How to Trivialize a Certification in 10 Days – They’re Called Brain Dumps for a Reason

You ever know that one guy that had every certification known to man and he was still just barely brighter than a firefly? A firefly will do if you have no other source of light, but the sun and light bulbs and LEDs are a lot brighter in my book.

What Are They?

Some of you may not know what a brain dump is, or you might know it as a different name. A brain dump, simply put, is a collection of questions and answers that are lifted directly from a test. Sometimes these are provided by exam proctors who think they’re helping. Others are delivered by exam-takers who intentionally and knowingly break their NDA with a vendor. Sometimes they may be unwittingly discussed when peers are talking about their experiences. The bottom line is this: they give you the exact answers to the test.

So What?

Many people argue that they are an invaluable final preparation resource. Such claims may or may not have merit, but once again, this is cheating. Some test questions are extremely tricky and are intended to make you think. That’s the purpose of these exams: to make you think about what you’re striving for. They validate your skills. If you use a brain dump, how are you challenging yourself or validating your skills in any way? This brings us to our next point.

De-Valuation

The proliferation of these brain dumps has, in many ways, lessened the value of all certifications in general. For those who do not use these dumps and strive to learn a vendor’s way through trial of fire, it cheapens our own worth. It makes our hard work and dedication a trivial thing compared to someone who just crammed a dump and then took the test. Yes, in the long run it will be obvious who actually knows the material and who just used a brain dump. In the short run, however, it invalidates one of the primary selling points of certification: separation of knowledge and talent.

The Result

Remember that firefly analogy I made? It wasn’t just to be cute. I have known, and will know again in the future, people who have every certification ever known to man.

How often do you think I ask these people for their expert opinions?

  • (A) Sometimes
  • (B) Purple
  • (C) Always
  • (D) lol

If you guessed (C) Always, you should probably look for crayons in your brain (a la Homer Simpson).

On a more serious note, though, these people have historically utilized brain dumps until their eyes bled (because of all of the dumping their own brains did). They didn’t actually know anything about any of the products from any of the vendors from which they held certifications. I knew one guy who had his Network+ that didn’t know what a routing protocol was and another guy with his CCNA that couldn’t tell the difference between a management IP/interface and an interface/IP meant to pass traffic–despite the fact that this information was easily available just by reading the config!

Solution Proposal

This one goes out to all of the hiring managers out there. Or to anyone involved in the hiring process, really.

If you’re going to make a certification (or “equivalent knowledge”) a requirement for a job, don’t trust what’s on the paper to make that decision.

If you require a specific certificate or equivalent knowledge, then you need to have some sort of “hands-on” test during the in-person interview that validates the skills a candidate and his certificate claim to have. If hands-on is out of the question because you can’t afford a sufficient lab or for some other reason, at least have a theory test that the candidate must answer–and in person. A test prior to submitting an application isn’t really a test–the candidate can just use the Internets! And if he can’t find it on the Internets, I guarantee you one of two things: it doesn’t exist OR the candidate will call the creator of the Internets–Al Gore himself–and ask the all-knowing personally.

If you don’t have the technical know-how to judge something like that, ask your technical lead to sit in on the interview. If you don’t have one, pick your subject matter expert. If you don’t have an SME, get one.

Conclusion

Look, bottom line is that brain dumps are harmful for everyone. When you use them, you’re honestly just dumping nonsense onto your test. If you don’t understand the material, why do you want to lie with a piece of paper that says you do? If you do understand the material, why cheapen yourself (and others) by cheating?

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Post-Mortem Disclaimer

The views expressed here belong to me. They don’t belong to the company I work for, and they certainly don’t belong to any other being in existence. If I said it, then it’s what I feel. I’m sorry if you think that the words of an individual represent the views of a whole. You should probably go back to school for a while and learn some basic history/psychologically/math/anything.
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  1. Amen!!! Great post. I highly recommend the changes to hiring practices for engineers.

    • Hi, Joe.

      Thanks for reading–I really appreciate it!

      I don’t hold much in the way of certifications, but I am proud of the ones I have.

      The changes to the hiring process could really help alleviate the effects of brain dumps. I’m going to approach my boss about it next week, actually.

    • Wow! Please don’t be offended, but I honestly didn’t know who you were until I was trying to catch up on Twitter.

      Thanks again for reading!

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