Certifications Broke My Heart

Nigerians often seek shortcuts to success. Then there’s the “sure banker”, professional careers. But do certifications truly enhance careers, or are they empty promises? Let’s explore the reality behind the allure.”

Nigerians are funny people.  Everyone wants a shortcut to success. For those without the liver to ‘do Yahoo’ or go into politics, sing or act in Nollywood, the obvious choice is having a professional career. I mean a career in just anything… as long it guarantees a chance to impress Baba Nkechi, the neighbor.

I recently went on a rant of how having an extra degree has been mostly fraught with disappointments but I’m not yet done yet.

Will getting certifications or professional qualifications provide my career with a needed boost?

My naïve family and friends think so; and in fact, they feel it’s a “sure banker” strategy.

Let’s talk about it.

Certification and professional exams come in different shapes and sizes. Sexy and luring, boring and deflating. I’m making a half-hearted attempt to categorize them my way. In general it depends on what miserable career you are trying to enhance.

The Compulsory Certifications
Some careers where you can practically kill someone else, such as medicine, pharmacy, etc., are more regulated than nuns in a nunnery. These certifications come under my rant, because they are compulsorily required – else you won’t be allowed to do anything.

For example a lawyer trying to practice without law school degree is flirting with going to jail; the only time you can be allowed to sell drugs without a pharmaceutical certification is when you are a drug dealer. That itself, will get your head missing in Indonesia.

The Computer Certifications
Nigeria welcomed the 1990s with a slew of computer schools – the corner street panacea to everything needed for a modern career. Everyone rushed to do computer education with dubious diplomas but the racket didn’t last for long because did it help build any career except for the account balances of the patrons.

But computer certifications won’t just die easily. It upgraded itself and became the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MSCE). For the first time we had something that if you had, it briefly guaranteed you to be god’s cousin. It actually helped careers… before the charlatans were discovered. MCSE cost one hand and two legs and people got jobs in droves. I remember the wistful way I used to look at Solix Technologies adverts then.

Solix’s a story for another day. Then everybody I knew got on the MCSE train and it stopped being fun.

We moved on to other things.

Oracle certifications glowed briefly. Novell tried for just a few days before it became dead on departure. Cisco seems to have had the best outing so far. TheCCNA was easy to get on, with the promises of a good career as a network administrator. CCIE has been adjudged as visa to career heaven, wherever that is. But once you got on it, you discover that heaven is more of a personal thing. You get me?

I spend dearly every year for my Chartered Fellowship with British Computer Society. 6 years down the line, I’m still trying to justify it. It looks good on my LinkedIn profile though.

The Project Management Certifications
PMP came with a bang, followed by its cousin, Prince2. The myth of project management as a job or career was created by Nigerians who trooped to the UK on the HSMP programs, got there and couldn’t find gold on the streets of London. Hey, don’t crucify me yet! That’s the rumor I heard. I can’t be sure it’s true. Someone confirm for me.

Project Management meant many things.
OK, I was also on the PMP and Prince 2 trains. I did them to show that I’m also smart. I found out I was stupid, as it never did anything for me. I mean nothing!

Quite a number of friends, relatives and even family members did these certifications with a hope that their lives and careers would take a sudden change for the better. It never happened.

The Dead Ass Certifications
How people started doing HR certifications baffles me. I mean HR guys are usually miserable people who endure thousands of emails from jobseekers expecting them to perform miracles, find work and pull promotions out of thin air? They are a fantastic bunch but if you don’t want to become a lecturer in Nigeria despite respecting your uncle that’s a professor, don’t do HR certifications also.

I’m sorry if you did ICAN or ACCA with hope that being an accountant means anything, you need your head examined.

The accounting work has been largely automated with fancy software. When last did you see a job vacancy for accountants? How many of your cousins with accounting degrees are accountants?

The Glory Certifications
If you can pass the CFA, a big IF, you deserve everything you think you deserve. Mostly nothing at times. CFA takes about 3 years to pass alongside 1,000,000 liters of coffee and stubby fingers where the nails have been eaten off and hopefully you get a good job when you are done.

The only one person with CFA that I know whose life changed for the better because of this qualification was one dude who got moved from dead ass role to live ass investor relation job because he has CFA. The job itself doesn’t require CFA.

My Diatribe Against Certifications
Certifications, through the empty promises of improved career and super fly lifestyles provided by “armed robber” salaries, never came! I could have spent the tiny I had on beer and at least forgotten my sorrows for a while. Instead I slaved nights, read dumps, went to boring classes and got shafted.

I was intellectually raped.

And I wasn’t alone. I, being a very nice dude and a gentleman, am asking this question today: can certifications turn your career around or provide a needed leverage?

My humble assessment, if you bother to ask me, is no! I know some people have made it because of the few wonky certifications.

I know a lot of people who have been “healed” in churches too; but hey, we both know where you go when malaria shakes you and rattles your bones.

You may want to read the following carefully.
Too many people are certified, and if you paid attention in your economics class, you would know that demand and supply wreck havoc to the most beautiful things. Once everyone has PMP, your project management certificate means nothing. Don’t even mention Prince2. I don’t know what else you can do with it apart from using it to craft paper kites.

If it was that good, someone would have put a gate on it. You want to do PLAB to be a doctor in the UK and earn good money? Trust me there is at least 7 years of extremely dreadful medical degree between you and that.

Does anyone know any successful accountant around? So why do you subject yourself to incredible cruelty with ICAN and ACCA? Nobody hires accountants these days.

I have been on interviews panels like a billion times and we hardly take a second look at certifications; we look at you! Are you smart? Do you come with a positive attitude?

Can you work without supervision? Do you know why Buhari wouldn’t devalue the Naira? Nobody gives two flying horse legs about certifications – except of course if you are going to be in networking or IT security.

The Outliers
It’s not all doom and gloom. Some certifications will certainly enhance your chances. If you are going to be doing networks, better come with at least a CCNP else you should stay at home. If you have a CCIE, oh, we will roll out a damn red carpet for you. Even better, we will be thinking you are effing crazy not to be in Dubai earning Arab money. UAE, and to a large extent, the Gulf, is a nice place to be if you have Cisco networking certifications.

Same for the increasingly needed IT security experts. The spate of computer attacks these days is scary. So large companies like telecoms, banks, oil and gas, etc. are practically gobbling up IT security experts and no better ways to show you know your left from right than your certifications. CEH, CISM, CISSP, GSEC, etc. are regularly served for dinner.

Guaranteeing Career Success
Ok, I lied. I don’t know how to guarantee career success for you. I mean, I don’t know a single formula. What I know, however, are things you could do to move up the ladder – without spending the money you don’t have on phony certificates.

I’m probably when I’m less busy, I will come back to share some tips. Until then, goodbye and go have a good beer!

This article has also been published at www.bellanaija.com.

Banking Career for Dummies

I’ve been in banking all my career, that’s if I don’t count the two months I was jobless between NYSC and my first proper job. I don’t know if this is an unfortunate experience as some people swear by heavens that banking is the worst job on earth.

It’s not! Don’t mind bad belle people!
The Nigerian economy isn’t that developed so banking is one of those rare jobs that could bring in some decent paycheck. Yahoo tops the list followed by oil and gas. Our venerable old banking comes a distant third.

If you are going to start life as a banker though, there are some things you need to understand.

Banking is built on hard, cold numbers and bankers count beans so take special care to note that there ain’t no free food in Freetown.
If you don’t have the guts to tackle the impossible, don’t bother to apply.
Banking is a warzone; nobody takes prisoners.

Everyone screams about long hours, targets and what women do to survive banking.

While I know targets are as sure as rain or taxes however what women do is what women do and it’s nothing to do with banking. Most of my successful female colleagues (past and present) got where they are from hard work, grit and mental chops. If any of them did a customer, they would have done the customer if they weren’t bankers anyway.

Interviewing for a bank role
Don’t beat me up on this, but the average banker is fairly intelligent so when coming for the job, bring your brain along. Life throws all sorts at bankers so expect the most unimaginable issues to be sorted out for your customers.

Life is generally hard, I don’t fathom why some people could think banks are day care services.

While at it, learn to love the unlovable. In banking, the customer is always right and your opinion doesn’t count when they are angry. If you know you have short temper, don’t be a banker as your days may be numbered less than the count of toes of an ostrich.

One of the things an average Joe doesn’t understand is the grade level system in banking. Unlike other industries, grades in banking are separate and distinct from functional roles. Not knowing this can be very disadvantageous especially when crossing from a non-banking industry. The shock and disappointment will be crushing and demotivating! So please pay attention to what I want to say!

There is formula to the madness.
The professional grade system is similar across banks, with few variations. Grades at senior management, from Assistant General Manager and above, is regulated by the Central Bank of Nigeria. So welcome to banking and prepare to move up levels:

  1. Executive Trainee (ET)
  2. Assistant Banking Officer (ABO)
  3. Banking Officer (BO)
  4. Senior Banking Officer (SBO)
  5. Assistant Manager (AM)
  6. Deputy Manager (DM)
  7. Manager (MGR)
  8. Senior Manager (SM)
  9. Assistant General Manager (AGM)
  10. Deputy General Manager (DGM)
  11. General Manager (GM)
  12. Executive Director (ED)
  13. Deputy Managing Director (DMD)
  14. Managing Director (Oga at the top)

Additional information you should pay attention to:

  • Some have a grade before Executive Trainee usually called Graduate Trainee or any other fancy designation but you are not an ET
  • Others have a grade between Executive Trainee and Assistant Banking Officer
  • There could be a grade between Senior Banking Officer and Assistant Manager
  • Certain banks have two levels for Assistant Managers
  • About 4 banks have Principal Manager level between Senior Manager and Assistant General Manager grades. Look before you leap!
  • CBN doesn’t permit any level between General Manager and Executive Director anymore. Those who have been lucky to land there are grandfathered in
  • Quite a few banks don’t have Deputy Managing Directors
  • Most banks give official cars from Manager grade with just one or two throwing in a personal driver as well. Talk of living the life!

In terms of moving up the ladder, a smart and lucky dude gets promoted every 2 years but usually runs out of luck once he gets around the middle management grade. Let’s say he doesn’t, he would still spend at least 20 years before he becomes a General Manager.

The good old days have gone!
Banks hardly demote and I haven’t seen any before but if your bank gets acquired, you should start adjusting your lifestyle.
So you may ask, how do people get to where they are if it would take a zillion years to move from grade to grade? Well, bankers are sometimes called prostitutes, figuratively I mean. We tend to jump from bank to bank, picking up experiences, grades and hoping not to move from frying pan to microwave oven.

Long ago when there were many banks, people routinely got promotions once a year and some few unicorns got double a year. I recall when I started my banking career, I knew of guys who got to be AGMs before they turned 30 and at least two EDs who got appointed from AGMs. Those days have gone, probably never to come around anymore.

These days, most Assistant Banking Officers are between the ages of 30 and 35. Back in the late 90s, most CEOs were in the same age brackets. I guess the barrier is higher and people are bigger chickens, myself inclusive.
In conclusion, I could say I have had a good time in banking, absolutely no regrets.

Maybe it’s because I have never experienced life in other industries. I’m lucky to still stay in touch with my core love – Engineering so I hope by the time I get tired of banking or banking gets tired of me, I can find something else to tickle my fancy.

Drop a comment if you have other specific information about banking careers and I would be glad to respond within limits of what I know and without letting out official and confidential information.

Is Postgraduate Education of Benefit in Nigeria?

“Why would you offer me, a Banking Officer, the same grade that I was before I went to school, despite my Masters from the University of Liverpool?”

I looked at the dude like he just fell out of the sky and gate-crashed into a nudist camp. I swore under my breath; what the heck?

“Dude, that’s the best we can do for this role. Based on policy and work load, this function can only be for, at the highest, a Banking Officer”.

That exchange happened some years ago with some younger colleague who wanted to get back on my team. That same scene has played over a zillion times across a billion hiring offices nationwide.

He grudgingly took the job but he hated me (he was always giving me side eye) for it.

Before you label me the evil boss, probably jealous of the guy’s achievements, hear me out.

The quest for higher education is an insatiable itch for a lot of Nigerians and when our universities went tits-up, we started hustling for foreign degrees. I reckon it’s as itchy as being broody, if you get what I mean.

After 6 agonizing years studying Electrical Engineering, at which I thoroughly sucked, I left school and promised never go to back again. University for me was boring, horrible and we lived in terrible conditions. In those days there weren’t private universities so you either went abroad (only few did as the economy was, em, no comments) or go for top notch Federal Universities.
If you are going to eat toads, go for the ones with eggs.

But just after a few months, I started dreaming of Masters and PhD. I tried to do some bits at UNILAG, but they were arrogant and uncoordinated. Considering I like to be the only arrogant person in the room, I couldn’t stick that. In fact to add insult to injury, I was asked to do 1 year of postgraduate diploma before I could enroll for a Masters in Information Technology. Àrífín!

Lumbering along in my career, I saw so many people, with crushed expectations and broken hearts, who had spent many years earning high quality Masters at top notch schools, being asked to take the same levels or sometimes something less than they earned before they went for higher education. I asked myself – is it worth it?

In the defense of the employers, the lack of regards doesn’t come from inferiority complex (as some have been accused) or lack of understanding (that’s also an accusation) but from asking a simple question – how does your Masters/PhD give you an advantage in delivering superior results in the specific roles than the gorímápás that didn’t bother leaving their desks? Employers pay for output not for robes and mortal boards.

This annoyance was most prevalent in banking but also happened in Telecoms, FMCG, general Commerce, etc.

My itch for higher education didn’t disappear but I advised myself with wisdom – go when you are newly promoted and senior enough to manage the slowdown.

I finally summoned courage to do my Masters at a ripe old age (I was the oldest in my class) but foolishly chose a tough brain-cell killing Masters in Engineering. It almost turned to the worst mistake of my life but after boasting to my colleagues that I wasn’t going to come back to Nigeria if I didn’t knock out a distinction, I read so hard my eyes fell out.

But then I still paid dearly for it. I ended up spending almost 5 years on a single grade. Do I have regrets about the Masters? Absolutely NOT! Do I have regrets about hanging around like an aborigine on a single grade? Absolutely YES! Could I have done it a bit better? YES!

By the way, not all schools are born equal. I know alumni of Ivy League Colleges and other expensive schools fare better. But then truth be told, many of them already have the advantage, connections, money, bla bla, to land the good careers in the first place and the schools are just an extension of the exclusive clubs they belong to.

If you like, you can count this as the rant of a sore loser.
After all is said and done, I have come to the following conclusions:

  • There is nothing better than education.
  • Higher education may not do much for your career unless it’s very highly specialized. For example, if you are going to work in fancy UN style organizations, a PhD is a must.
  • MBAs are too generic. If you must get one, go to a top-notch school. Start saving now.
  • Go to school when your career has become stable and you have established credibility.
  • Nobody trusts your MBA when you have never worked before. It’s like calling yourself a military General just after NDA – either you are a joker or a clown.
  • Nothing substitutes for a good school. It’s foolish looking for a cheap school just for the sake of higher education.
  • Long distance learning is WAY HARDER than being in class! If you see anyone go through it, respect them.

I guess my opinions may be wrong or maybe my experiences are different from yours. If you have had similar or diverse experiences on this, kindly share below.

Base64 in Microsoft SQL

Base64 encoding is a Swiss Army knife function for every programmer but somehow not readily available in Microsoft SQL Server. Or that’s what everyone thinks.

Apparently it has been hiding in MS SQL since 2005 release. So recently while searching for a working solution, I found a something workable at this blog post and then used that to create two SQL user defined functions.

Use freely but attribute.

CREATE function [dbo].[base64encode] (@input varchar(max) )

returns varchar(max)


declare @source varbinary(max)

set @source = convert(varbinary(max), @input)

return cast('' as xml).value('xs:base64Binary(sql:variable("@source"))', 'varchar(max)')



CREATE function [dbo].[base64decode] (@input varchar(max) )

returns varchar(max)


return cast('' as xml).value('xs:base64Binary(sql:variable("@input"))', 'varbinary(max)')