Achievement Unlocked: Certification Quest

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have caught some of the story of chasing certifications in October and how the best-laid plans meant nothing to Hurricane Sandy. Despite the obstacles thrown in our way, my teammates and I charged ahead and succeeded in the Bold Plan that was Certification Quest, wherein 6 people achieved 10 EMC certifications in 3.5 weeks (I got 4 of them, taking 4 exams over a 2-day period).

Now that’s it’s over and we’ve had the chance to relax a little, I thought I’d pull together some of my thoughts about the whole process.

Certifications Matter

Technical certifications matter in this industry. They’re more than resume-builders.  They matter to our customers, our partners, and us.

We’re a reseller. It matters to our customers that the engineer coming on-site to install a vendor’s solution has been certified in that solution by the vendor. They want to know that the people they bring in to work in their datacenter know what they’re doing.

As a reseller, our certifications matter to our vendor partners. Obviously, they want to know that the people representing them and their products know what they’re doing. It goes deeper than that, however. The time and effort put in to gain the expertise needed to get certified speaks to the level of commitment the reseller has to the relationship with the vendor.

Lastly, the certifications matter to us. We want to be able to represent ourselves to customers as experts. Customers we’ve done work for require no proof — our work speaks for itself. Customers we haven’t worked for previously don’t have that, however. Certifications serve as a third party vouching for us.

 Give Them Room and People Can Accomplish a Lot

When we first came up with what we called our “Bold Plan”, most folks aware of the effort thought we we insane (I helped come up with the plan and I thought we were insane…).  Ten certifications in 3.5 weeks? More than one of us needing to get more than one certification in that time? One of the certifications requiring attendance in a week-long class during that 3.5-week period? Any individual piece of the plan failing meaning the goal of the entire plan fails? It couldn’t be done.

Except that we did it. We made it a priority. We worked together. When we got discouraged or stressed out, the fact that our teammates kept working and pushing themselves gave us what we needed to get past it and get back to work.

We’re stronger as a team because we took on something difficult together. That we were “all-in” together, succeed or fail together, made the difference. I think the team would have been strengthened even if we’d lost — it was the shared effort itself that brought us together.

That we also had a shared victory made it even better.

Making Things Fun Makes Them Easier (and More Fun)

We didn’t need to call what we were doing “Operation Bold Plan”. We didn’t get extra points on any of the exams because we referred to it as “Certification Quest”.

But we did those things anyway.

The silliness and fun added by doing so helped bring us together, helped to make it less stressful, and, yes, just plain old made it more fun.

No matter how hard the work or how daunting the task, if you can’t find a way to have at least some fun with it, you’re doing something wrong…

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5 Responses to Achievement Unlocked: Certification Quest

  1. Steve Lavoie says:

    How did you implement this quest ? I would implement some of your tactic for other vendor cert

    • GeekFluent GeekFluent says:

      Excellent question. The short version:

      1. Identify the company requirements for what you’re going for e.g.: 2 people with this accreditation, 2 people with that tech certification, etc.).
      2. Get clear on what certifications your folks already have. Most vendors will work with you to check their records on this. I now keep a master spreadsheet so I can stay on top of this.
      3. Identify the gaps between the list in #2 and the list in #1.
      4. Work with your team to identify who has the interest/affinity/job alignment with the certifications you’ll need.
      5. Set a stretch, but achievable goal for achieving all the certifications as a team.
      6. (Most importantly) Get buy-in to the goal from the team members identified in #4.
      7. Keep the team in communication. Send out updates, e.g.: “Bob just earned his certification EMC TA in VNX. He got a 95% on the test! Way to go, Bob! That’s 1 down and 9 to go for the team!”
      8. Keep up separate, individual communication with the folks engaged in your certification quest. Make sure no one feels alone or unsupported. If anyone’s struggling with difficult material, see if you can match them up with someone who can help make it clear.

      Keep us updated. Would love to hear how your own Certification Quest goes.

  2. Steve Lavoie says:

    Thanks for your answer. My plan is similar than yours, but I think my problem lie with #6. Self motivation to study are low. They seem to need a push, some suggested some cash bonus, but I don’t think it is a long term solution. How did you motivate your people to take your quest?

    • GeekFluent GeekFluent says:

      You’re right, the self-motivation to study can be a hard thing especially as studying for certification takes up time that could be used for other things.

      Three things helped us here.

      The first was that the idea of the Quest came up at the beginning of the quarter. Some of the people involved have MBO plans, so for some, getting the certification became one of their quarterly goals.

      The second is that we made it a team effort. We’re spread out geographically, all remote from each other. This offered us a chance to do something as a team without requiring anyone to travel, and for many of us the chance to be on a winning team was additional motivation.

      Thirdly, we were up-front with everyone. Meeting these Specialty requirement gives our company certain benefits from our vendor partner. We made sure everyone involved knew what they were helping achieve and made it clear that folks from both sides (us and the vendor partner) were aware of the uphill effort involved in this Quest and were already impressed that we were willing to even make the attempt.

    • GeekFluent GeekFluent says:

      Another thing that helped is we have a great team. Less than a week after we completed Certification Quest, I had several folks ask me, “So what Specialty are we going for next and what can I do to help?” So we’re about to start our next Quest, although this time our goal is the less-stressful “By the end of Q1″…

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