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Making the Choice

Assuming that an individual is able to define the required skills, in many cases they will still be left with the decision of whether to choose a vendor-specific or vendor-independent certification. People seek certifications for a variety of reasons, and though the obvious ones may be more money and a better job, the actual results are surprising. In a recent Gartner report titled "2000 Training and Certification Study," respondents cited the increased credibility that certification brings as the most important factor, even more so than increased compensation or switching jobs. If credibility is a key driver behind a person's certification decisions, then it would make sense that the program's recognition is an important factor that will favor the more widely recognized vendor-specific programs.

But the study results, while unquestionably accurate, perhaps do not reflect a growing concern in the IT industry. Ken Kousky, CEO of Wave Technologies, said, "The market uses certification as a signaling mechanism that allows employers to identify individuals with skills in certain technical areas. In this respect, vendor certifications fulfill a specific market need. However, vendor certification often does not teach the underlying principles, which are increasingly important in an industry that is starved of professional competency."

This aspect, that of providing basic and generic skills, is something that perhaps the rigidity of vendor-specific programs does not allow for. In this sense, the flexibility to create programs that include underlying skills presents an excellent opportunity to vendor-independent providers, and it is one that many of them are capitalizing on. Again using CompTIA as an example, consider the programs offered. The A+ program is relatively unique because there are no other widely recognized certification programs that deal with the same topics. Similarly, the newer Server+ has few comparisons. Other vendors do provide server-type certification programs, but once again we are back to the fact that the skills taught are centered around a certain company's products. In the same way that A+ provides the foundational skills to work with PC hardware, Server+ provides the foundational skills for working with network server hardware.

CompTIA's programs are the most obvious point of discussion, as they are without doubt the most successful independent certification provider, but they're not the only ones. A number of other commercial companies and other non-profit organizations provide certification programs, though many, such as the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) and the International Webmasters Association (IWA), have to deal with the issue of industry recognition on a wide-scale basis. The recognition aspect aside, many of these vendor-independent, discipline-specific programs provide an interesting alternative for those seeking certification, particularly when many of the fundamental technical skills are already in place.

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