CXO

Does the recent market affect the value of certifications?

Do layoffs and tight times mean you should abandon your certification and training plans? Not necessarily, but you may want to target your training plans to focus on key certifications, advises TechRepublic columnist Jeremy Smith.


The IT market is going through some very uncertain times these days. Major companies including Nortel, Ericsson, Oracle, Motorola, and even the mighty Cisco are laying off employees.

These layoffs may cause you to question whether it’s worthwhile to invest in certifications for yourself or your staff when thousands of IT pros are flooding the job market. But just because Cisco laid off a few thousand employees, does that mean you should cancel training classes on Cisco routers?

Don’t be so hasty. Let’s examine what this turbulent economic time means for certifications and how you can respond to protect both your career and your staff.

Certifications: Still a value-added proposition?
While it is true the sliding economy has affected a number of technology companies, the need for highly trained IT professionals remains. Certifications are still a viable way to demonstrate your proficiency in a specific product and prove that you are a highly trained pro.

A popular IT job-hunting Web site, dice.com, currently lists over 100,000 jobs for IT professionals. The key to weathering this storm is to obtain the skill sets, and targeted certifications, that are needed. But this strategy doesn’t mean you should suddenly drop or alter your training plans to obtain what’s listed in the want ads.

My advice to you
Don’t let this market upheaval thwart your certification and training plans. Continue to pursue certification, but consider taking a second look at which certifications and training paths carry the most weight.

If everyone is getting an MCSE, then perhaps you should raise the bar! By adding the skills and targeted certifications that are most needed, you set yourself above the other candidates or fellow employees and help to ensure the likelihood that you will be able to keep your current job or even obtain a better job. By ensuring the same for your staff, you’ll could be protecting your division from future layoffs.

Which brings us to our next point: Which certifications or training should you be pursuing?

What training do you need?
What certs do you need to set you apart from everybody else? Some examples of some skills that might set you apart from the masses include the following:
  • Citrix’s CCA, or Citrix Certified Administrator, is a cert that is gaining momentum. Citrix provides a terminal emulation software that sits on top of Microsoft’s Terminal Server and further extends its capabilities. A recent job search on dice.com returned 420 job openings for Citrix-qualified people, which makes adding a CCA to your toolbox a sound move. Most of these positions also require an MCSE or MCP certification, as well.
  • Linux or UNIX experience is also a sound investment for training dollars. Both of these products have a viable footprint in the industry—another search on dice.com revealed 2,544 job openings for qualified professionals with UNIX or Linux experience. It behooves you to at least become familiar with these technologies. For more information on Linux training, visit Red Hat’s training site.
  • Certifications tied to a specific hardware vendor can also be beneficial to your career and your business. Companies as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel offer various certifications centered on their hardware products. Proving expertise in these areas just might help you stand out from your peers.
  • Last but not least, Novell! Yep, good old Novell. “But wait,” you exclaim, “they just laid of 900 employees, and there is no way they can compete with Microsoft’s Active Directory, right?” Not true! Over 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies still run Novell’s NetWare in some fashion, and while they eventually may go to Windows 2000, many of them are not yet planning any large migrations. Novell is not going away any time soon, and it will be beneficial for you have at least a Certified Netware Administrator (CNA) certification or the equivalent knowledge.
Do you agree that these training options are "a cut above" other options? What technology training do you think will give you the edge in this market? Post your opinion below.
What about upgrading my NT 4.0 Cert?
While it’s a good idea to pursue different certifications, this discussion wouldn’t be complete without a look at Microsoft’s MCSE.

With the recent release of Windows 2000, NT 4.0 MCSE’s have been faced with upgrading their MCSE to Win2K. Should you upgrade your cert now that the market is a little finicky?

A recent survey from TechRepublic.com’s members revealed that 51 percent of the respondents were not planning to upgrade their MCSE by the December 31, 2001, deadline. (See Figure A.)

Figure A


Also, migration from Windows NT 4.0 networks to Windows 2000 is slower than Microsoft had hoped. For those seeking certification on Windows 2000, it’s unlikely that companies will be excited about paying for certification on a product that they are not implementing—yet.

But Microsoft is already reducing support for NT 4.0. (i.e. They are not providing a Service Pack 7.). This may force companies to migrate to Win2K, which means that at some point, most NT 4.0 MCSEs will upgrade.

You can get the jump on them by obtaining your Windows 2000 MCSE certification now if you can afford to do so. This will ensure you will be ahead of your peers when companies deploy Windows 2000.

Final Thoughts
Those of you with stock and mutual fund portfolios are probably experiencing some trying times these days as you ride the market roller coaster.

While this scenario may create panic for IT pros, take heart. While the market isn’t a rose garden right now, companies acknowledge that they still need technologically educated employees.

"An economic downturn in the end will put pressure on organizations to cut costs in the areas of training and development, however IT training will be the least affected,” said Martin Bean, the chief IT strategist for Thompson Life-Long Learning, in a recent edition of Certification Magazine.

So IT training should continue to flourish. It should also be the key to weathering this storm. To ensure your position and advancement in this market, continue to obtain certifications, training, and experience.

Jeremy Smith is a technical instructor for Vortex Data Systems, Inc. (a Certified Technical Education Center) where he teaches numerous Windows 2000/Windows NT 4.0 classes. He previously worked as a network administrator and supervised technicians in support of a 6,500 user LAN/WAN. He holds a variety of certifications including A+, Network+, MCP+I, MCSE NT, MCSE Windows 2000, CNE, and MCT.

Tomorrow, Dr. Kurt Linberg, dean of Capella University’s School of Technology, offers an opposing view on how IT professionals should respond to the slowing economy: He contends IT pros would be better off pursuing an advanced degree. Check back tomorrow and then add your thoughts on which strategy to adopt.

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