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IT Certification as a Shared Vocabulary

By  May 15, 2008

Topics: Certification

I taught a student in class recently who had some interesting thoughts on certification that I wanted to share with you.

My student, who I will call Jim, is an IT industry old-timer who has worked in the field full-time since (gasp!) the early 1970s. Accordingly, I was keenly interested in discovering Jim's opinions regarding the more recent trend of using IT certification as a vehicle for demonstrating and documenting individuals' technical competency.

"Personally, I am a big fan of IT certification, said Jim. "What certification gives people is a shared vocabulary from which we can speak and exchange technical information meaningfully.

For instance, when I attend my local IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) user's group, I can speak to great effect with the other members because we share a common body of knowledge. In other words, we 'speak the same language.'"

One might make the argument, "What's the difference between certified individuals 'talking shop' and uncertified folks doing the same thing? Why the requirement for IT certification?"

My answer to this question is, once again, tied to industry-specific terms and technology. Without speaking too broadly, I have found in my professional experience that folks who have invested the blood, sweat, and tears in attaining IT certification are, generally speaking, better able to describe technology by using the proper nomenclature than can uncertified IT pros.

A quick-and-dirty example of this conversational dynamic is two uncertified people discussing "that security tool thingie in SQL Server." These individuals are both talking about the same SQL Server utility; however, because neither is aware of proper terminology, conversation tends to require more descriptive effort on both sides than is necessary.

On the other hand, consider two certified people talking about the "SQL Server 2005 Surface Area Configuration tool." Yes, this is an obvious and somewhat hyperbolic example, but I hope that you get my point.

The underlying notion is that by being 'on the same page,' as it were, with respect to the formal language of information technology and some vendor-specific best practices, communication is enhanced and knowledge transfer is expedited.

Think of two students in the same biology class at college. Does it not stand to reason that these individuals might have a more efficient conversation (at least in their discussion of biology topics) than would two folks who learned their biology by working in a medical office?

What do you think? Is my logic flawed? Dish!