Don't let vendor certifications make your head spin. Here's how to ace the right exams.
Love 'em or hate 'em, you can't live without certifications. You can argue until you're blue in the face that years of experience outweigh any multiple-choice test result. But one fact remains: Many companies choose their technical partners by virtue of their certifications.
So deal with it. Skeptical? Consider two recent research reports. The first report, "The IT Certification Training and Testing Market" from International Data Corp. (IDC), says the certification trend is only going to grow. Another study, written Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, emphasizes that certification—rather than a computer science degree—is gaining importance within the IT community.
But consider your options wisely. With the right combination of certification, expertise and experience, your project whiteboard will be filled for years to come. With the wrong combo, you'll have to beat the bushes for customers.
Certifications serve different purposes for different audiences. For a worker, a certification can be the springboard that catapults him or her into a desirable technical job. For an integrator, it's a necessary stamp on a project-hunting passport. For a vendor, it's a way of building brand loyalty among partners. And last, but not least, for the customer, it's a way to ensure that a contractor is competent (or that's the goal, at least).
Used wisely, everyone wins. But if you don't stack the certification deck in your favor, everyone can wind up with a losing hand. Here's a guide to help you cash in.
Study The Landscape
All certifications are not created equal. A certification that's not recognized by the market is worthless. You also should be wary of certification programs for obscure technologies or from unrecognized companies or vendor-neutral groups.
Popular certifications, though, like the Certified Novell Engineer (CNE) and Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), are requested by customers and often are required by vendors to be an authorized partner. If you work in the Windows world, for example, MCSEs are as much a requirement as are PCs.
Generally speaking, the tougher the certification process, the more you can expect to get paid. Just ask Cisco Certified Internetworking Experts (CCIEs). Only one in five people who take the CCIE certification exam passes it. But with starting salaries topping $100,000, there's no shortage of people working toward this crown jewel of technology certifications.
Still, not all certifications age as well as others. Many will lose their value, as today's hot technology becomes tomorrow's commodity offering.
For most of the 1990s, Novell's CNE was a traditional VAR's best friend. But that may not be the certification you want today. Corbin de Rubertis, Novell's VP of eBusiness, concedes that NetWare is no longer at the center of Novell's business strategy. Instead, Novell Directory Services (NDS) and its Internet cousin, eDirectory, represent "the kernel of identity for any business," he says. With that in mind, Novell's Certified Directory Engineer (CDE) program is the next logical steppingstone for Novell partners.