Now What? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in IT Certification: A Look Back and a Look Ahead
Now what? That question has taken on particular relevance over the last year: 2002. Everyone in information technology that I speak with is asking "Now what?" The whole IT sector is experiencing a host of emotions as a result of a wide variety of economic and socio-political decisions. It seems that everyone in IT is confused. No one really knows what the direction of IT will be in the coming year. "What bus should I jump on that will get me a good job and keep me employed?" is a common question. A friend of mine who is a high-end network engineer had been out of work for more than a year. After recently landing a very good job, his question to me was "Now what? What should I look at that will keep me competitive in this business?"
When I wrote the first Now What? article almost two years ago, I was very upbeat and positive about the future of IT. After watching and experiencing the events and emotions of the last year, I can honestly say that despite all of the downsizing and negative factors that are evident in this industry, I still have a positive and hopeful attitude toward IT certification and the whole IT training and certification market. I still believe that certification is the key to entering IT and to succeeding in IT. I can say that after looking at "the good, the bad, and the ugly" from last year with an eye toward 2003. There were some indicators that 2003 should be a very good year for those who are on the right bus in IT. There were some bad indicators that could generate positive outcomes if corrected. There were also some indicators that were downright ugly, causing some of us to re-evaluate whether a life in IT is an option worth considering. If the bad and ugly are not addressed, IT certification will definitely suffer in 2003.
2002: The Good
When looking back at 2002, it is easy to laundry-list all of the negative things that occurred. I came away from 2002 with a far longer list of good things that occurred. These are indicators that there is a positive future for certified professionals in IT.
One of the pleasant surprises in 2002 was the reemergence of Novell into the IT certification market with the CNE 6. For the last several years, expert prognosticators have declared Novell's Certification program dead. Well, there were a growing number of people either entering the CNE 6 program or upgrading their existing Novell credentials in 2002. One of the trends that I have noticed is there are a growing number of jobs that require applicants to have the Novell CNE. Novell has long had an industry presence that seems to be on the way back. With NetWare 6, that seems to be accelerating.
Personally, I was able to earn Novell's premier certificationthe CDE (Certified Directory Engineer)early this year, despite being told by many in the industry that it was a waste of time. Friends and experts in the field discouraged me from taking the time to earn this certification. I was hesitant, based on all the advice I received. The result was that I had the largest ROI in 2002 from the CDE than from any of my other certifications, including the Microsoft MCSE 2000. I got contracts for which I would have been passed over if not for the CDE. I am glad that I ignored the industry experts and took the time to pursue this certification.
CompTIA's new certificationsSecurity+ and HTI+are a real positive in the IT landscape. The new Security+ and HTI+ (Home Technology Integrator +) certifications address a growing segment of the industry and a segment that wants to become a vital part in IT. Many in the electronics industry have needed a portal into IT. The HTI+ offers those in the trades this opportunity. The Security+ certification is a significant addition to CompTIA's offerings in that it provides those interested in IT security an initial way to explore that sector. I think these two offerings will boost CompTIA's significant impact in the industry.
CompTIA's A+ and Networking+ certifications continue to be the most sought-after certifications for career changers and those entering IT. Major vendors are embracing these popular certifications for their own vendor-based certifications. The good news about these two certifications is that they have kept up with the changing fabric of the industry. They have changed as the technology changes, but not just to change. Those who have earned the A+ and Net+ in earlier years are not penalizedthey are not forced to retake these newer exams that cover up-to-date technologies. Rather, CompTIA has been mature enough to continue to recognize the certified professional, whether s/he was certified in 1995 or 2002. CompTIA's maturity and respect for industry professionals is one of the best things to have occurred in 2002.
Security certificationssuch as the SCNP, SCNA, and above all the CISSPcontinue to address the growing security concerns in IT. Security certifications continue to grow in popularity because of the demand for security professionals who can maintain a secure IT environment. In this era of socio-political uncertainty, security is on everyone's mind, whether in the U.S., Europe, or the far corners of the globe. IT professionals who are security-certified are valued and necessary assets. Those looking for a little job security in IT should look toward one of these certifications.
When my friend (who I introduced earlier) asked me "Now what?" my response was "CISSP, no questions asked." We discussed it for awhile, and now he is on the road to CISSP. He has the background and experience, and now he is studying to validate them in this competitive market. The reason that I am a fan of CISSP is that it is well-respected in IT, and it tests candidates on a wide range of topics. Experience is critical to passing the six-hour CISSP exam. Book knowledge alone will not get you in the door with the CISSP. Wheat and chaff are clearly separated by this premier certification.
Cisco certifications continued to grow in popularity and address the need for IT professionals with advanced training and understanding of the technology unique to WANs and the Internet. In a market that stayed relatively flat, the Cisco certification routes continued to show growth. There will be a continued demand for Cisco professionals if we all want to stay interconnected on the Internet.
One of the positive certification factors that contributed to IT in 2002 was the continued emergence of eLearning as a viable learning alternative for certification. It still needs some work, but it is developing and should be a major force in the coming year. One factor to consider for 2003: Those who know how to provide the content and interfaces necessary for an eLearning environment will have considerable job security.