Don't underestimate tech experience

A tech newbie learns that having all the 'right' certifications doesn't mean you know everything

I've worked in IT for over 20 years and have observed quite a few things. Don't get me wrong -- I think certifications are good. If I had the time and the money, I'd attend classes and take certification exams on a wide variety of subjects. But a problem comes when sometimes, people view certifications as a substitute for experience -- and they're not.

A few years ago, I was on the IT team at a manufacturing company. We had recently rolled out new computers to the company employees, and due to certain hardware choices, we had some tweaking to do for the users. We were also upgrading our network. Since we did not have anyone on staff with the requisite network expertise, the manager hired an outside consultant, "Al," to assist us through the process.

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Al was there primarily to install and configure our routers, but was also involved in some of the network connectivity issues with the workstations. He was recently out of tech school, flaunted all of his "right" certificates, and thought he knew everything.

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One day, a member of our department who ran the nightly reports was unable to connect to the network. Before anybody else could assist him, Al got involved. But he couldn't figure out the solution.

I had seen this issue before and knew what the solution was, but Al wouldn't listen. With a wave of his hand, he announced that he didn't need my help. I exchanged a knowing glance with my colleague (also an old guy like me) and walked away.

Two days later, Al had replaced network adapters, changed protocols, and reloaded drivers, all to no avail. I tried once or twice to chip in with some advice, but my offers fell on deaf ears.

Finally, I waited until Al went to lunch and asked the user if he wanted me to fix the problem. Five minutes and an IRQ change later, the PC was happily exchanging information with the network. I asked him not to tell Al that I did anything. "Let him find out for himself," I said.

Well, when Al came back from lunch and saw that the PC network connection was working, he was at a total loss to explain why it suddenly fixed itself. We couldn't keep from laughing and finally had to inform him of the solution.

Al was embarrassed, but had to admit that he had overlooked the obvious because he was so focused on his own solutions. It was a question of making the evidence fit your solution rather than the other way around.

After this incident, Al was more willing to engage in conversations, and we were all able to learn from each other.

Certifications are great. But sometimes, us old dogs can teach the young pups a few tricks.

This story "Don't underestimate tech experience," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more crazy-but-true stories in the anonymous Off the Record blog at InfoWorld.com.

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