Built to Last

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-03-17 Print this article Print

?"> Built to Last?

In an effort to predict which certifications will not only gain initial popularity but also retain and reflect value over time, many IT professionals and hiring managers are beginning to look beyond buzz, into the nitty-gritty of how different certification programs are run. Before agreeing to pay for training and certification for staff members or putting in the time himself to earn a specific certification, for example, AdSpaces Skaff has begun digging into how issuing bodies devise the tests that lead to their certifications.

"I look at the exam and the body of knowledge thats being tested," said Skaff. "For me, the best methodology is to have a mix of written and practical knowledge tested. The GIAC [Global Information Assurance Certification], for example, requires practical proof of knowledge."

Besides looking at the types of questions and answers included on certification exams, experts recommend understanding methodologies used by issuing bodies to continually update both exams and the bodies of knowledge they test for. Organizations that update often and comprehensively, they say, stand a better chance of managing a certification that retains a good reputation and value over time.

PMI, for example, performs a comprehensive role delineation study every four to five years, asking project managers how their jobs have changed. PMI then incorporates those changes into the standards-based project management body of knowledge that it maintains. And PMI uses that updated body of knowledge to create the exams that candidates must pass to obtain its well-regarded PMP certification.

Organizations such as the Computing Technology Industry Association, of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.—which issues several vendor-neutral certifications—conduct extensive psychometric analysis of exam data every three months to make sure questions accurately reflect the correct level of professional knowledge.

Organizations that are intent on maximizing the market value of their certifications are also acting to protect the integrity, as well as the accuracy, of the testing process. Cert issuers including CompTIA and Microsoft Corp. have formed the Information Technology Certification Security Council, in part to stop so-called braindump Web sites that illegally post exam questions and answers. (The group recently supported the successful prosecution of one such site, Cheet-Sheets.com, and its owner, Robert Keppel.)

Besides exam methodology and integrity, IT professionals should look at whether certification programs are put together with an eye toward global applicability. As more and more IT functions and projects move offshore, experts say, it will be important for organizations to choose certifications that can be obtained worldwide. That means not just that exams need to be available worldwide but also that domain bodies of knowledge must be developed with a global audience in mind, said John Hall, senior vice president at Oracle University, in Redwood Shores, Calif.

While the factors that go into making a certification that will retain value are many and, in some cases, quite subjective, a couple of things are certain, say experts: IT professionals will continue to be pressured to keep adding to the number and variety of skills certifications they hold, and the number of designations out there from which they must choose will only get larger.

"At one time, being a well-compensated specialist meant knowing about one facet of technology, but, as everything becomes more interconnected, now it means you must be an expert in more than one facet and more than one technology," said Foote. "Thats whats driving certification, and its not going to change any time soon."

Executive Managing Editor/Features Jeff Moad can be reached at jeff_moad@ziffdavis.com. Additional reporting by Mary Stevens.

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