationale is that the certification will take less time and less money to achieve and as a result, you will have a marketable professional credential much sooner. Then, use your newly gained skills and credential to get the type of job that will start you on your professional technical journey.

Your new professional employment and the increased income it provides should allow you to increase your life style and help fund your part-time night classes toward your B.S. degree. Also, with a little luck and/or good planning, the company you work for may provide tuition reimbursement and an employee benefit, thus, helping you fund your college classes.

I went to school nights for my Master’s Degree. At least for me, night school wasn’t much fun. There were many times at the end of a long workday when the last thing in the world I felt like doing was going to a night class, but I did and, for me, it was well worth it.

My hope is that if you take this second alternative, by choice or necessity, that you stick it out at night and finish your degree. Getting a B.S. degree at night generally takes more than twice as long as it does full time, but it is doable. It also feels twice as hard, because you generally have other personal and professional commitments, but once you have it, like the full time version, it’s yours forever.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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