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Ups and Downs

Vendor-specific and vendor-neutral certifications have clear advantages and disadvantages. Vendor-specific certifications benefit from a high level of recognition in the IT industry—and a very focused curriculum. Even those who are not familiar with a specific program find it easy to relate a certification to a vendor. If it were possible to find someone who had not heard of the Microsoft Certified Professional program, it still would not take long for them to figure out what it meant. Contrast that with a certification such as CompTIA's A+, and you can be reasonably sure of two questions: Who is CompTIA and what is A+?

It's not that vendor-independent certifications such as the A+ are not widespread, because they are. It's simply that they are not as well understood as the vendor-specific programs. The Computing Technology Industry Association, CompTIA, is leading the field of vendor-independent certification. CompTIA's already hugely successful certification programs have been running for more than six years and have produced almost 300,000 certified individuals. In terms of overall numbers, this ranks CompTIA as third behind Microsoft, whose immensely popular Microsoft Certified Professional program boasts more than one million individuals, and Novell, one of the pioneers of the certification industry, with more than 500,000 certified individuals. Although there is a big difference between the figures for Microsoft and CompTIA, how many other market sectors in which Microsoft operates have such viable competition? These figures demonstrate that, in CompTIA's case, at least, vendor-independent certification works and is valued by both individuals and employers alike.

Although these figures are impressive, there are still certain challenges that confront vendor-independent providers such as CompTIA. Vendor-specific recognition reassures others of the relevance of the certification. Further, it's often assumed the level of knowledge needed to acquire a given certification is of a higher level than that needed to obtain a vendor-independent alternative. In most instances, this is not the case. It is simply that the flexibility vendor-independent certification enjoys causes programs to focus on different, although no less technical, perspectives.

Advantages of vendor-neutral certification programs:

  • The independence of vendor-neutral providers allows for the creation of programs and curriculum not tied to one technology or product.

  • Vendor-neutral providers can offer an unbiased view, delivering a balanced coverage of topics.

  • Vendor neutrality allows the opportunity to address shortcomings or issues related to a product or technology.

  • Eliminating the need to promote individual products allows vendor-independent providers to focus on relevant technology issues.

  • Vendor-independent providers can develop programs that cover products from more than one manufacturer, thereby providing a more realistic perspective.

  • The generic nature of vendor-neutral certification often makes it well-suited for those new to the IT industry.

  • They provide a certification option for those who have not yet chosen a product specialization.

Advantages of vendor-specific certification programs:

  • Vendor-specific programs provide detailed instruction on specific technologies and products.

  • They enjoy industry-wide recognition relative to product popularity.

  • They focus curriculum on current and widely used products.

  • Generally speaking, more supporting material, such as books, training materials, and forums, are available for vendor-specific programs.

  • The profit-making nature of software and hardware vendors means that program benefits are often better.

  • Some vendor-specific certifications are generally recognized on a worldwide basis, whereas certain vendor-independent certifications are administered by localized organizations.

  • Vendors are able to prepare curriculum for products before their release, allowing programs to closely match industry trends.

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