As some of you may already know I left full-time traditional University last year for financial and personal reasons and am now continuing my degree part-time with the Open University (which I'm so far finding much more enjoyable and rewarding). I had hoped that now I am no longer studying full-time I could gain some "real-world" experience and have in recent months been looking for an entry-level IT job suitable for a school-leaver with some college education. Unfortunately because I'm not eligible for unemployment benefits and still have credit card and overdraft debt from my student days I now need some income desperately. I'm about to accept a full-time position at a well-known multi-national fast-food restaurant for the minimum wage of £4.10 an hour.
This morning I was contacted by an IT company based in North London which was apparently so impressed with my CV which they found through a recruitment agency that they were calling to arrange an interview. Unfortunately, my fiancé has had dealings with this company in the past; they said the same thing to him and when he went for the interview they gave him a talk about how essential IT certification was to the industry in an attempt to persuade him to part with over £1,000 for an ECDL. When I explained that I had heard of their company and was aware of what they do the lady on the phone tried a different approach, trying to persuade me to enrol on their "Complete Learning Programme", which is the ECDL, A+, N+, MCSE and CCNA at a cost, after applying a lot of pressure on her to find out, of £8,000 (just over $15,000 USD).
I've been to school with people who have thought that they could jump straight into the industry with an A Level in Maths and graduation from the Cisco Network Academy Programme and have seen them fail dramatically. Conversely, I know a number of senior skilled programmers I respect whom have lost their jobs to people straight out of high school who know only what they've been taught on these certification courses. I'm a great believer of Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years and I have to say that the actions of this company this morning haven't made me look any more favourably on the whole issue of certification, but I'm now beginning to think that at least without my degree it may have to be something I need to consider if I want some pregraduate IT experience. (although that company won't be receiving my custom, of course).
Firstly, I'd be interested to know what you think of certification; in terms of how it helps in finding employment and how useful it could be in filling gaps of knowledge. Is there a general consensus as to which certifications are more worthwhile than others? Or should I eschew the whole notion of certification (and to a lesser extent real-world experience – the IT job market seems competitive enough for those with degrees and/or experience, let alone small fish like me) and instead focus on my studies, becoming the best programmer (as opposed to language-of-the-month coder) I can be and deepening my involvement with the Open Source community? (That sounds more enjoyable, at least).
Secondly, what would you do if you found yourself in my situation? I have a vague idea of the next step I should take, but I'd like some guidance and perspective. Thanks in advance.