The IT Industry Learning Cycle

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As IT professionals, we advance our careers through learning, experience and sometimes a lot of luck. We earn certifications, we learn through trial and error, and we keep a watch on the industry. Although we all may have done it differently, the IT certification industry has evolved to provide a path for our careers.

There is a learning cycle that learners in the IT industry have all taken part in, which supports newbies as well as those who have spent a lifetime working with technology. The cycle moves from vendor-neutral to vendor-specific certifications to specializations in technology and, finally, to lifelong learning.

Vendor-neutral certifications teach foundational, comprehensive skills. Although some require experience, many are aimed at an introductory audience. They provide an excellent gateway for someone who wants to start an IT career. Examples include A+ and Network+ from CompTIA and the Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) from ProsoftTraining.

These vendor-neutral certifications act as a good entry point because they are based on industry-standard jobs and skills. Both CompTIA and Prosoft base certifications on standards identified by the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB).

Fran Linhart, director of certification for CompTIA, has said, “The model of vendor-neutral certification to vendor-specific certification to company-specific certification will have the most impact on the IT professional. The model clearly indicates that professionals must be well-grounded before they specialize. The IT industry is maturing. A professional today needs a broad knowledge of all information technology, not simply on one specific vendor’s product.”

Once an IT professional gets a good foundation of skills, he moves into vendor-specific certifications. These certifications teach skills on a particular company’s software or hardware. Examples include Novell’s Certified Novell Engineer (CNE), the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

When a professional has gained sufficient training and experience to really understand the principles, functions, components and relationships of IT networks and technologies, she can focus on more critical features. These features require many years of experience. For example, the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) focuses on security standards across any enterprise network, internal and external, which may include any number of different vendors’ networking software.

Vendor-specific certifications also map to these more advanced skills. Novell’s Certified Directory Engineer (CDE) tests the skills for network directory specialization. The Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD) tests application development skills. These specialized certifications highlight a critical need for any IT professional—lifelong learning.

Why is lifelong learning so important? The IT industry moves at such a rapid pace that a person can become outdated before he feels he knows the current technologies. The competition for jobs, promotions and contracts is so tight that without knowledge on current technologies, it is very easy to lose the competitive edge.

Aaron Osmond, managing director of training services for Novell, has said, “We need not look any further than the professional licensure programs in other industries to understand the importance of lifelong learning. Although there is no one standard for the IT professional, we must accept the fact that continuing education is key to the credibility and value of the certifications we hold in the eyes of the employers and customers we serve.”

IT companies and IT-related institutions assist in providing opportunities to remain current and increase skills and knowledge. New classes and training events are consistently put into the market by vendors and their training organizations and partners. Companies that offer certifications often have recertification requirements, which helps professionals keep up on specific technologies.

IT professionals have training and certification opportunities that fit with the various phases of their IT careers. Both vendor-neutral and vendor-specific certifications teach the skills needed to start or grow our careers. Specializing in technology skills creates a unique mix in different people, which sets them apart and maintains a particular niche for them in the industry. And lifelong learning will keep us competitive and needed, something very attractive in today’s IT world.

Karl Childs has worked in the training industry for 12 years. His experiences range from teaching adults life and career skills to developing and managing IT training programs. He currently works as the certification strategist in Novell’s Training Services division.


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