Cheaters Never Win: Ethics and IT Certification

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If you’ve read any newspaper, listened to the radio or watched TV within the past six months, you know cheating is on the rise. Students are using cell phones to cheat on tests. Corporate executives are being sent to jail left and right for embezzling funds or for insider trading. Even journalists have been caught plagiarizing work and exaggerating story lines in hopes of sensationalizing the news. Research studies reported by Greg Cizek, author of “Cheating on Tests: How to Do It, Detect It and Prevent It,” suggest that cheating has steadily increased over a 30-year period. In one 30-year longitudinal study, for example, college students who admitted to cheating on tests increased from 26 percent in 1961 to 52 percent in 1991.

Perceptions of cheating are even harder to swallow than the cheating itself. Most people who admit to cheating see little wrong with it. They rationalize cheating as a means of getting ahead. “Everyone is doing it, so why not?” Students justify cheating as a means to compete to get better grades. Lawyers rationalize overcharging clients in order to make partner. Job applicants lie on their resumes to get a desired job. It’s unfortunate, but the vast majority of individuals who cheat do not see a way to succeed without using dishonest approaches.


What about IT professionals? Are they impervious to the harsh realities of cheating? Unfortunately not. IT professionals fall prey to some of the same pitfalls as other professionals, beginning with the certification exams they must take and successfully complete to become certified. Search the Internet today, and you will find myriad IT brain-dump Web sites and portals purporting to sell “actual” test items. Many of these sites are used by wannabe IT pros who need to become certified quickly without the proper study involved to really know and perform in their profession.


What are the values and standards associated with cheating, and how does it affect the IT industry as a whole? In this article, we will discuss ethics and why they’re especially important to IT professionals. We will then provide some examples of cheating on IT exams and the impact on the individual, the industry and society. Last, we’ll talk about what can be done to reduce the amount of cheating in your own IT testing and work environments.


Ethics, Schmethics: What Are They, Anyway?
Without trying to regurgitate a college-level course in ethics, let’s first describe ethics, how they relate to values and some examples of each. According to the Ethics Resource Center (, ethics are defined as “standards of conduct that guide decisions and actions, based on duties derived from core values.” In other words, they are rules that describe how an individual should behave based on moral duties and virtues, which in turn are derived from fundamental principles of right and wrong.


Discussing ethics without talking about values is like having a bowl of cereal and leaving out the milk. The two are inextricably linked. Values define things of personal importance, things we prize the most. As such, values provide the basis for ranking the things we want. For example, we may value honesty, fairness, family or physical beauty. As an IT professional, you may value a job well done, a piece of well-written software code or communication with co-workers. Values provide the foundation for developing ethics. However, values may or may not be rooted in ethical principles, and therefore are not necessarily appropriate standards of conduct.


Speaking of standards of conduct, let’s take a tangent for a second and talk about a code of ethics. A code of ethics is a written set of standards of behavior about how individuals are to act in order to be part of an organization or matriculate into an institution. Many organizations and schools today have a code of ethics in place for their employees, members or students. For example, an organization’s code of ethics may state rules about stealing from the organization and the consequences of that action. For an academic institution, there may be a policy around cheating or plagiarism and its associated penalties.


James Renner is principal of Mariemont High School and Regional Director for the Cisco Networking Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Mariemont has had a code of conduct in place for decades,” Renner said. “Basically, if a student is caught cheating the first time, they receive a zero on the assignment/exam, the teacher calls home, and the student meets with the principal. If further incidents occur, a student may be suspended and meet with the superintendent.” The Cisco Network Academy, located on the school’s campus, is bound by the same code of conduct as the rest of the school.


Racing Against the Clock: What Propels Us to Cheat?
According to David Callahan, author of “The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead,” there is a whole host of reasons why individuals cheat. However, there seem to be some recurring themes:



  • Whatever it takes, I must win: Rewards for performance have grown exponentially over the past 20 years, especially for those individuals at the top of the pyramid, be it sports, school or business. The result is that people will do whatever it takes to be a winner.
  • A tough economy means greater financial anxiety: In recent years, there has been increased concern regarding the security of one’s future. Individuals who should feel secure about their futures don’t. As a result, individuals will cheat to save money, cheat on tests to get good grades or fudge on their own job performance to gain a competitive advantage.
  • Let sleeping dogs lie: The incentives to cheat have grown as well. Watchdog agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and state regulatory boards have become complacent in the enforcement of monitoring and sanctions for cheaters.
  • Go on, indulge yourself: Last, Callahan suggests that there is more cheating in today’s society because “…our culture indulges it. We live in a more dog-eat-dog society, where greed and cutthroat competition are often encouraged by role models and television shows (e.g., The Apprentice).”


Wendy Fischman, author of “Making Good: How Young People Cope With Moral Dilemmas at Work” and project manager of the GoodWork project, said, “There is also such a thing as ‘cheating yourself,’ doing the kind of work for which you, as a person, don’t feel proud. People often ask us, ‘How can you tell if you are doing good work?’” One of the ways good work can be evaluated on an individual level is by the mirror test: Look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself whether or not you are proud of the kind of work you have done. According to Fischman, “Unfortunately, these days, the kind of work that gets rewarded and recognized is not necessarily the kind of work with which any of us want to live. (Jayson Blair, the New York Times journalist caught writing fictitious news articles, is still in the limelight these days and making money on his new book!)”


It should be noted here that individuals don’t really set out to cheat or compromise their work, Fischman said. “…(T)hose individuals interviewed who admitted to cheating, lying or cutting corners in some way did so because they felt they had no other choice. To be ‘successful’ at work, individuals felt forced to compromise their own values in order to gain attention and become recognized in the field, or to satisfy their bosses’ demands and hold onto their jobs,” she said.


The War Against Weapons of Mass Interception
Cheating on IT tests takes many forms. Because they are computerized and the questions are scrambled using different forms, the old method of leaning over and copying answers is ineffective. New ways of cheating have bee

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