May 3, 2023

How to Use Certifications to Stand Out in the Job Market with Matt Scicchitano (DF#95)

How to Use Certifications to Stand Out in the Job Market with Matt Scicchitano

Unlocking the Power of Certifications

In this episode, we meet Matt Scicchitano, manager at SAS Global Certification Program. We're going to explore how certifications can help you advance in your career and catch the attention of potential employers.

We'll discuss why certifications are valuable in today's job market. With so many candidates vying for the same positions, having a certification can demonstrate to employers that you possess the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed in your field. This is extremely relevant especially if you're interested in IT certifications!

By the end of this episode, you'll have a better understanding of how certifications can give you a competitive edge in the job market, and how to effectively leverage them to advance your career. So, let's get started!

Matt Scicchitano has over 15 years of experience in IT certification, assessment, and credentialing and has held various roles in operations, development, and management. | He is currently the manager of the SAS Global Certification Program. He is passionate about advancement in certification and assessment through technology and innovation.

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Links and Notes from the Episode

Episode Transcript
Please enjoy this transcript or our episode!

Please note the transcript may have a few errors. We're human. It can be hard to catch all the errors from a full length conversation. Enjoy!

Ryan [00:00:01]:

Here are no rules. No rules. You're listening to Degree Free on the Degree Free network where we talk about how to teach yourself, get work and make money. No degree needed. Here are your hosts, Brian and Hannah Maruyama. Maruyama Aloha folks. And welcome back to Degree Free, where reteach you how to get hired without a college degree. I'm your host, Ryan Maruyama, and I'm super excited to have on today's guest, Matt Shikitano. Matt is the manager of the SAS certification program. SAS is a global data and software solutions company. Now, if you don't know what SAS is, don't worry. Truth be told, when Matt and I first connected, I didn't know what SAS was either. We are going to get into all of that and we are going to get into what SAS means for your careers and the different certifications that they have that you can use. You can learn more about [email protected] and you can learn more about their [email protected]. Learn. Now, this is a great episode because on this podcast, we talk so much about certifications and how getting one of them can help you move up in your career. So we not only talk about the 26 different certifications that SAS has to offer and how you can use those in your career to move up, but we also towards the end of the episode, we talk about the certification process in general and what it takes to actually create a certification and what goes into it. Now, if you're thinking, what should I do? What different certifications should I get? What certifications are out there? This is the perfect episode for you. We go over all that and more in this very, very wide ranging conversation. This episode is going to have a lot of links, so you can find all the links to everything at Degreefree co podcast. You can connect with Matt on LinkedIn and I'll put a link to his LinkedIn in our show notes. While you're there, connect with myself and with Hannah. That's Ryan Mariama and Hannah mariama. And the last thing before we get into today's episode, if you want to receive weekly tips on how to get a great job without a college degree, how to land that promotion, how to make that career change, whatever your career goal is, go to Degreefree co newsletter and sign up for our free weekly newsletter. And without any further ado, please enjoy this conversation with Matt Shikitano. Aloha, folks, and welcome back to the Degree Free podcast. I'm super excited to have my guest today, Matt Shikitano, with us from SAS. Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to be here.

Matt [00:02:37]:

Ryan thank you. Looking forward to chatting with you, Matt.

Ryan [00:02:41]:

Before I get into SAS and all of the certifications and all the great things that you guys are doing over there, I kind of wanted to talk about what your current job is right now and kind of a little bit about your background, where you came from, and what you're currently doing in the certification space.

Matt [00:03:02]:

Sure, yeah. So the background, I listened to enough of your other episodes to know that a lot of us seem to have kind of, like, fallen into what we do in a way we didn't all set out to do this. I was a political science major. Right. So your message and what you're doing here kind of resonates with me because I think I did work in policy ticks for maybe two years, right? And that's when I graduated from college. And then I happened into a job selling Vouchers at one of the biggest exam delivery providers that's out there in the market. So all of us in certification, when we take these tests, we hand them over to someone else. And this was before online testing, right. So these were test centers. You packaged your test, you handed it to them, and they went out and sold it. So I worked there for probably six or seven years, moved into an account management role. And at the time, it was kind of frustrating because you had these really big clients bringing in a lot of money for them, lots of tests and all of that. And I had a portfolio of about 40 It certification programs, and they were all smaller programs or not the biggest. Right? And in hindsight, that was valuable to me because it's ultimately helped me move into my current role, which is managing the certification program here at SAS and previously at another organization as well. I did a similar role. So all told, about 16 years of certification related work and what I'm responsible for here at SAS. We have about 26 or so, last I checked, credentials out there in the market. These are certification exams that cover SAS software. We talk a little bit about what that means in a few minutes. But I have three certification developers on my team, and it's their job to take the training and the course materials and the experience requirements that it takes to do a job using SAS and convert that into an assessment vehicle, which is a test. Sometimes those are multiple choice type questions. Sometimes those are what we would call performance based tests. More of a do, right? Show me versus tell me that you can do this. And what's important about what we do is we sit down with our subject matter experts and we go through this rigorous process of developing these certification exams so that they are valid, right? And that means they measure what we intend for them to measure, that they're reliable, that they measure the same thing across a group over a period of time, and that they're fair, that they're unbiased. And that's becoming more and more important, increasingly important, as we talk about neurodivergence and other aspects. And then we take all of those aspects, and that gives us this legal defensibility too, that if somebody comes back and says, I failed this test and it's the test fault, we went through all these steps to make sure it wasn't the test fault. And it's that you don't know what you're doing. Not that our job is to make sure this vehicle is out there so that folks can prove their competence across the SAS portfolio of technology and then use that to get a job, get a better job, get that raise, increase their professional influence on projects and that type of thing.

Ryan [00:05:59]:

You use the word there and you forgive me, I'm a neanderthal nerd. If it's the beard. Yeah, I know. I will say I'll stop right here and I'll say I do not get out bearded on this podcast very often. And I am feeling a little insecure today. So for those listening, definitely go to the YouTube channel and check it out. Matt has a very majestic beard.

Matt [00:06:23]:

Maybe we could do a whole podcast just on that. Mine's a little brighter than yours.

Ryan [00:06:30]:

And you used neuro divergence there. Could we just define that term? Sure.

Matt [00:06:35]:

This is a term that it's a large term and I don't not get it technically right, but to me, it's kind of a developing term as well. And this means things like folks with maybe autism or ADHD or difference dyslexia, they can comprehend the same as the rest of us in most situations. However, it may be a different way that they need to learn. And sometimes it's as simple as changing certain factors within our exams that might cause test anxiety, changing fonts, changing those types of things. So it could be a number of different things that we would factor into that. But as we look at the importance of dei and inclusion, we don't want to make a test unfair to somebody because of the way the test is structured versus the content of the exam itself.

Ryan [00:07:21]:

I am really excited to talk to you because I kind of view my job as knowing every other job that exists out there so that I could tell our audience. And I didn't even think that your job was that existed.

Matt [00:07:40]:


Ryan [00:07:40]:

I mean, now that I think about it and now that I know that you exist, it makes sense, because somebody has to be in charge of these certification programs and somebody has to be in charge of getting it. Out there, but also making sure exactly everything that you're saying right, that everything's fair and that it is up to standard. And that the certifications that you're pushing out, they're of value and they're not just diluted down. And when you're hiring somebody with these certifications that they've been tested to a standard. And so I'm really excited to get into that.

Matt [00:08:10]:


Ryan [00:08:11]:

For those people listening, though, just to kind of backtrack a little bit, what is SAS? What is the product of SAS? Because I'll tell you from myself, when I go to your website. When I go to SAS and I look at it as somebody that isn't well versed or maybe as somebody who's maybe thinking about a career, I can't really figure out what you folks do because it's a lot of jargon, it's a lot of data and analytics and everything like that. So I wonder if in a nutshell, you can kind of describe what SAS does.

Matt [00:08:42]:

Sure. We are not always a household name in certain industries, right? Absolutely. A lot of folks in technology or anyone that's worked with data tends to oh yeah, SAS. I've used SAS for a number of years, and we're a big favorite. We're statistical analysis systems is what SAS technically stands for. We've been around for 40 years. We are still the world's largest privately owned software company globally, if I had to put it in a sentence. Right? We help businesses make sense of all their data so that they can make smart business decisions. So we are in the majority of the Fortune 500. Companies use SAS in some capacity. We operate in 150 countries. But again, it's not a name you might sit around the table and talk about at dinner, but that's what we do. And we talk about the companies that we serve. It's in most market verticals. These are generally medium to large enterprise. These are companies that have a massive amount of data. They need to make informed decisions so that they can improve their operations or achieve particular business goals. And we give them the ability to process and analyze these large amounts of data. And then there's aspects of it. They all have various requirements or high expectations, I should say, for security, reliability, and performance as well. So we provide these platforms for them to do it. If we talked about where you might find us, most commonly, that's going to be in finance, risk fraud, all of these types of things that big banks and insurance organizations have to prevent. We provide platforms to help do that. Healthcare, life sciences, huge clinical I bet if you googled clinical trials, you talk about pharmaceutical drugs and those types of things, SAS would be right there. Probably in every job Brick was issued, you would come up with, right. But even just googling the term clinical trials, we're going to be right there. We're kind of the gold standard there, but retail, telecom, government, we're predicting helping companies predict churn business intelligence, right. Dashboards, taking all of the data within an organization and putting together a dashboard for management to understand what we need to do over the next quarter, over the next five years to achieve our goals. When we talk about certification, we talk about certifying. SAS is also a programming language, right? So you can program in SAS to do these things with your data. So that's a big thing that we do. So a lot of what we do is programming, but then we're in the solution space as well. We can prepackage a lot of these things, these models, these algorithms, and then work with you to implement that within your organization with the tweaks that you need for your company and your business goals.

Ryan [00:11:16]:

Let me try to take a stab at summarizing all this as if I were five, or I am five. So when you're looking at this, these companies basically have a large data set and they are implementing SAS and you folks and the people, the administrators and the people that are mining, and then putting these data into dashboards so that the decision makers can make decisions. Is that kind of that's, right?

Matt [00:11:45]:

Yeah, you're not far off and it varies, right? It could be anything from a marketing automation platform, right, where SAS is in there. It could be a customer intelligence platform, CRM type platform, again, fraud and security algorithms that just go into your data and say, hey, Ryan wasn't in this state based on some other data, but his credit card was just used there and it trips those flags based on what we program in through SAS, essentially.

Ryan [00:12:08]:

And when people are trying to get roles or jobs in the SAS ecosystem, when they're looking at your certification programs and they're looking we've said that usually very large companies are the ones that are using your product and those are the companies that you're going to be working in, right. Because you're getting a certification from SAS and then you are going to then work for one of those companies to upkeep their I don't know what else to call it but an instance of SAS or your implementation of it. And what are some of the most popular ones that are out there? And I know that you said you have 26 of them, but just to give some concrete examples, so those 26.

Matt [00:12:46]:

Fall into kind of five categories. And the first is programming. That is pretty much the core of what we do, right? If you're going to be a programmer, a lot of our software is also point and click, right? But a lot of folks have historically gone in there and programmed in SAS and you can program SAS into your business operations. And so programming is our primary one that certification has been around for since 1999 in various forms, right? It's obviously as we, iterate the software, the certifications change, but the programming has been around for quite some time, and that's big in the clinical trial space as well. So you program within the clinical trials parameters and certain standards that they follow in those in clinical trials. Our next probably biggest bucket would be advanced analytics, right? And that is somewhat theory based. So we talk about a lot of statistics building models and then implementing those models into production within organizations. And these are things advanced analytics covers data science. We have a data scientist certification. It's kind of our highest level data science. There underlying there is predictive modeling. Being able to help your organization make decisions based on what they think is going to be the outcome of training it with all of your curtain data and then putting that data into production to make those decisions in an automated fashion. And that can fall into what we call AI right. And natural language processing, computer vision these are all components of our AI. And machine learning professional certification, which is a sub component of our data. Science certification. So programming, advanced analytics, and then we talk about what we call visual analytics, which is the dashboarding stuff, the reporting. Just for instance, my team uses a certification dashboard that we've created with our own software. You got to drink your own koolaid, right? And we can now give that to all of our country managers, everyone that works with our university network, so they can drill down on how many people took tests this year. How did this test perform last year versus next year? And that helps us identify areas where maybe we need to update the training or update the certifications or reach back out to a university or do more activities in a particular country. So that's just one instance of just how we, as a very small team, use that. And these dashboards go across all of these companies. So visual analytics is another and then administration. Let's who you call when you don't have permission to something you can't get in. And that's troubleshooting logging, managing the system, users identities, all those types of things. And then one kind of last component is our data management certifications. That's curating the data, making sure it's quality data. What do they say? Trash in, trash out, that type of thing. So you want to be there's. Standards to how you do all of that. And you use SAS tools in these roles.

Ryan [00:15:31]:

That's awesome because it sounds like there is a really wide breadth of different job roles for different people and people that are trying to make different career changes and get into different industries. One of the difficult things when you're first starting out, when you're first making that career transition, is you're just saying, like, I want to be in it. That's it. Or, I want to learn how to code. Or, I want to be a programmer. And then when you dig down deeper, you realize, wow, that didn't narrow it down very much at all. When you say, I want to be in it, or I want to be a programmer, because then you have to think about, let's say, with development, you have to think, well, front end background. What languages am I going to learn SAS or am I going to learn something else? I'm going to learn Python or am I going to learn R? And I kind of wanted to talk about for people that are thinking about SAS and they're thinking about getting training and certification, they like what they're hearing so far. And they're like, yeah, working at a big company, working with all of these data sets, working with NLP and AI, that sounds awesome. What can they do? Where can they go for this training? What does the training look like?

Matt [00:16:48]:

Sure, it's kind of a new world and you talk about it all the time. This should not be anything new to you. When we look historically at kind of our learners and where they came from, it was a lot of folks coming through universities. They were in statistics programs. SAS has kind of been the gold standard at universities for quite a long time. And so that was the language you started to learn to do this type of work and you just kind of progressed through. And our certifications and curriculum were often built into what you studied at a university. But as we've seen a shift and I don't know what numbers you have right now, but I think it's an 8% or so that college enrollment is down. And we're very cognizant of the fact we can talk more about maybe like the data science skills gap a little bit later, but it's a real thing and it's been a factor. And some of the numbers I've seen are and this was just out of the UK, we did a study not that long ago, it was like there's 10,000 expected graduates annually for like 215,000 jobs. So if you're a company and you're thinking about where are we going to get these people to fill these roles that are preventing us from rolling out specific technology or advancing that technology, where are you going to get them? So we have to focus and shift a little bit to that independent user as well, right. And be able to offer our training that way. So our training is available in a number of formats and those are offered through us. You can go directly to Sass's website and look for it. Everybody always says, well, we want it to be free, we want it to be free. And in some cases it is. Some of the entry level type stuff is and we have a seven day, currently a seven day free trial, right. So you can go out and dive in and you can get well on your way. I would say this, I would say that you can probably for relatively cheaply get through all the training you would need. That would align with one of our certification exams. Not all of them, but some of them. We also offer our training through Coursera and I think that's $40 per month price point like all the rest. And that's a subscription to everything we offer through Coursera. That's not our full catalog, but most of it. So that's going to help with that organization or that grouping of people, right? The university folks, but as well as the people that didn't necessarily decided not to go to university but are interested in just getting into it. There's other folks that we target too, like at corporations that are already using SAS, right? But they may have other tools, other things that they're using, but they might say, well, I've gone as far as I can go with Excel spreadsheets, but I really like analyzing things. I really like writing these functions in Excel and using Pivot tables. And I want to go to the next step. I read something on your website that through some of your program, you helped somebody use their education credit within their organization to essentially get to them free training. Right? So we offer our training and packages to these corporations and then individuals within the corporations can sometimes for free or whatever that subscription model is, then access that training as well. So it's various platforms kind of all over the place, but there's a lot of different ways to get in without having to dive completely in and learn a little bit more about what it is you want to know. We talk about university students and we have a product called SAS Skill Builder. And this is a place where they can get free access to all of our Elearning. And this doesn't just apply to university students. This is technical school folks, to your technical schools, that type of thing as well. So we talked a little bit off air before this, just about folks that maybe they're in college, they've already made that decision, but they don't like the path they're headed down. Like I said, I was a political science major and I finished that out because that's how many credits I had and going in the right direction and I wanted to finish in four years. Maybe they're thinking about this data analyt analysis stuff. Sounds pretty cool. I see there's lots of jobs out there. Well, as long as you have that, you could go out and venture out and look at our training and see if that might be right for you. And there's certification discounts included with that, as well as free Elearning prep guides for our certifications. So there's a number of different ways to kind of acquaint yourself with what we have to offer from whatever walk of life you're coming.

Ryan [00:20:49]:

I wanted to touch on a couple of things that you said there, but the first thing that I wanted to touch on was kind of the education credits that you brought up. It's funny that you brought that up because I was actually just having a conversation with an HR director of a medium 500 person business, which for people listening, that's huge, which it is huge. They make many multiples of revenue, many millions of dollars of revenue, but they have education credits for their employees and they were talking about how little people take advantage of it. It was something crazy. I don't want to misquote. So it was less than 10% though. It was in the single digits of the amount of people that take advantage of the education credit. And we started talking about a little bit about, well, maybe it's because of time and maybe it's because of maybe the education credit wasn't comprehensive enough. But that being said, there's a really low acceptance rate or not even acceptance of adoption rate of people using these credits. And the companies, it's already in their budget, they've already budgeted for it. Otherwise it would not have been in your benefits package. And so it makes no difference to them whether or not you use it, not really. At least they want you to use it. And also if you use it with them, a lot of places, they have stipulations on the back end, especially if it's a larger sum of money where you may have to sign a contract to say, hey, I'm going to stick on for longer. They're investing in you. They want you to be better. Because one of the things that we always say on this podcast is that in order to build amazing companies, you need amazing people. And that's the people that are listening right now and the people that are running those companies, they know that and they want to invest in you. But you might just have to say, okay, well, I'm going to take advantage of all of these programs. I'm going to take advantage of their education credits, but I might just have to stick around a little bit longer. But in the long run, let's say that you get a SAS certification. Let's say that you get any other certification, or maybe not even a certification, but you learn a skill and not necessarily with a certification that could catapult your career absolutely into the stratosphere and get you somewhere that you've never thought you would ever be.

Matt [00:23:12]:

You got to own this process too, as the individual, and take an active role. Talk to your folks in HR and other places, say, hey, is this covered by that education credit? Is this covered by I know we use this software, do we have any discounts for us to be trained on this software, that type of thing. And that goes across the board. Talk with them, see what can be added if it's not already in there, and see what's available to you. We talk with our customers a lot of the time, and they have to go back and update their catalog every so often with different certifications that we have or different training courses that weren't at one time covered. So there's all kinds of internal rules, but they're always checking and they're looking for that feedback internally for what's going to make sense for us to offer. So that people are taking advantage of it. To your point, if no one's using it, what's the value in it?

Ryan [00:24:00]:

Definitely. And just to kind of piggyback onto that point, a lot of times what happens this is mostly in smaller businesses. With the procurement of software in larger businesses, this is largely null. But when you're in a startup and when you're in a small company, which a lot of people listen to this podcast want to break into the founders or the CTO, they are busy doing other things. They just made a decision at one point to go down this software path, whatever it is, whether it's SAS or whether it's salesforce or HubSpot or whatever. And they were like at the time, this was the right thing. And so if you are at a small team, especially, I mean, this is still relevant to larger teams going to your manager and saying, hey, I want to learn more about SAS, I want to learn to get deeper into this. I don't think that we're using the tool correctly. They're going to be stoked on that and they might not know that. Oh yeah, that's right. We are using that software for this. And I remember back when we procured the software, originally it didn't have all of these features and now it does.

Matt [00:25:06]:

You're nailing it because that is a huge thing that we talk about because there's the obvious benefit from a certification, of getting a job, getting a promotion, those types of things. Anyone can kind of draw that line. But we talk about a big benefit being optimization. And I think it was Udemy did a study not that long ago and it's not uncommon for organizations to use ten to 15% of the features and functionalities of their software and they spend millions upon millions of dollars for these licenses and all of this. And so that's part of it too is through the certification process you learn about features, functionality, how to access them, how to use them, and you might be able to apply that to your current role, to the role you want to get right. I call it kind of like the rising Tide, right? It makes the team more efficient, it makes the company more efficient. And when you're becoming more efficient, they're looking back and going, well, we paid for that certification that got us this answer. It's a good cycle to get into.

Ryan [00:25:59]:

Totally. And to add on that with what happens if you are able to especially add value in that when they are looking for somebody to head that project up naturally you are going to be the first person since you brought it up. And you can save your company or make your company lots of money if you are just using the current software to its fullest extent. And maybe you are getting rid of one of the service level agreements that they have with another. And so they're saying, hey, I think that we could be using SAS to do what all these other three tools are doing. And then you're like, okay, well, prove it out to me. You come up with your presentation and all of a sudden. They're like, yeah, that looks good. Maybe we have to do a little bit of work around here. Maybe we have to hire a couple of people there. But we were going to get rid of this contract that we're spending millions of dollars on. And this contract, and this contract. And I think that this is a very easy I wouldn't say shortcut, but it's very powerful. If you are able to take that foresight and go to your boss and have the courage to just go to your boss and be like, these are the things that I think can happen. One of the things that I wanted to kind of go back to, which was you said a lot of the certification process, or a lot of the certifications that you folks offer are having to do with programming. And for those that don't have a programming background, what is kind of the best entry point? What is the best starting point for them?

Matt [00:27:39]:

We offer kind of three different levels when it comes to certification. Some of the training to get started with this, again, it is free. And you can just get that straight through our website. And I can give you some links here at some point to kind of dive into that.

Ryan [00:27:55]:

We'll have the links. If you shoot those to me, we'll have links for everything at Degreefree Codcast. If you folks want to get the links.

Matt [00:28:02]:

We have an associate level. It's a more knowledge based type certification. And that's where you're learning about SAS, learning about syntax, learning about the various features, the functionality and the different procedures that you can use within SAS. And you're learning in essentially two courses to write that code. I always want to stress the fact that it's always kind of a chicken and an egg argument about, we do write our certifications with a certain level of experience in mind. You have to have that standard, right? Otherwise it's not valuable in the market. It's who is this person? We call it in the certification world, a minimally qualified candidate. And that's going to be kind of different at our different levels. To just extrapolate on that for a second, we set the standard at a three foot fence, right? We don't care if you can jump a five foot fence, that's great, you're more than qualified. But if you can't jump this three foot fence, we're sorry, we're not going to put this ass name on that credential and have you move forward with that. So we kind of have these three different levels. Our first is just a multiple choice based test, and it's based on understanding those fundamental concepts of how to program in SAS, the core things that somebody's going to use and get started with. And it was actually aimed at or designed with the student in mind. And it's more of a knowledge based type certification. The next two, which are evidently our two most popular certifications are a base and an advanced programming and we put those at the specialist and the professional level just if anyone's out there looking at them. And that's learning some of the same concepts, but then being able to apply that to certain situations. And we actually with those, those are two of our performance based tests. And with those performance based tests, you are actually operating in a lab environment, writing SAS code based on certain project parameters that we give you, filter all of this data to show us only the values between X and Y and that type of thing using your programming skills. And then from there you're answering questions based on that information. So that's for base and advanced. And advanced, obviously, is the more advanced programming feature. So it's not where somebody it's the deep end of the pool, so to speak, right? No one's going to jump in and start with the advanced certification. They would start it at that base level or they might start at that associate and we kind of market that not just to the student, but also maybe the manager, right? Maybe somebody that's not going to be doing the programming but wants to understand the basics of it, that type of thing. They can shoot towards that associate level.

Ryan [00:30:27]:

Credential when you're beginning your career or when you're trying to make career transitions, as most of the people that are listening to this podcast are, they are doing something that they really don't want to do. Maybe you're a server at a restaurant or maybe you're a mechanic listening to this and you are trying to think about your next step. One of the difficult humps that you have to get over in your mind when you're looking at getting these certifications is, is this company going to be around or do I want to hitch my whole career around? SAS, or what we talk about a lot on this podcast is salesforce or HubSpot, any of these different softwares out there? I know the conversations because I've had conversations with so many people. The first question is like, is it going to be useful or how long do I have to do this for? And for SAS specifically, I guess, one, how do we address that question? And then two, what does the upward mobility once you're getting one of these, let's say one of the entry level certifications, what does that look like? I mean, obviously you can go up to your base and your advance, but as far as if there's some trees, as far as different career careers go.

Matt [00:31:45]:

Sure, SAS or elsewhere, I kind of liken it to a metaphor of picking stocks, right? You can think about future returns and guess and hope, but the best way to really find a secure strategy for moving forward is to look back, right? So whether it's SAS or there's lots of startups out there, so maybe they don't have that long history, but as you're looking at these look at these skills, look at them over time, kind of own this process, right? And look at the strength of the company. SAS has been a leader for 40 years, right? And we're still engaged in some of these industries. And we get quotes from a lot of people that we got with these surveys and things like, what did SAS certification do for you? And a lot of them say, it gave me the opportunity to work in any industry that I want. Right. So you can take that SAS programming skill and you can apply it in healthcare, you can apply it in fraud, you can apply it in other places, and with each of those different opportunities, you're learning about that industry, but you're also learning the ways that they might apply SAS. Particularly there it's hard to kind of say. We can talk through some of the different career roles where SAS is popular. And I'll say it this way. So I like listening to some of what you and Hannah have done in the past and talking about kind of looking at the job requisitions and then working your way backwards. That's valuable. I think we see it's kind of a pendulum swing, in my opinion, about how seeing the actual certification listed in the job requisitions, it's rare in any It certification that it's a requirement, right. Because these are not licensed to practice like they are in the medical field or other places. It's more common to see it in the preferred area. We prefer a certain certification, but it's not always even in there. And I started to do some homework about why that is. And especially with the recent job market prior to it's kind of loosened up a little bit, but it was a little bit tighter a few years ago. We're talking about this gap, this skills gap and how it's growing. And you're looking for people to hire. You already have a shallow pool. The more requirements you start to put into that job wreck, the more shallow and shallow and shallow that pool gets. And I like your philosophy that you guys talk about, like, apply anyway, even if I don't feel I meet that requirement. Apply anyway. Right. Build those skills and work towards it. But not everybody does that. So you're shrinking that pool from the get go. So for me, it's look for good, solid company history and then it's look at the skills in that job wreck. Because I can more often than not take a SAS job. The job posting, I can put it right next to one of our credentials and the things that we are validating and assessing that you can do align completely with those skills, even though the certification might not be spelled out specifically in that job posting. So that's one factor. But there is an opportunity for progression. Right. You might start as a programmer. These jobs are like statistical programmers, mid level data analysts. A data analyst to a data scientist is a natural progression. But you're not always going to get into certain roles without that deeper statistical understanding. Sometimes there is requirements for PhD, master's levels, things like that, but you can put yourself in a position to learn those skills, starting maybe in a data analyst position, right? That's more entry level, that's learning how to do that data visualization stuff that we talked about a little bit earlier, and then figure out how you can progress that into a different type of role, or set your sights on data scientists and support your understanding of the software that you're working with. With additional education, we can't teach everything, but we can teach you how to use our tools in that environment.

Ryan [00:35:27]:

I'm really glad that you said basically you've gotten notes from people saying that once they've gotten certified with SAS, it helped them break into any industry that they wanted afterwards. The reason why, and I want to make it clear to everybody listening here, we didn't speak about this beforehand, is that is the same principles that I tell people about certifications when they're thinking about getting these certifications from these different companies. Yes, at the time, it is a massive, massive undertaking and it's a massive risk. Changing jobs and changing careers is scary. And you're going into the unknown. You're jumping off of a cliff, and for a moment you are hitching your wagon to this certification, to SAS, to salesforce, whatever it is that you're using. But that doesn't mean that your career has to stay there, right? You are going to learn so much in that role, and you can go any place after that. The biggest transition that you're going to make is from listening to this podcast and doing whatever it is that you're doing now, wrenching underneath that car, changing oil, to sitting into the desk. And once you're sitting underneath the desk, you can make career transitions from there. And so this is just a larger general point as far as career mapping goes. While I do think career mapping is very useful, you definitely want to start with some sort of goal in mind and then work your way backwards. I think a lot of times you can get stuck in analysis paralysis and be like, well, SAS might not be the certification for me because this is not how I'm going to get there. The point of the matter is that you just don't know what you don't know, and you can't know until you take that jump and you take that leap. So I definitely suggest people listening to this if it's something that you're thinking about with SAS or with any of these other certifications, but go to the SAS website and go to the SAS website, take that seven day free trial, and figure out whether or not this is for you. Figure out whether or not you want to keep going down this. And you kind of mentioned it with Coursera. That's a really low risk way of doing it because Coursera has such a breadth and depth of other courses on their platform. You can go and sample it's basically a buffet. You go and sample all the different things that you want to or might want to learn.

Matt [00:37:55]:

Sure. And let's remember, at Coursera specifically, you can audit a lot of these things, right? And you don't get the benefits, like the certificate that comes at the end and some of those other things that you do if you're a paying person. But if the goal is to learn this stuff and to learn it quickly or to understand is it right? For me, there are very low cost ways to dive in and do that. But you have one other little stock metaphor, right? Diversification. Right? So you can talk about multiple industries you might end up in, but as you're learning these skills, you will start to understand what the natural progressions are within that and finding other certifications. So maybe you hold you know, it's not uncommon for somebody to hold SAS certifications and Microsoft certifications, right, like a cloud certification or whatever that is. They come together, and there's a lot of research that's been done on this. And the more certifications you have, the faster your trajectory to professional influence is. They measure professional influence by a number of different things, like when you've been a manager on projects and different roles you've held within the last certain period of time. But it's something like two and a half times the influence on digital transformation projects than somebody with a certification than somebody without. It two and a half times faster that you're going to get to that professional influence if you have two to five certifications, as much professional influence after three years as somebody has no certifications in six years, right? So it cuts down and it increases that. It just continues that cycle and continues that ball rolling of that continuous learning journey, which is critical to anybody in any role, really. And it's not always, hey, I stick to this one certification path and that's it. It's whatever that role develops into what's that next thing I need to learn and how do I validate that I've.

Ryan [00:39:35]:

Learned it totally talking about the validation of how you learn this, I kind of wanted to switch gears a little bit and talk about the certification process or the program building process. I don't even know what you call it, but how you have certain standards for the certification in which you confer onto the people that pass the certification. You said something, you said, what are some signals? Or you were talking about signals that you have to update the program. Yours were looking at different, I guess, data about, okay, it's time that we go back and look at this and update this and maybe change a test here or change what we're speaking about or what we're teaching here. And I thought that this was a really interesting point to kind of peel back the curtain a little bit and get a look backstage of what goes on in the background. I'll give my own personal experience with some of these certifications. I have a PMP. I have the project manager professional. And I didn't know what the PMP was at all. Like, I think it was three years ago I got it, or two years ago. I had no idea. I just wanted to take it because I was like, I don't know. I was a fireman at the time. I was running into burning buildings, and I didn't need it for my job. I just thought it was interesting. And I was like, okay, well, I'll just get a PMP. And so I went from not knowing it existed to three weeks later, like, getting it. And I looked on the subreddit PMP, and there's like a litany of wealth of knowledge there of how people have gotten their certifications. But one of the things that I honed in on was that the test that I took was significantly easier than the test a year ago. And if anybody is listening to this from PMI, please reach out to me. Contact at degreefree co. If you'd like to speak about this, that's fine. So I've never taken the earlier test. That was supposedly harder. But I've taken this test, and like I said, I went from three weeks. Never held a project management position before. I mean, I've run companies, so I've run plenty of projects. I'm plenty qualified to sit for that exam. Obviously, I passed it on my first try. But I was wondering, how do you folks at SAS think about updating and changing your certification process, but then also the materials of what you put inside of it?

Matt [00:42:15]:

Yeah, we try to shy away from the words of easier and harder. Right. But there's always this perception, this public perception. A little example of that is that we talked about our exam moving to a performance based right? And for us, that was somewhat market driven. Right. But it wasn't until more recently that the technology was available to do this where we could actually have you sit down and program right there in the lab and then grade you based on that. But what we saw was that when we implemented this, I think it was 2019, there was a huge spike in people that wanted to take the old test, the non performance based test. When I'm thinking, well, I would want to take the new one, the one that the show me test, not the but it's a perception issue of that was easier or the devil you know, right. Maybe that's why we took this test versus the new one. So that just as an aside, that's sometimes where people say, well, this is easier, or that's easier, not so much. These are just different vehicles by which we're assessing the same thing, number of different factors. Some of those are related to what we talked about with validity, reliability and all of that. We're constantly looking at the statistics of our tests, right? And these are item level statistics. How is this particular question performing if everybody's getting it right? Well, it's either too easy or there's something in there. There's people that we call kind of test wise, right, that they're good at taking tests, so they're looking for certain cues and certain so we train all of our subject matter experts to write so that they're avoiding these types of cues and all of these things. But those are some factors, right? Individual item level statistics and then overall exam level statistics, things like if the pass rate all of a sudden spikes or the pass rate all of a sudden drops, that can indicate things like exposure, right? That the test that somebody has started to memorize questions and write them down and share them places, right? And those kind of things. So there always has to be this and that's. Another good earmark of a quality program is validity is protected through exam integrity activities, protecting the security of your intellectual property, the tests, all of that. We're always looking at those factors in terms of how the test is performing and the content should be changed, updated, reworked because of that. But as far as as the software progresses, as the job roles progress, that's a constant feedback loop between research and development. Here's some new features that are coming out here's, coming out down the road. You got to get these into the training. You got to get these into the exams. Tech support. There's feedback loops through tech support. This is a common problem, right? Everybody runs into this problem. So we need to teach people how to get around that problem. Or if this error message, this makes for a great question, right? You see this error message, what do you do? That type of thing. Then there's working directly with our customers, going to our bigger customers. How are you using the software? What are you coming across? What do you like? What do you not like? Where do you feel your people need to learn or to upskill? And then that gets into the training courses. That gets into the certification exams as well. And then just we have university pesters, but we as a certification, we also take feedback from individuals, right? You can comment on any single question in our test, and we review those comments. You can comment on the test in general. Are we hitting the mark, in your opinion? Now, when somebody fails and tells us the test was terrible, we treat that a little bit differently than if 30 people are telling us one certain thing. You got to kind of balance that. But that's the feedback. And then also just as an organization, as a company keeping an eye on what is happening in the field beyond SAS's doors, what is happening in AI, what's happening in machine learning, what's happening in this space and what do we need to be teaching those skills that aren't necessarily specific to our software, but that somebody in that job role that's going to be using that software really needs to understand. It's one thing to be able to program a model and put it into production, but if you don't understand what the model is doing, you're not as qualified maybe as somebody that does. Right.

Ryan [00:46:16]:

With the certifications and the whole certifications market. It's so difficult for the consumer, for people like me, to look at all of these things and parse out what is legit and what is not, what is going to help me further my career, what is not. And I kind of wanted to talk about the differences between certifications and certificates and maybe like assessments versus certificates. If there's anything that you can glean to our listenership.

Matt [00:46:51]:

Sure, and I wish I had the silver bullet answer for you, but I think it's we've never been in this place before just as a market. I don't know if it had to do with kind of COVID and a lot of online learning and other things happening and the job market changes and all of that, that kind of got us here. But there's something like over 1 million earnable credentials right now. I was recently at a conference where we all get together and nerd out over this assessment stuff. And we had somebody from the Human Resources Organization, I think sherm is the name, right. And they had done a survey that talked about how alternative credentials are becoming more important in the eyes of executives, in the eyes of hiring managers. But that the biggest challenge with all of them is this big conflation of the organizations being at the table to articulate what is this? And then when you stack them next to each other, which one should we be looking for, right? Even here at SAS, we have our certifications, and that's what we see as our gold standard. We also have professional certificates available through coursera. Our professional certificates are designed with certification in mind as the goal to talk about the difference between the various things. And there's so many now, right? You have certifications. I'm biased. That's the gold standard to me because I feel like if you're not going to take a test at the end, what's the point? Right? If you're just a warm body in a seat and some things are being badged as just having been in the seat, there's certification, there's professional certificates. They usually have some level of assessment built in our certifications. When we talk about certifications, it's summative, right? It's based on that minimally qualified candidate, that level of experience that we feel you should have the job tasks associated with what you will do on the job, all of those things, when you factor them together, that's what we're assessing. When you talk about an assessment or a learning outcome, that's more, did you take this course and did you digest what was in the course? And can you spit that right back out? And that's a different level of assessment. There's what we call micro credentials, right? And those are defined many different ways by many different organizations, smaller chunks. There are certain thresholds that we follow in terms like how many questions can you really make an assumption? I can't ask you one question about an objective and know that you understand it completely, but if I ask you three, four, or five, then I can get to the point of judging that competency. So we follow these very strict, rigorous rules. Now, I do want to say that there is a place for all of these different things in education, in training, in learning. I think the market kind of needs to sort them out. I think we as sponsor organizations need to get better at articulating the differences and what's really important. And then I also put some of it on the individual. When you're in that job interview, you need to be saying, hey, look, I got my PMP and this is what that means. These are the standards that I was held to in passing that, and that's going to help them get that point across. Just a little side story. A former boss of mine was talking about how she had been in an interview process, and she had taken a 1 hour cloud literacy course at one point and got a badge for it. It went on her resume. She had all these other lofty things that she had done over time. The guy that was interviewing her spent the bulk of that interview talking about how impressed he was about her cloud knowledge based on this little sticker, essentially that said cloud expert or whatever they called it. It goes to show that even the hiring managers are dealing with some of that conflation. So I think it's important as an individual, look for those earmarks, look for how long they've been around. Do you have to take that test? What's the test look like? Ask questions. That's key. Is there an exam integrity program, if it's through a testing vehicle, that they're protecting the validity because few bad actors can ruin it for everybody. But you want that value to remain in the market. So those are some things to look for. But yeah, we're badging everything. Micro credentials. It's confusing. Definitely is.

Ryan [00:51:00]:

I feel very torn on this subject when it comes up because degree free. What it's all about is getting rid of that paper bias, eliminating that college degree required on the job descriptions and on the job listings, right? And when it does say college degree required, you just apply anyway. Just put your application in and just see if it happens because, well, what we know here at Degree Free, but talking from many, many people in very large organizations that they have good data that they do not hire people that look like their job descriptions. They just do not hire people like that. And so why their job descriptions look like that, that's the question. And that's something that exactly what you're talking about. The market is going to have to parse out over the coming years and months because unfortunately, a lot of people self eliminate from the job search, right? And I know this because I was one of those people, I used to look at a job description, especially like in college, when I was getting my economics degree, I would not apply to jobs yet because all of the jobs said degree required. And then when I got my degree, I started applying to jobs, or my last semester, I started applying jobs, saying, oh, I'm going to graduate, I'm going to graduate. And I didn't get hired for a really long time. And the reason why was because they didn't really care about that college degree. What they wanted was they wanted somebody to provide value in that role. They wanted somebody to come in and understand this is the role, whatever the role is, and how you can provide value in that, whether it's customer support tickets and you are shaving down your customer support times or taking phone calls, cold calls, whatever your job is, how can you provide value? And that's what they cared about. It took me a long time to figure that out. But the thing that I'm concerned about is on this podcast and everything that we do, we talk a lot about certs because it is becoming more and more prevalent in the market, as you were saying. But as we talk about it more, I kind of foresee a future in where it's going to switch from the paper bias now to this cert bias. And now you have to have this certification, but you might have the skills to do it already. You might have learned python outside of any traditional metric that you can measure and you have all of these portfolio projects. But the fact of the matter is the hiring process is convoluted and it's difficult for a lot of hiring managers. How can you systematize and make a process for the hiring? And the way that you do it is how we got here in the first place with this paper bias. 50 years ago or so, the college degree probably did mean something because the internet didn't exist. There was no place else to go and get knowledge. Literally, they had the laboratories, literally, they had the computers and the books. You had to go there to get educated. And now today, with the Internet, it's never been easier to self educate, it's never been easier to learn online with certification programs like. Yours or certificate programs like Sasses or any of the million that you talked about. And it's something that I feel very torn about because I think it is better than what's going on today in that it's better than spending four years of your life and going into crushing debt to get a four. Year degree than, rather getting really hyper specific about your career goals and honing in on this one thing I'm going to be the best at SAS implementations of NLP, of AI, or of data analytics. This is what I'm going to do. And then I'm just going to be like a surgeon instead of like a shotgun blast, and I'm going to go in with a scalpel and do it. But at a certain point sometime in the near future, I'd like to get your opinion on it. Is there going to be like are certs the new college degrees? Are certs going to take that path?

Matt [00:55:10]:

We do a lot and pay attention to all the surveys and things that are out there. And there is no silver bullet, right. Certification, I'll never say is the silver bullet. And what do you want to get on your resume? What do you want to get in front of the recruiter that's going to get you hired as the individual? Right? I'll put anything on here. If that cloud sticker that we just talked about gets you hired, that it got the job done. Right? But what we found in hearing this from hiring managers and others is that certifications kind of establish this baseline of trust, right. You might still get the job otherwise, but the certification going through that kind of extra step that gets your resume from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile. They interviewed a bunch of hiring managers. 60% said that having it certifications on your resume, it's more likely that that application is going to be reviewed. Right? So that's the first step. Get it reviewed because it's not just sitting there on the pile with the rest. And then 66% said that those that were reviewed had a higher chance of being interviewed thereafter. Right. And that's because of just kind of this baseline of trust, we need this skill set that measures this skill set. We'll take it. It doesn't mean there aren't other skills in that job wreck or other things they're looking for that are also important. But for me, it's that initial, put it on the top of the pile. One of your previous guests, I think he was saying, I don't look for jobs anymore. Jobs come to me. Right. And that's part of it too. That's one of the benefits of getting that certification as well, having that there is that that's sometimes what they're going out there and looking for. Specifically, there is a conflation of all of these different things and what is the value of each of them as you stack them up next to each other. And I think that's what we need to work through the market will ultimately handle that, I believe. But when you're confusing the HR professionals and the hiring managers, we got to figure out what the next step is. And to your point, we talk a lot about this in assessment. Like, is the certification or the certification exam kind of the dinosaur, if you will, of assessment? But we are always forward thinking. There's always going to be a need for assessing. And the question is, how do we do that in the future without going down a huge rabbit hole? When you talk about chat GPT and all this OpenAI and those new technologies, is there going to be a way that I can assess your skills without making you take a test? Right. That I can do it while you're, while you're on the job, while you're doing certain check that box. He used this functionality. He used this. And how do you do that for somebody who's not working at the job already? Right. How do you do that for somebody that's just trying to break into the industry? And so I think it will ultimately be a mix of things. I think currently, I still believe strongly that the certification exam, whether it's performance based, multiple choice, whatever it is, whatever the vehicle, is still the gold standard for that assessment of somebody's competency. That really does make the difference between being on the bottom of the pile or in the pile and being moved to the top of the pile.

Ryan [00:58:19]:

I did want to talk a little bit about AI. I know that we don't have a lot of time left, but I did want to talk a little bit about it and kind of go down that rabbit hole, as you were saying, just at least at a surface level. And I guess I'll start with AI. Where is SAS going with that? Because it seems like there's a lot of data involved. Right. These are basically a data company, from my uneducated opinion. And you're helping decision makers make decisions on their own data and implement their data in more strategic ways. Where is AI playing a role in that? It seems like with data analytics and with data gathering, it seems like AI is going to do a really fantastic job at that. And where do the SAS developers and the certifications come into play in that landscape?

Matt [00:59:16]:

Sure. And some of this is above my pay grade in terms of where we're headed as a company in the AI space. In the certification world, you're developing the software, and then we're not developing it in the certification world, obviously, but the development is happening, the momentum is happening in that space. Then we're training on it. How do you get into it, know it, understand it, be able to to apply it within your organization, and then we're assessing people's ability to do those things. But you know, in a nutshell, we take tons of data. And that's different by organization. That's different by is the sensor data that's telling you that a farm equipment that is going to go faulty within the next week, so that you have the new farm equipment headed to the site because downtime for them costs them money, right? That's one point of data. You look at a telecom company and that's churn. What are the three, four or five things that happen before somebody canceled their contract with you, with Verizon, at and T? You know, how many calls do you get? Where can you intervene in that process and stop it? So what AI does is we take all of that data. You build a model to start to understand what happens. Where are the similarities? What are some of those touch points of maybe it's a call into customer service, maybe it's an outage? If these four things happen, there's a 92% likelihood that you're going to cancel your contract, right? So you train these models on all of that data, and then you put these models into production. And then where the artificial part comes in is these models are then learning from the outcome. Right? So we talk about Chat GPT as an example. My understanding of how that works is that it was trained on a massive amount of data, internet, et cetera, but it's not currently still being trained. Like, if you ask it a question about who's going to win or who won the Super Bowl last year, it doesn't know because it stopped. And I think 2020 or something like that. What makes AI powerful is understanding. That the outcome. So did I get that question right? Okay, yes. Feed that back into the model. Make the Tweaks back into the model. And so that's what the AI is doing. We're working with folks to help build those models, help them understand how to build those models that can predict that behavior, and then is the outcome. Correct? And then feed that back into the models. And then when you're feeding it back into the models, the models are getting smarter. They're learning, right? And when they're learning, that's when it becomes artificial intelligence, essentially, right, that's moving forward like that. That's where SAS is headed, is to continue obviously advancing.

Ryan [01:02:03]:

That where we can yeah, it's a crazy time that we're living in because this artificial intelligence and machine learning, it is happening so quickly right under our noses, and people that can recognize it quickly and adjust their skills to fill that market demand. And maybe that market demand isn't here now, but that market demand is coming. And I'm not sure if I'm accurate or not, but I think that having a basic level of understanding of AI models, or at least some basic level of understanding of programming, and it doesn't have to be about AI. It could just be something as simple as Python or something like that not that Python is simple, but something like that is going to be very similar to your base understanding of, let's just say, business in general, that people sell things and that there's expenses. I think it's going to be like that's how quickly this technology is moving.

Matt [01:03:14]:

Sure. These are key concepts, right? Data literacy. And we do have a data literacy course that's absolutely free that SAS has put together. Right. Because we recognize that need for just very entry level understanding of what this means. And then maybe from there, there's cloud literacy. Cloud literacy is huge. If you want to work in it now, you need to understand the cloud, the basics of it, to be able to decide if that's the direction you want to go. But yeah, it's a good way to get started to understand if this is something for you.

Ryan [01:03:39]:

Yeah, totally. And Matt, thank you so much for taking the time today. As a final, do you have any last requests or asks of the audience before I ask where they can find you?

Matt [01:03:52]:

Www. Dot. SAS. Comcertification. You're going to find all this information or learn as well as another option. So that's where you would find look me up on LinkedIn as well. I'd be happy to connect with anyone in your audience, talk about these things. So I appreciate being here. It's been a great time.

Ryan [01:04:08]:

Yeah, definitely. And like I said, for everybody listening, show notes are going to be at Degreefree Codcast, and I'll put a link to everything that we talked about in this episode there. Matt, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your knowledge about SAS. This was a great conversation for anybody who's thinking about their next step and how to get certifications or even a peek behind the curtain of how certifications were. Thank you very much.

Matt [01:04:36]:

Hey. Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan [01:04:37]:

How'd you like that episode? I hope you got a lot of value out of this conversation with Matt where we talked all about SAS certifications and the certification process in general. If you guys enjoyed this episode, please leave a review wherever it is that you get your podcast spotify. Apple. If you'd like to learn more about SAS and everything that they're doing there, you can go to If you'd like to learn, learn more about the SAS certifications, go to learn. Once again, links to everything can be found at degreefree codcast. And if you haven't already, go to degreefree co newsletter to sign up for a free weekly.

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