On The Job: From Paper To Pro Page 2

Deb Shinder

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 "cheating").

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.

This article was originally published on Sep 18, 2000

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