You're Certifiable

FRAMINGHAM (08/15/2000) - Anne Martinez, author of Get Certified and Get Ahead (Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2000) and founder and editor in chief of GoCertify.com, a computer professional certification site, answered readers' questions on CIO.com about the value of IT professional certification Q: What would your estimate be of the salary of an employee with Intranet Manager (IM) certification, such as the one offered by Novell? (Assuming a few years of Web development and project management experience prior to certification.) We typically pay our IS staff conservatively, and we try to live with the churn rate it causes, but I have a key contributor who is close to completing IM certification, and I need to start projecting whether our budget has a chance of keeping him onboard.

A: In this case, the question is not really, What is the certification worth?

But rather, What is this employee worth to you? Or, more specifically, how much would it cost you to suddenly no longer have this employee and have to replace him, including the training costs and downtime related to that replacement?

There's a study on Novell certification that can help answer your salary question at education.novell.com/download/idc_cne_study. It basically says that a little more than half of companies with Novell Inc.-certified staff pay a premium directly related to the certification, at an average of 14 percent.

This study can also help you justify that premium.

Q: Are certification programs all they're cracked up to be? I'm an IT director in the health-care industry. I've met and also interviewed plenty of CNEs and MCSEs. At least half of them aren't worth the paper that their proudly touted certifications are printed on. It seems as though almost anyone can order a home study course, cram for a couple of days, pass an exam and wham, you're certified. The question is: a certified what? To me, real-world experience, a serious dedication to learn and the ability to perform well under pressure heavily outweigh whatever piece of paper anyone wants to show me. I would really like to hear your thoughts on the topic.

A: As with other credentials, certification has to be taken in context to be meaningful. You must look at the candidate as a whole. Certification does not replace experience, but it does augment it, and it can help compensate for a lack of it. It certainly shows that the candidate cares enough to keep current and has the initiative to study and pass technical exams. It demonstrates a serious dedication to learn, which you mentioned, and it shows that the candidate is willing and able to test himself against standards someone else has defined. And, even the act of cramming for exams broadens an individual's exposure to the components of the area the exam is in. To be sure, there are people who cram for certification exams, just as there are people who do the same thing to get through college. But there are also many people who take the process seriously and prepare and work hard in order to become certified. And those are the ones you'll want to hire.

Q: I read the article in the March 1, 2000, issue of CIO titled "Paper Chase," and I have a question for you regarding certification. I am a 38-year-old manufacturing engineering manager in an aerospace manufacturer. I have a bachelor's of science in mechanical design technology, and I'm working on a master's in organizational management. I have always had an interest in IT and was wondering if there is any specific certification--MCP, MCSE, PMP and so on--that could help me crossover into IT, without having to acquire another four-year degree or excessive training. I am specifically interested in Web technologies. Any suggestions or advice?

A: That depends on what you call excessive training. If you want to move into a new area beyond your current circle of expertise, there's going to be training and learning involved. How much depends on how deep you want to get. The MCP, MCSE and PMP aren't really going to help you as far as Web technologies. You'll want to look at Novell's Certified Internet Professional (CIP) or something from Sysoft, ProsoftTraining.com or maybe iGeneration (formerly known as HyCurve). Go to the GoCertify.com website and look under the Internet/Web section for a slew of possibilities. Besides pursuing certification, I would also advise you to look for opportunities with your current employer. Maybe you can represent your department on a companywide task force that deals with some cross-departmental IT initiative or implementation? You certainly should be able to make the move without another four-year degree.

Q: I work for CompUSA as the corporate security architect, and I hold the CISSP and CISA certifications for the broad security knowledge base. As you know, these certifications give you a good working knowledge of most security-related areas and operating systems but expertise in none of them. We are a very strong Microsoft-centric shop, and I was wondering what Microsoft certification would be right to strengthen my specific knowledge in Microsoft Corp. products, specifically Windows 2000. I have been toying with the notion of working toward the new MCSE 2000 certification. I am a firm believer in the fact that just passing a test for a certification doesn't mean much, however, in my case, studying and working hard to pass the MCSE tests will improve my knowledge base and reap benefits for my company. I welcome any comments or thoughts you may have.

A: You have hit on one of the key values of certification--the use of it to define a learning path. As you have determined, when you pursue a certification, you will be provided with a blueprint of what you need to know to be competent in a particular product or technology. As a security expert, you will want to be well versed in Windows 2000 and its architecture. I think your plan to pursue the MCSE 2000 track is very sound.

Q: Have you come across any studies comparing on-the-job performance before and after employees have achieved IT certification? In particular, MCSE and MCSP?

A: Try this one: Novell certification value study by IDC (a sister company of CIO's publisher, CXO Media) at education.novell.com/download/idc_cne_study. The majority of companies with certified employees believe that Novell-certified employees are more productive than other employees. Also, try "Benefits & Productivity Gains Realized Through IT Certification" (www.ibm.com/education/certify/news/proidc.phtml). Seventy-eight percent of managers from companies supporting certification believe that certified employees are more productive, at least in their area of certification.

To recommend an expert for this column or suggest a topic, contact Senior Writer Daintry Duffy at dduffy@cio.com.

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