Looking Forward & Back: 15 Years of Certification

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As the technology world we live in has evolved, so too has the way we learn. Imagine a time when people would spend hours of their time and hundreds or even thousands of their hard-earned dollars participating and studying information about technology or other related fields. Imagine those people never confirmed their newfound knowledge and skills or got credit for that knowledge. By not having the opportunity to pursue and achieve information technology certifications, this was our reality. This time was only 15 years ago.

The late ’80s and early ’90s saw many significant historical events, such as the fall of the Berlin wall and the war in the Persian Gulf. During this time we also saw the emergence of a tool that would complete the learning process. This tool would one day change the way we function in our careers and as technology professionals. This tool would help change the way hiring decisions are made in the 21st century. That tool has become a badge we are all fond of touting as personal proof of our performance. That tool is the information technology certification exam.

Why measure learning through IT certification exams? Measuring the amount of knowledge, gained and retained is a key step in any successful learning program. Managers use technology skills assessments as a tool to encourage individual employees to contribute and help the business meet its objectives. You have a stake in the company you work for or would like to work for. You need to be capable of anticipating and responding to organizational changes quickly. No matter how much of your time and your money you invest in training, you will not know if it is worth it unless you measure yourself. It is natural to want to know what is expected of you. IT accreditations help define these expectations.

In the Beginning
Novell Inc., the first company to introduce IT accreditation, is well known within the industry as certification’s pioneer. In 1990, Novell identified a need to create a formal accreditation program that would better improve its new product line of network technology. The business needed a pool of qualified individuals who could successfully sell this technology. Novell knew that to verify these individual’s qualifications, it would need to assess and certify their knowledge. An accreditation program would complete Novell’s then-revolutionary Certified Network Engineer (CNE) training course.

“We originally created the CNE certification program to validate knowledge and proficiency of our own staff prior to them taking customer technology support calls,” said Dan Veitkus, vice president of training services for Novell. “After we saw the program’s success, we extended the accreditations to our partners who support and sell Novell products. They too met with the same success.”

Novell’s certification exams were and continue to be rooted in the psychometric theories first developed in the early 1900s and throughout the early 1990s. Novell partnered with what was then known as Drake Training and Technologies to develop the exams. Developing the exams required extensive research into the job content and the test questions, or test items, and assurance that the exams were being developed in correlation with accepted standards. Subject-matter experts worked closely throughout the exam-development process to ensure the exam’s relevancy and validity.

After other organizations realized Novell’s success in establishing a business model of training followed by testing, they followed suit. Notably, these organizations include Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Cisco Systems.

Certification Evolution
These early IT certification exams were introduced as a method for measuring and predicting a candidate’s ability to use specific technologies. The intent of these certification programs was to certify only those individuals who demonstrated a high understanding and aptitude for technology knowledge and skills. In the early ’90s, the commonly held belief was that these credentials were all that was necessary to get a new job or a promotion. During this era, most IT professionals also believed that choosing their certification path was an easy decision because of the minimal number of certification programs available. This mentality quickly changed as the IT industry evolved.

Originally, early IT certifications were lab-delivered and paper-and-pencil-based. With the paper-and-pencil exams, processing the exam results was cumbersome and time-consuming. The long results-processing times and low security measures, along with the lack of convenient testing times and locations and the associated costs of paper-and-pencil-based testing led to the computer-based-testing (CBT) movement. CBT added more flexibility and benefits not found in paper-and-pencil testing. These benefits include instant, unbiased score-results processing—eliminating the possibility of human error. The CBT score reporting included areas test-takers had perfected and any other areas where they needed additional training.

With the CBT movement came the drive to test within third-party testing facilities or centers. These testing centers provided high-stakes security measures and more convenient testing locations and test-taking flexibility. Thomson Prometric—the former Drake Training and Technologies—helped propel the need for CBT delivery and IT certification.

As the alternatives for testing with convenience grew steadily into the mid-’90s, the number of people making a commitment to pursue IT certification grew as well—along with the number of technology organizations making a commitment to become test sponsors. This commitment quickly spread around the globe. Following the United States, Western Europe and Japan began to see the growth of IT certification and the impact of this truly global and groundbreaking movement. Many test sponsors partnered with Thomson Prometric to make pursuing IT certification affordable in certain areas of the world where technology innovation had been lacking.

Professionals recognized the excellent framework these IT certifications provided for charting a career path. The competition among certification test sponsors and between IT professionals grew. With this growth, certification exams began to change, augmenting the technology advancements introduced in the mid-’90s. We saw the introduction of a new type of certification. This certification is known as “vendor neutral.” As opposed to their product-specific certification counterparts, vendor-neutral certifications for the first time offered technology skill validation to the IT industry that could be applied across the technology spectrum as a whole—not just toward technology pieces and parts.

In the late ’90s, as the adoption and popularity of the Internet boomed, IT certification was booming with it. The Internet helped propel IT certification to the highest peak we have yet to see—bringing the IT certification industry’s business revenue stream to a $100 million dollar market. The Internet increased the amount of training materials and options available. We saw the emergence of online self-study learning materials, mentoring and virtual classrooms, self-assessment exams and online practice tests that simulate the actual, real-life testing experience.

The rapid growth was also due to the realization that IT certification exams provided a needed third-party, professionally constructed assessment of an IT worker’s knowledge. This type of assessment results in a useful measurement tool for standardizing and rationalizing what constitutes a knowledgeable, qualified IT worker. IT certification ensures that the exams do not bias professionals from different ethnic, geographic or cultural regions. And the end user, you, is guaranteed that the certification exam truly reflects and measures the job requirements, knowledge, skills and abilities. It is

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