Foundational certifications: Why they are so important

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The entry-level credentials often described as being foundational certifications can provide the underpinnings of a long IT career.In the construction trades, it is often said that the strength of a building is in its foundation. In the ‘90s, with the goal of obtaining Microsoft’s Windows NT 3.5 MCSE certification, my first attempt was their 70-058 Network Essentials exam.

Decades later and unknown to most of us, the current version of their Networking Essentials exam (98-366) appears to languish with a publication date of August 2010, serving as a stepping stone towards Microsoft’s MTA certification (1).

As noted on Microsoft’s website, however, “MTA exams do not qualify for MCP certification, nor are they a prerequisite for MCSA or MCSD certification.”(2) Without that connection to a valued Microsoft professional certification (e.g. MCP), Microsoft has in my opinion effectively devalued this foundational certification exam.

In contrast, CompTIA and Cisco both seem focused on improving their fundamentals certification offerings, recognizing these initial certification offerings as a stepping stone for their higher level certifications.

CompTIA’s recent focus evidenced itself a year ago when it released a new exam, replacing its IT Fundamentals certification (3) with the new ITF+ certification.(4) CompTIA updated the exam coverage and broadened it to include foundational information in areas that included cybersecurity, databases, and software development.

In 2011, based upon an increased industry utilization of virtualization and cloud based technologies, CompTIA created a foundational certification titled “Cloud Essentials.”(5) In April 2019, CompTIA announced the expected retirement of the current exam, with the replacement exam for its new Cloud Essentials+ certification, currently going through its beta testing.

The anticipated public release date is expected to fall in the fourth quarter of 2019. The “draft” objectives for the new CL0-002 exam(6) were recently released and a comparison with the CLO-001 exam objectives discloses a stronger analysis of utilization of a cloud environment by businesses, coupled with governance, risk, compliance, and security for the cloud.(7)

For Cisco, their CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician) credential provides the opportunity to obtain a foundational certification that is a step towards their higher level certifications that include CCNA (Routing & Switching), CCDA, CCNA Security, and CCNA Wireless.(8)

An important consideration that helps to explain CompTIA’s continued support of its entry level certifications relates specifically to research being completed by California Cyberhub(9) in partnership with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.(10)

This study focuses on both the IT Fundamentals and the new ITF+ certifications. The study was commenced in 2017, and focused initially on the distribution of 1,000 FCO-U51 exam vouchers to California students, with a goal of determining the effective passing rates for middle school, high school, and community college students.

Based upon a higher than expected pass rate for the old exam, in January 2019 the project focused on the new FC0-U61 exam, and more than 2,000 vouchers have been purchased phase. One noted consequence relative to students obtaining the IT Fundamentals certification is a high number of participants moved on to obtain higher level CompTIA certifications (specifically A+, Network+, and Security+).

As a continuation of this project, with the support of the Chancellor’s Office and CompTIA, California Cyberhub will collect data to measure project success in terms of students moving forward to obtain these higher level certifications.


REFERENCES

1. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/exam-98-366.aspx
2. https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/learning/mta-summary-certification.aspx#cp-section3-head
3. The FC0-U51 certification will be retired in July 2019.
4. The new FC0-U61 went live in September 2018.
5. New cloud computing credential announced (CertMag.com)
6. CLO-002 Draft Exam Objectives
7. CLO-001 Exam Objectives
8. https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/exams/current-list/100-105-icnd1.html
9. https://ca-cyberhub.org/
10. http://www.cccco.edu/

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Steve Linthicum

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Linthicum taught cybersecurity courses for decades as a professor at the college and university level, and currently works with the California Community College Chancellor’s Office in a workforce development role. He holds an array of IT and cybersecurity industry certifications.

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