IT certifications have long been touted as a ticket to job security and career advancement. Today, however, the cloud has fundamentally changed the nature of IT.

It’s no longer about being an infrastructure expert or a code specialist. IT workers must adopt more versatile roles. Certifications still matter, but not in the way that they used to.

The new IT professional

Today’s apps are developed and delivered in an agile fashion. That means development and operations teams must constantly collaborate in order to release apps quickly and iterate them frequently based on user feedback. Innovation becomes a constant, and it is not unusual to have dozens of apps in circulation at one time.

In order to manage agile delivery, IT professionals must be business-savvy as well as deeply technical. They need the finesses and expertise to manage rapid development cycles, the creativity to innovate and the adaptability to run and integrate ever-evolving cloud-based components of the continuous delivery cycle for applications.

Give weight to the certifications that matter

While certifications are a starting point for understanding a person’s technical expertise, they don’t tell the whole story. There are nearly 2,000 certifications in the world of IT, ranging from coding skills to hardware understanding to reselling. Although the nature of IT has changed, 64 percent of IT hiring managers still see high value in IT certifications as validators of skills, according to a CompTIA survey.

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It’s important to cherry pick the ones that are most applicable to today’s cloud- and mobile-based IT environment. Today’s most popular certifications reflect the demand for cloud-based skills and business acumen. These include Microsoft’s Private Cloud certification, the Project Management Professional certification, VMware’s virtualization certifications and the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), which covers cloud security.

Our own PHP-related data shows an increasing interest in Zend certifications. Over the last year, Zend has seen over 1,500 new engineers pass our PHP certifications, bringing the grand total of Zend certified engineers and architects to more than 10,000 worldwide.  This interest corresponds to the overall growth in PHP, which powers more than 240 million websites and is the most popular language for writing new web and mobile applications.

Looking beyond certifications

However, no matter how appealing a certification is, at the end of the day, it won’t define the quality of a new hire. Hiring managers must have an eye for other elements that make a well-rounded candidate.

Here at Zend, for example, we put a heavy emphasis on a candidate’s PHP experience. We need employees who not only have the ability to code — which might be reflected in their certifications or formal education — but who can also deliver against the business requirements in a collaborative and agile environment.

Agile delivery requires the ability to understand not only the workings of an app, but how it integrates into the entire ecosystem. Our ideal candidates have the experience to understand the entire workflow for application delivery, from coding to implementing to testing and beyond. The final result should always be usable and enjoyable by the end user. Without experience, many programmers don’t recognize that an app written with amazing acuity from a computer-science point of view might not generate a good user experience, and simplicity of user experience is essential with today’s web-based applications.

To assess candidates for this skill, we ask about them about different projects they worked on. By listening to them describe these projects, we gain insight into how deeply the person understands both the project itself and the business context it operated in. If we hear the person expressing passion for their work, and a penchant for helping product management teams by coming up with new and better solutions, all the better. We aim to hire experienced, creative and passionate team players, and those aren’t characteristics that you can necessarily test for.

Making the best of certifications

Many IT professionals take certifications as a way to stand out from the crowd when they’re looking for a job. In today’s cloud- and mobile-based environment, where business skills and creativity are more essential skill elements, it might be worth giving the certification a new interpretation. Rather than a ticket to the interview room, certifications can, as our 10,000th Zend-Certified Engineer Geert Bergman said, “improve the overall programming quality for [an] entire team so that [the team] can provide an even better service-side experience for … customers.”

We live in an agile world, where results are driven by the end user. If a certification proves to be a vehicle for a better end-user experience, then it’s definitely worth the effort.

Andi Gutmans is CEO and co-founder of Zend Technologies. Founded in 1999, Zend was instrumental in establishing PHP. Today, Zend helps organizations create and implement back-end services for mobile and web applications. Zend Server and Zend Studio are deployed at more than 40,000 companies worldwide.

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