Three Criteria to Evaluate Professional IT Certifications

Professional certification can be a good thing. I have three, in fact. Learning Tree has its own certification programs and it also offers classes to help people prepare for industry certifications such as those offered by CompTIA and CISSP or Certified Ethical Hacking by the EC-Council. Indeed, Learning Tree was recently selected as an AXELOS Strategic Training Partner. AXELOS owns the ITIL, PRINCE2 and other best practice certifications.

Another author of this blog, Bob Cromwell, recently wrote about achieving the Security+ Certification.

Participants in Learning Tree’s System and Network Security Introduction often ask me, “what good are professional certifications and should I get one?” I’d like to address that briefly here. In general the value of a certification depends on the individual, the individual’s employer and the certification.

It Depends on the Individual

When it comes to the individual there are many reasons to get a certification: industry recognition and acceptance, as a way for advancement, ensuring confidence in potential employers or clients, a sense of personal accomplishment and others. The first certification I received was the Certified Computing Professional (it had a different name then) from the Institute for the Certification of Computing Professionals. I achieved the certification in 1985 and have renewed it every three years by participating in continuing education. I did it mostly because I wanted recognition for my knowledge and experience. There was no associated advancement in my position then, and I was already employed.

It Depends on the Employer

Employers like certifications for multiple reasons, too. Some like to use them for hiring new employees, as a way to separate applicants. Some like to use certifications for advancement, requiring one or more certifications as entries to paths for promotion. This is part of why I completed the Security+ certification in 2005.

It Depends on the Certification

There are also multiple types of certifications. Some are specific to an individual company’s products (e.g. “Certified XYXco Widget Configurer”) and are designed for customers and users of those products; some are more generic such as those offered by Learning Tree. Some are based primarily on test results, and some include a “practical” portion such as the CPLP (Certified Professional in Learning and Performance) and the Learning Tree Expert certifications. I chose to apply for the CPLP credential because it requires not only a very comprehensive exam, but also submission of a Work Product showing the applicant’s ability. I achieved that certification in 2005 and also renew it every three years through continuing education.

I believe certifications are valuable or I wouldn’t have put in the work to achieve them. I also believe that experience is important. I wouldn’t hire a Certified Widget Configurer if she’d never actually configured a widget, but had merely passed an exam. On the other hand, many industry luminaries (in cyber security and other fields) aren’t certified – their experience is known and documented.

Learning Tree, as I mentioned before, has multiple exam prep courses. If you are looking to get certified in one or more of those areas – say by taking the Security+ – I strongly recommend the exam prep courses. However, I also recommend taking the content-related courses in those areas. In cyber security learn about penetration testing and perimeter and endpoint security. I’m not telling you this to sell more courses; I’m trying to help you become more valuable to your employer and prospective employers as well as helping you fill in critical knowledge gaps.

In the comments below, let us know what certifications you are currently pursuing and why. I hope you look at Learning Tree’s prep and content courses in the process.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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