Certification: The Year In Review

Even as some certification programs grew at an astounding rate, others quietly slipped away.


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What's happened over the past year in the world of certification? You already know the bits that affect you directly, but there have been plenty of moves and shifts that affect the state of certification as a whole and its value to IT professionals and their employers. Whether you've already earned a certification (or three) or are still assessing the opportunities offered by certification, understanding the position of certification in the IT community will help you define your future certification efforts.

From 1998-2000, certification exploded into our consciousness and onto hundreds of thousands of resumes. Its initial appeal lay in its ability to add an extra sparkle to a resume that would quickly catch the eye of potential employers -- a way to demonstrate self-motivation, professional competency, and knowledge of the latest technologies. And it did so without requiring an additional two to four years of formal schooling. Often the necessary learning could be accomplished through self-study. Pretty good return for an investment of a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars.

In 2001, the beacon of certification continued to shine brightly, although perhaps with a steadier, less consuming flame. Over the past year, certification has begun to settle in as a well known, accepted way to credential expertise. It's not just the hot new thing anymore. IT professionals and their employers have a better understanding than ever before of what certification can and can't bring. Certification vendors have learned that creating and managing a certification program is not something to be done on a whim, or to create a quick new profit center; it takes time, commitment, and organization.

The following notable developments occurred in the certification marketplace during 2001.

The number of certified individuals continued to grow at an astounding rate. More than 230,000 new Microsoft Certifications were handed out. The CompTIA's (the Computing Technology Industry Association) A+, another biggie, now boasts more than 500,000 certified individuals, up from 269,990 at the close of 2000. The relatively new (launched in 1998) Certified Internet Webmaster went from 20,000 to over 35,000 certified.

In 2001, many new certification programs were launched and others expanded. Cisco Systems , CompTIA , IBM , Lotus , Microsoft , Novell, Oracle and Sun all added additional designations to their existing certification programs. Newcomers to the certification marketplace include Active Education , Apple, Brocade Communications Systems, EMC Corp. , Hyperion , Planet3Wireless, SAGE (the Systems Administrators Guild), SeeBeyond , Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), Security Certified , Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA) and Vignette.

New certifications clustered heavily around new technologies and areas of high interest, with most newcomers covering security or information storage. New security certifications include the Cisco Security Specialist from Cisco, Systems Security Certified Practitioner from the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC2), CIW Security Analyst from ProsoftTraining, and entirely new, multi-level security certification programs from Symantec, Security Certified , and ICSA Labs . On the information storage front, new designations were created by Brocade Communications Systems, EMC Corp., SNIA, and Sun.

The certification marketplace is solid and robust, with strong demand by IT professionals and plentiful opportunities for companies and organizations considering new certification possibilities. Certification continues to serve as both a blueprint for learning new technologies and a doorway into working with those technologies. Organizations are quick to latch on to certification as a way to develop a loyal following of IT professionals.

Changes and Departures
During 2001 a surprising number of certification vendors left the certification marketplace, either by simply fading away or by transferring ownership to another organization. Among the departed or transformed:

  • In April, Intel announced plans to shut down its certification program and transfer already-certified individuals to CompTIA and ProsoftTraining programs.

  • Also in April, the Gartner Group ended its "Gartner Group Project Management" and "e-Business Fundamentals" certifications. Both were transferred to CompTIA, where they were relaunched as IT Project+ and e-Biz+.

  • In May, the well respected Certified Technical Trainer designation left its home at The Chauncey Group and moved to CompTIA. Two months later it was re-launched as CTT+.

  • iGeneration merged its program with ProsoftTraining's CIW program and vanished from the Web.

  • In the course of becoming Gupta Technologies, Centura Software's certification program seems to have quietly slipped away.

  • Baan Certification has fallen dormant, and is reportedly under redesign.

  • Marimba Certified Castanet Developer - suspended after less than two years in existence.

  • Computer Associates Certified Professional (CACP) program - also gone. (The Unicenter certifications are still there.)

  • The Dialogic (now part of Intel) CT (Computer Telephony) Solution Developer and CT Professional certifications are gone.

Starting and running a successful certification program requires substantial resources, including time, money, and skill. It isn't worthwhile for everyone (or every company).

Rising Exam Costs
Exam prices have crept upward. Early in the year, Cisco raised the price of its CCIE qualification exams from $200 to $300, and the hands-on lab from $1,000 to $1,250. Later, most other Cisco exams were bumped up from $100 to $125. Microsoft recently announced plans to raise exam prices from $100 to $125 on Jan 4, 2002. New certifications launched during 2001 feature exams costing between $125 and $150 each. In years past, $100 was the norm. Brainbench's free online certification program has largely been retired and replaced with a for-pay exam model.

Nothing is getting cheaper. Although the price jumps are substantial, many certification vendors have kept their exam prices unchanged for years, so the increases are not unreasonable. Given the value that certification delivers, the higher exam costs are unlikely to significantly deter certification candidates.

Cross Pollination Increasingly Common
As previously predicted, networking and cross-certification dependencies have continued to form. The jCert Initiative was a pioneer of this concept back in 1991, and during 2001 more certifications than ever began to recognize and/or rely on each other.

The most prevalent form of this interreliance comes in the form of product vendors accepting or requiring a vendor-neutral certification as a requirement toward earning the vendor's certification. Vendor-neutral CompTIA certifications are the most heavily represented in these arrangements. Consider that:

  • Novell Corp. announced this year that it will be replacing its Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) Networking Technologies exam with CompTIA's Network+ exam, that CompTIA's ITProject+ will become a core requirement for the Master CNE (MCNE) level, and that CompTIA Server+ will become an MCNE elective.

  • Microsoft will accept a combination of CompTIA certifications in place of an elective in its new Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) track - either A+ and Network+ OR A+ and Server+.

  • LPI Level 1certification is a qualifying technology for the IBM certified for the e-business Solution Technologist role.

Although it's much less common, this cross-recognition goes the other way as well, with vendor-neutral certifications accepting or requiring vendor-specific certifications. For example, candidates for ProsoftTraining's CIW Security Analyst title must hold a networking certification from either Microsoft (MCSE), Cisco (CCNP or CCIE), which are vendor-specific. Several vendor-neutral Linux certifications also qualify. The most advanced CIW titles provide "fast tracks" for individuals who already hold a Microsoft, Novell, or Intel certification.

And it even occurs, on rare occasions, between vendors. EMC's Architect Master certification, launched in 2001, requires evidence of certification from Oracle (DBA, DBO, Application Developer), Microsoft (MCDBA), Cisco (CCNA, CCDA), SUN (Solaris), and CompTIA (Server+).

A side effect of this cross-linking is that keeping track of which certification counts toward what is getting more complicated than ever. On the other hand, choosing certification exams wisely can get you double or triple bang for your buck when one exam counts toward multiple certifications. It's also becoming easier to gain certification in multiple areas without having to repeatedly demonstrate the same skill set on different certification vendor exams. This is also likely to strengthen demand for the certifications that are used most frequently as cross-requirements.

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