Degree versus certification

Anish Rao

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. You’re a talent recruiter for Best Buy corporate. You get a call to come into your boss’s office, immediately a million thoughts come into your brain. What could it be? What did I do wrong? Is this the end? Will I be fired? You hesitantly stroll into your boss’s office.

You two have a short chat, and he hands you an assignment. Your team is tasked with the job of looking for viable candidates to fill multiple Cyber Security positions.

The boss slides you a manila folder with a stack of résumés and yells “get to work.” You start flipping and skimming through résumé after résumé, until finally you have two choices, do you fill the position with someone with a master’s degree or a bachelor’s degree with one security certification?

I pose the age old question: which option is worth more in the eyes of the employer, a degree or a certification? I spoke with multiple people in the Cyber Security industry, and they’ve all come to the same conclusion; they’d rather hire the person with a four-year-degree and a certification.

Earning a certification takes time, money and energy. These are the same ingredients required to earn a masters degree, but the catch is the certification shows initiative and sets you apart from the pack. More often than not, people use the same tried old methods to get what they are seeking—it becomes monotonous. Employers are looking for a break from the conventional and are craving something different.

Dr. Keith Harrison, the Lead Software Architect at the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS), agreed with me, saying to not pursue a master’s degree. Instead, he’d encourage Cyber employees to get a good security certification, it’s a lot cheaper and usually doesn’t take two years.

When you eventually get to the fork in the road, ask yourself, “How can I make myself more valuable?” While the path to a certification can be a difficult one, ultimately it will end up being rewarding.

If you are currently a Cyber Security major I would encourage you to forgo pursuing a master’s degree. Instead, get at least one security certification after you complete your bachelor’s.

I’d recommend getting the COMPTIA A+ certification as a first steppingstone to obtaining Network+ and Security+ certificates. A+ covers a variety of issues and is essential for IT Operational roles, plus it’s only $211 dollars.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide. After speaking to multiple people in the industry, I know the path I’m going to take when I reach that fork in the road.