The paper chase II

There are hundreds, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of IT training and certification courses.

While the jury is still out on certification as an employment essential (see “The Paper Chase” article here), there is general agreement that certification is useful for individuals’ own development and knowledge.

The hard part is deciding which certificates are the right ones for you.

The following is a sample of the latest and hottest certificates available, as well as some discussion on trends in the whole certificate and job prospects scheme — up, down and indifferent.

Latest certifications

With media and vendor emphasis on the need for organisational security, it’s not surprising that many of the latest additions to certification portfolios revolve around this topic.

Security certification: CompTIA’s Security+ course features in a number of suppliers’ arsenals. Regional director Danika Bakalich says there is increasing interest globally, with “high-level government bodies focusing on endorsing the program as national standards for those working with networks and document management”.

She adds that “bodies such as the FBI, CIA, and the (US) National Security Council are working with CompTIA on these standards.”

The Security+ certification, which is also mentioned by NETg, has four modules and covers general security concepts, communication security, infrastructure security and cryptography and operational security.

Sun offers Certified Security Administrator for the Solaris 9 OE, which is geared toward candidates with six to 12 months experience administering security in a Solaris operating environment.

Microsoft has added security components to its MCSE and MCSA for Windows 2000 courses. Duncan Kerr, Australian technical community manager, says these are Australian developments that have created interest overseas.

Network certification: Also new on the scene are a number of network administration and technologists’ certificates. Sun offers its Certified Network Administrator for designing and managing networks, such as TCP/IP, lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), integration with Windows environments and how to troubleshoot LANs.

Novell has its Certified Novell Administrator (CNA) certification, including the Foundations, Advanced and Upgrade courses on NetWare 6, and the CompTIA Network+ certification (as from this month, a compulsory component of the CNA requirements).

Spherion is also offering CompTIA Network+, as well as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) as an entry-level course for those wishing to become Cisco technical engineers.

Nortel Networks has a number of new basic to advanced level courses for its Meridian, Succession, Contivity, Alteon and Passport technologies. NETg has the CTP Data Networking certification, with two modules covering data networking fundamentals and building networks. Data certification: In the data and storage area, Sun has its Certified Data Management Engineer, while the newly established Storage Networking Industry Association has education as one of its parameters.

SNIA’s education is being planned for a launch next month, with a Storage Networking Certification Program, developed and run by Infinity I/O and already available overseas, on its agenda.

Development certification: In development and testing, Sun has a developer certification for SunONE Application server 6.0, and SEA Education Services, in association with KJ Ross & Associates, has a Certified Software Test Professional program, comprising 11 modules of theory and hands-on sessions over a seven-month period.

Administration and technology certification: Among the range of general and specific administration and technology certificates, recent additions include:

  • Sun’s Certified Systems Administrator for Solaris 9.0 OE
  • Novell’s Desktop Management with ZENWorks for Desktops 4 (a new component of Novell’s CNE)
  • Novell’s Certified Linux Engineer to be made available by the end of this year
  • CompTIA’s HTI+ home technology integrator, targeting IT professionals, the building industry, electrical engineering and networking specialists for the “wired-up home”
  • Spherion promoting CompTIA’s A+ entry level computer technician certificate
  • Microsoft is launching Windows Server 2003 in August/September (“the new exam will be the hardest of all — a new benchmark from Microsoft”).

Bigger things: If you want to stretch yourself further, Holmesglen Institute of TAFE has established the Diploma of IT (Network Engineering), a two-year course which incorporates Cisco’s CCNA and which should, arrangements pending, entitle graduates to enter Bachelor of IT courses in a number of universities with up to one-and-a-half years’ credit.

And Microsoft has worked with Charles Sturt University to establish an IT Masters degree, aimed at current IT employees with no previous degree. It comprises the MCSE plus 12 additional components over two years.

Hottest certification

What’s hot, or popular, is influenced by what the employment and contracting market is asking for, and what’s available from the varying suppliers.

Security is widely touted as the hot topic. CompTIA’s Bakalich says she believes “Security+ is going to be the next ‘hot’ certification, as government agencies and businesses alike are investing huge amounts of money in implementing secure networks and systems.

“It should therefore be a requisite that those implementing and running the systems are certified by an internationally recognised and industry developed certification. It’s about enforcing qualification standards, as there is far too much at risk.”

She adds that the A+, IT Project+ and Network+ certificates continue to attract a growing level of interest.

Among vendor-specific hot certificates are:

  • MapInfo: Professional User and Advanced User courses
  • Microsoft: MCSE for Windows 2000 (“More people want to achieve that certificate than anything else,” Kerr says, adding that, “It’s also the toughest”), the MCSA equivalent, and the joint IT Masters at Charles Sturt (“400 people have already signed up, with 1000 waiting.” The course is also being sold overseas, with ambitions of signing up 26,000 students over the next two years.)
  • NETg: most popular courses at present are Microsoft Windows 2000 and Visual Basic.Net.
  • Novell: Foundations of Novell Networking: NetWare 6 is the most popular course, as it is the entry level for the CNA certification; also popular is the Desktop Management with ZENworks for Desktops 4 course launched in January, and the upgrade to NetWare 6 CNE.
  • Spherion: Microsoft certifications such as the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and the MCSA are among the most popular courses offered. In addition to these, Spherion says the Diploma in Information Technology (Network Engineering) is also hot. Introduced in April this year, the 10-month full-time or part-time equivalent course combines Australian qualifications with industry certifications, including CompTIA A+ and Network+, as well as MCP, CCNA and MCSA.
  • Sun: most popular certifications are the Solaris 9 OE programs plus Java certifications (Sun Certified Programmer and Certified Developer for Java), and Sun Certified Web Component Developer, Enterprise Edition, for Sun certified Java programmers specialising in the application of JavaServer Pages and servlet technologies used to present Web services and dynamic Web content.

So much for the fast and the furious. But is the market responding? What certificates have staying power? What does the market actually want?

Arthur Richardson, partner manager Sun Service, Sun Microsystems, says his company is seeing an increasing number of IT professionals seeking certification because it’s seen to be a factor in job security, increased competition for jobs, and in order to keep up with current technology.

And Justin Pereira, regional marketing manager, Certification & Community — Asia-Pacific, enterprise systems group, Hewlett-Packard, claims a “surge in certifications due to the alignment of our pre-merger certifications as well as the introduction of the HP PartnerOne program in May 2003”.

In contrast, Kathleen Norman, marketing manager Asia Pacific for Thomson NETg, says “the number of IT professionals seeking certification is dwindling, as certification no longer seems to be as highly desired by employers as it once was. Companies would rather have IT people with hands-on experience, not just a certificate saying they passed an exam.

“Having said this, NETg is also seeing a trend in IT professionals combining IT certifications with professional development (or ‘soft skills’) courses.” She says the most popular professional development course being combined with IT certification is the Project Management suite of courses.

Push for paper

David Lenz, Novell’s general manager Australia and New Zealand, says his company is currently experiencing “great demand” for its certifications “as many people are moving across from other vendors’ programs or returning to their previous Novell qualifications. The main reason for this push appears to be the fact that CNE provides a point of difference from the MCSE. As the CNE is not as common as the Microsoft equivalent, many people are finding that having the Novell certification is actually worth more in the current employment climate.”

While Microsoft’s Kerr might differ on the job prospects, he would agree that MCSE is prolific. He says there are 33,000 Microsoft-certified professionals living in Australia, with 10,000 having the MCSE rating. He says the numbers of certificants is growing, “though not as fast as before”.

Mark Noonan, IDS operational delivery manager, education solutions, Spherion Group, agrees that numbers are not what they were: “The number of people signing up to IT certification courses has remained steady over the last couple of years, following a significant rise in the late 90s.”

Finally, Nortel is seeing “a moderate level of interest”, while reports have enrolments at Australian Computer Society courses well down on previous years.

While the numbers may be up, down or stagnant, vendors do seem to agree there is a trend towards vendor-neutral certification.

“Vendor certifications are a problem because they’re not neutral,” says Microsoft’s Kerr, explaining why his company has incorporated CompTIA exams into MS exams.

Gene Salois, CompTIA’s vice president for certifications, says: “The trend of vendor-neutral certification being integrated into vendor-specific certification tracks gained additional acceptance in the past 12 months. The recent announcements by Microsoft on its new security tracks MCSA: Security and MSCE: Security and similar announcements by HP, Novell, Symantec and others are recognition that technicians should first master industry standards and then start to specialise.”

Salois says there are all-round benefits from this process. “This is good for the learner because he or she does not have to keep repeating foundational certifications. This is good for the training industry because they can focus on fewer classes and make sure their students are fully grounded before moving on. This is good for the software and hardware manufacturers because they can focus on fewer and more value-adding certifications. It is good for employers because in the end certification is about productivity and assurance.”

So what then is the recruitment market demanding of certificants?

Jane Beaumont, managing director for Spherion Recruitment, says: “There has been a definite positive shift in demand for people with .Net expertise.

“C++ has taken a back foot to Java over the last quarter, particularly in New Zealand, but this is probably a reflection of particular project requirements at this time, rather than an industry shift away from C++ altogether.

Worth looking at for linking job prospects with available certificates is CompTIA’s TechCareer Compass ( Bakalich says TCC is an informational and communication technology skills site that contains a uniform set of job definitions and skill standards for careers in the industry.

“It maps industry certifications to specific jobs and provides links to vendors’ Web sites (Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Novell, Oracle, Cisco, etc). TCC maintains more than 800 active links that include learning providers, resources such as other ICT related sites, ie local associations, various job banks, resume, interviewing and assessment sites. The TCC site was commissioned by the industry (Cisco, IBM, Intel, CompuCom, Microsoft, Prosoft Training) to guide individuals wanting to enter the industry and or navigate around in different roles, it also assists managers in identifying their recruitment and training needs.”

At least such a site may go some way to sorting out your choices from the plethora of options available.

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