On The Job: From Paper To Pro Page 3

Deb Shinder

Is Your Certification Worth the Paper it's Printed On?

The third type of "paper professional" is to blame for the devaluation of many IT certifications. At one time, hiring authorities were impressed with the MCSE. It was a difficult certification to obtain, and few people possessed it. If you had it, you were presumed to have a higher-than-average grasp of Microsoft networking technologies, and capable of walking in and going to work competently administering an NT-based network.

Today, many employers still desire certified employees - but the piece of paper is no longer enough to prove that you know your stuff. Now along with the certifications, companies want to see documentation that you've had experience in working with networks in the real world. You can thank "Mr./Ms. Paper" for that.

As brain dumps and cheat sheets became widely available, and "boot camps" sprang up that purport to teach everything you need to know to be an MCSE in two easy weeks, more and more people passed the exams without ever really learning about the product. Employers got burned when they hired MCSEs, expecting a high level of IT knowledge and skill, and discovered their new "network administrators" had never formatted a hard disk.

The piece of paper that was once worth so much lost its allure when it could no longer be counted upon as a measure of a person's ability to do the job. Microsoft and other vendors (Novell experienced the same problems with their CNA/CNE program, and Cisco's CCNA has fallen prey to the same phenomenon) have taken steps to tighten exam security, make questions more difficult to memorize through the use of scenarios and simulations, rotate new questions into the pool more frequently, and otherwise bring the value of certification back up.

The vendors can't do it alone. It's up to each of us as certified professionals to protect the value of our certifications by complying with the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) when we take an exam, by refusing to support the "dump and cram" model of "training," and by supporting the vendors' efforts even though it may make it more difficult for us to obtain and maintain our own certifications.

This article was originally published on Sep 18, 2000

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