Is VMware helping to Widen the Digital Divide?

vmwareBack in the mid 90’s I had a job where I gradually worked my way up from cleaning rooms at a major hotel chain to taking reservations.  I made a commanding $20,000 a year.  However, I felt I could do so much more.  I had always had a knack for technology.  I started programming as a hobby in 5th grade and continued to be a DOS/Windows power user throughout the years.  I felt that I could do IT for a living.  I kept at it and eventually got a job working the 3rd shift helpdesk at a trading software company.  The job paid a whopping $4000 more a year.  More importantly, it created opportunity for me to gain both experience and expand my knowledge of technology through self study.

The great thing about working the 3rd shift is that you have a lot of time to read.  Since, I supported primarily Windows 3.1 and Windows 95 clients; I decided to sit for the Installing and Supporting Windows 95 exam.  Passing the exam would earn me the title of Microsoft Certified Professional.  I have to admit that of all the “entry level” exams I’ve taken the Windows 95 exam was the most difficult.  It was more difficult than the NT 4.0 Workstation and Server exams.  I was extremely proud of the hard work and sense of accomplishment.  More importantly the certifications lead to my next opportunity working for a Fortune 500 publishing company in Chicago.  It was more “lowly” help desk work but I almost doubled my salary.  Gaining the certification was a big deal and I would not have been able to do it without self study.

Trying to support a family of five, I would have simply not been able to afford taking formal classes toward certification, bearing the expenses of supplemental material and paying for the actual exam attempt.  However, without the vendor certification and any other formal education my hopes of moving up the career ladder would have been grim.  I continued down the self study certification route and eventually went on to obtain my Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), Certified Netware Engineer (CNE) and Certified Cisco Network Associate (CCNA) certifications.  This was a clear example of how non-traditional education and a strong job market helped me jump both the economic and digital divide associated with low income families.

By the early 2000’s Microsoft had run into a perception issue with its certification program.  The exams became a case study in how not to implement a broad certification program and maintain the credibility of the certification.  People quickly learned how to cheat their way to the MCSE certification.  A number of “testing aids” popped up in the market.  Many of the aids were no more than dumps of the questions and answers of the actual exams.  Testers only needed to memorize the answers to the exam questions without actually knowing how to perform the underlying work.  Companies hired these “Paper” MCSE’s and found their skills to be lacking thus devaluing the certification program.  The term Paper MCSE dogged the program for years after.

Both Novell and Cisco learned from this early experience and modified their test methodology with adaptive testing which adjusted the difficulty and topics of the test as it progressed and the integration of simulations that required the user to perform tasks based on the objectives of the exam.  When I needed to renew my CCNA in 2010, I was surprised at how difficult the test had become.  As someone that has moved into the role of managing administrative resources versus performing administrative tasks, I was impressed with the test’s ability to measure skill level.

Virtualization is the hottest part of the job market for infrastructure focused professionals.  VMware is leading the way with some of the most advanced virtualization management software on the market.  VMware is also leading the charge into managing the data center via their software based products.  They call it the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC).  VMware has become the defacto standard for x86 virtualization in the enterprise.  With that there has been a large demand for VMware certified administrators and engineers.  VMware’s popular entry level certification is called VMware Certified Profression – Datacenter Virtualization (VCP5-DV).

Now, before I get into my main objection with VMware’s certification program let me preference it by saying it is VMware’s program.  They are a publically traded company with obligations to their stockholders which primarily involves making a profit while limiting risk.  So, they can choose to implement their certification program anyway they believe meets the organizations goals.  I on the other hand have a vested interest in seeing people with low earning potential raise their earning potential and create more opportunity.

My primary objection to VMware’s program is that if I were in the same position now that I was in more than 15 years ago I wouldn’t be able to entertain VMware as a way to enter the technology space or advance my career as I had with Microsoft and Cisco certifications.  VMware requires that any candidate for their certification take some type of class room training to qualify for their entry level exam.  From my understanding you have two paths to qualify.

  1. Obtain in training from a VMware Approved Training Partner
  2. Obtain training from a VMware Approved Academic Partner

I read this as VMware Certification process doesn’t care if you have the knowledge required to be qualified to perform the work associated with the certification.  They care that you have the skill and have taken the course.  I’ve taken the Install, Configure and Manage vSphere 5.0 which is one of the courses you can take to qualify for the VCP5-DV certification.  While informative, I didn’t find anything in the material that required a certified instructor to help me understand.  There are plenty of blogs and 3rd party training materials available to help me gain the skill necessary to obtain the certification.  From a resource perspective, you can put together a fairly decent virtualization lab using just an off the shelf PC hardware and demo software.

The great divide

Again, the issue isn’t that the material of the class isn’t relevant or helpful.  The issue is that those not in a position to have their companies sponsor the formal training don’t have access to this high area growth within tech.  I have to ask the question why VMware has the requirement at all.  Even the industry revered Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) program doesn’t require their candidates to take formal training.  My only conclusion is that one, it’s a profit center and two it artificially limits the number of certified professionals in the workforce which helps to creates a higher premium for the certification.

I believe the side effect of the policy is that it widens the digital divide.  I personally couldn’t have afforded to pay $4000 to $6000 for a VMware approved course back when I started out and I have had discussions with engineers who’d like to retool their skill set and make themselves more marketable by obtaining a VMware certification.  This being a free market and virtualization becoming more competitive made me consider what would happen if enough engineers went an alternate route?

Like the enterprise that can’t afford the upfront costs associated with VMware vSphere, administrators may look into alternative platforms to gain certification.  This may also have the effect of them influencing the decision on virtualization platform for the enterprise.  Hyper-V for example has made enough strides in their virtualization platform to give serious pause to an organization that is considering a VMware platform but already has a large Microsoft based infrastructure.  As the virtualization market continues to mature the demand for VCP’s may also taper while the demand for Citrix, Microsoft and Redhat virtualization certifications rise.  Another wild card in the bunch is any Openstack related certifications that may become available.

I’d love to have a discussion around this topic and if you think VMware should open their certification program to candidates that haven’t taken formal training.

Published by Keith Townsend

Now I'm @CTOAdvisor

15 thoughts on “Is VMware helping to Widen the Digital Divide?

  1. Totally agree – as a lapsed VCP (3.5) I find it galling to have to stump up the $$$ to sit through a bunch of courses to re-do the exam. If I was not working for a company the size of the one that I do, or have a forward thinking dept. that encourages training I would be screwed again. There should be options for those who cannot afford to go on the courses, or want alternatives – this area is ripe for innovation.

    1. Perfect example. You have a solid understanding of virtualization with a VCP (3.5). Why in the world do you need a formal class to come up to speed with 5.0. Much has change but not the foundation of VMware virtualization technology.

  2. Absolutely agree. Also for anyone unemployed, but with a very good working knowledge, how is that person to afford the official course that is required before taking the exam. Hopefully employers can take this into account. i.e if experience and self learning are evident, then any certification requirement can be discretionary.

  3. Absolutely agree. Also for anyone unemployed, but with a very good working knowledge, how is that person to afford the official course that is required before taking the exam. Hopefully employers can take this into account. i.e if experience and self learning are evident, then any certification requirement can be discretionary.
    It would be great if VMware would allow certification exams to be taken without the mandatory taking of the official courses.

    1. I didn’t realise Rackspace had an OpenStack certification, that’s cool. It looks elementary, constrained to operations mostly and not infrastructure design/optimisation, but it’s great it exists at all.

  4. Great post and you’re totally on point. I’ve taken pretty much the same route. Self study over the years for MCSE, CNE and CCNA. I’m fortunate to have my company fund my VCP training and certification and I think of all the talent out there that’s deserving of getting their VCP cert but cannot afford doing the class o nether own, but have the chops for self study.

    I think over time vmware will recognize that the additional revenue stream of training classes will fall to people taking the less financial impacting route such as Openstack and Redhat certs. They are viable and strong certs, and add credibility to any resume.

  5. As a heads up, you can often take the required course (Install, Configure, Manage) at an approved community college / tech school. The price is typically only a few hundred bucks.

  6. Mr. Townsend,
    I currently work in the data center at a large corporation but don’t get to deal with VMWare daily. I have done Sys Admin work in the past. Are there are any free VMWare online labs that i can play with to practice? Since i really want a job working with VSphere 5.1…i am really not interested in certification at this point since i don’t have the money to pay for a class anyway. Thanks for any input that can lead me in the right direction.

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