What's in a certification?

Some programs mean much, much more than others

I certainly wasn't expecting a rooster to start crowing as I hit question 50 on my information security certification exam this past Saturday. Then again, not much had gone as I'd anticipated. Soon after number 50, a noisy cow was driven back to the nearby hillside, and the din outside the wide-open school lunchroom windows was reduced to the distant clatter of cars and honking on the nearby outskirts of Pune, India.

I was the only American bhidu in the room. Afterward, several people asked why I'd take an exam half a world away from home.  Why here indeed, and why at all?  I wondered that myself, having completed the higher-level certification several years ago.

Certainly there's value in security certifications, even if respect for many of the vendor-specific certifications -- notably Microsoft's Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) and Software Engineer (MCSE) -- has decreased. But the broad idea of professional certification hasn't fallen out of favor, and certifications still make sense in the information technology or security industry. (See separate story: Beef up your paycheck: Top 5 storage certifications.)

In fact, I think Microsoft's current perception problem is due to specific missteps: flooding the market with certified administrators and software developers, and since-reversed mistakes related to the forced expiry of certifications according to product release cycles.  Cisco, for example, has managed to retain a bit more cachet for the Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA) and Internetwork Engineer (CCIE ) simply through reasonable rigor and a touch of scarcity.  The percentage of people with insufficient practical experience among CCNAs may be the same as among MCSAs, for example, but there's a clear difference in perception.

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