Why a Certification is Only a Start


[:en]Certification and credentialization are requisite parts of today's business landscape. The field of Information Technology is no exception. Learning Tree offers a broad range of IT certifications for employees with varying skill levels.

I received my first IT certification in 1985 from The Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals, now known as the ICCP. That certification - now called the Certified Computing Professional - requires 120 professional development credits every three years to maintain the certification. I'm currently in the third year of my current cycle.

My experience with renewing my certification and with helping others achieve and maintain certifications has taught me two very specific things about certification. Before I share what I have learned, it is important for me to note that I am a strong proponent of certification, exam preparation books, courses, study groups, and practice exams. I have used them myself to prepare for certifications.

First, I learned that many (obviously not all!) exam preparation books and courses are designed to focus on the material covered on the targeted exam. That is a good thing: it means the learner can focus only on the essentials he or she will encounter on exam day. The sheer volume of potential exam material for some exams makes that focus essential. Those courses that cover a subject more broadly provide an additional benefit to the potential examinee.

That means, though, that those wanting to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a topic may have to take courses beyond the exam prep course to get the whole picture. For some that may mean a fundamentals course before or after the exam prep effort to fill in the "holes". I often find that when I teach Learning Tree's cyber security introduction course, some of the participants are there for that very reason. Those who want to achieve certification, but recognize before they begin the exam preparation process that they need more fundamental knowledge, may do well to take an introductory course before taking the exam prep course.

Some certifications are relatively broad, while some may be highly targeted. Those for whom a general exam is required for a particular task or position at work, may choose to take courses after becoming certified to gain specialized knowledge.

The second thing I have learned is the necessity for ongoing education. Some certifications are a one-time event, while others - as I noted above - require additional professional development. At the time of my first renewal, I thought the process was onerous, annoying, and a waste of time. I was completely wrong. Even back in the 1980s, the IT industry was rapidly changing. I and other certificants needed to keep current. We still do. Whether it is through attending conferences, presenting papers, or taking courses, we all need to be lifelong learners.

In addition to being an IT professional, much of my work has been in IT education, and I hold the Certified Professional in Learning and Performance credential. (That also has a professional development requirement and I just recertified for three more years.) The point is, my focus is helping individuals perform at their best. Certification or credentialization is often a part of that, but along with those goes the need to gain a holistic understanding of one's job, task, or field.

Studying for and passing a certification exam is not the end of the process; it is for many the beginning. Whether you want to fill in gaps, specialize further, or just keep current in our ever-changing field, more learning is always a "win".

AUTHOR: John McDermott[:]

Written by John McDermott

John McDermott, CPLP, started his work in computer security in 1981 when he caught an intruder in a system he was managing. In recent years his consulting has included security consulting for small businesses. He is Security+ and CCP certified. In his 30 years with Learning Tree John has written and taught courses in programming, networking and computer security. He is the co-author of Learning Tree’s course System and Network Security: A Comprehensive Introduction. John is currently a learning and development consultant in northern New Mexico. He lives in a house made of earth with his wife, who is an artist.

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