Almost Everyone Starts Out as “Paper”
Some regard “book learning” with such distain you would think no
professional ever needed to, or should, consult a printed reference. It’s
important to remember that most occupations require a mastery of two very
different components: knowledge and skill. The first can be obtained from books;
the second comes only with “doing.”
Doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers – all professional education models
start with theory and then move into the skills area. Physicians in training
cannot be put into a clinical setting before they’ve acquired the knowledge to
interpret what they see there. Attorneys-to-be cannot be thrown into the
courtroom and expected to represent a client before they’ve studied legal
concepts and cases.
In most fields, you must get the “paper” (diploma or degree) before
you’re allowed to practice in the field. IT in some ways is unusual in that it’s
still possible to learn on the job, and acquire the “paper” later.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s the only – or even best – way to do it.
When IT pros talk about “paper certifications,” the term doesn’t
mean the same to everyone. Some use it to refer to a newbie who has studied in
the classroom or on his own, passed the exams, but has had no hands-on
experience with the product. Others use it to describe anyone who obtains a cert
without having held a paying job in the tech industry. Still others define it
more narrowly, applying it only to those who obtained their certifications by
“cramming and dumping” (memorizing answers to test questions from
“exam cram” guides, “cheat sheets,” certain practice tests
and so-called “brain dumps” – all of which attempt to find out the
exact questions and answers on the certification exams and provide these for
“study” (sort of like back in high school when someone stole a copy of
the final and passed it around before test day; you know, what we used to call
The first and second meanings above should not be considered derogatory. They
merely describe a person who is still in the early stages of their IT training.
The third definition definitely is considered a “slam.” That’s
the kind of “paper MCSE” that you definitely don’t want to be – and
the kind no employer wants to hire.