The world of IT certification has changed considerably over the past several years, as the demands of the IT industry and the market for tech talent have shifted. IT consultant and exam veteran Erik Eckel offers an update to his list of top 10 certification Web sites.
It's no surprise that a ranking of the top IT certification Web sites would change in six years, which is when I last published such a list for TechRepublic. What is surprising is just how much the IT certification landscape has changed.
Since I drafted the first version of this article back in the spring of 2002, the economy has seen many ups and downs. As of late, there have been a good many more downs than ups. In response, increasing numbers of computer, programming, and other technical professionals are scrambling to do all they can to strengthen their resumes, boost job security, and make themselves more attractive to their current employers. Toward that end, certifications can play an important role.
But that's not what industry certification was about just a short six or seven years ago. No, certifications then were a key tool that many job changers wielded to help solidify entry into the IT field from other industries. When technical skills were in higher demand, technology professionals leveraged IT certifications for greater pay within their organizations or to obtain better positions at other firms.
As many career changers subsequently left IT over the years, and as most technology departments -- under the reign of ever-tightening staffing budgets -- began favoring real world skills, certifications lost some luster. But even like a tarnished brass ring, there's still significant value in the asset. You just have to mine it properly.
Technology professionals, accordingly, should update their thinking. Gone should be the old emphasis placed on brain dumps and test cram packages. In their place should be a renewed focus on career planning, job education, and training. Instead of viewing IT certification as a free ticket, which it most certainly isn't (and never was), technology professionals should position certifications as proof of their commitment to continued education and as a career milepost -- an accomplishment that helps separate themselves from others in the field.
Fortunately, there remain a great many resources to help dedicated technology professionals make sense of the ever-changing certification options, identify trustworthy and proven training resources, and maximize their certification efforts. Here's a look at today's 10 best IT certification Web sites.
Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#10: BrainBuzz's CramSession
CramSession, early on, became one of the definitive, must-visit Web sites. With coverage for many Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft, Novell, Red Hat, and other vendor certifications, the site continues to deliver a wealth of information.
The site is fairly straightforward. While it appears design improvements aren't at the top of BrainBuzz's list (the site's not the most attractive or visually appealing certification destination, as evidenced by some missing graphics and clunky layouts on some pages), most visitors probably don't care. As long as IT pros can find the resources they seek -- and the site is certainly easily navigable, with certifications broken down by vendor and exam -- they'll continue coming back.
In addition to the site's well-known study guides, which should be used only as supplements and never as the main training resources for an exam, you'll find certification and exam comparisons, career track information, and practice tests, not to mention audio training resources.
#9: Windows IT Pro
CertTutor.net is one of the Web sites that made the previous top 10 list. It did not, however, make this revised list. Instead, Windows IT Pro magazine's online site takes its place.
The long-running Penton publication is a proven tool for many tech pros. CertTutor.net used to be part of the magazine's trusted network of properties, but the certification content has essentially been integrated throughout its larger overall Web site. Certification forums are mixed in throughout the regular forums. For example, the Microsoft IT Professional Certification topic is listed within the larger Windows Server System category, while security and messaging exams receive their own category.
Within its Training and Certification section, visitors will also find current articles that track changes and updates within vendors' certification programs. Such news and updates, combined with the site's how-to information and respected authors, make it a stop worth hitting for any certification candidate.
#8: Redmond Magazine
Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine, long a proven news and information resource for Microsoft certified professionals, became Redmond Magazine in late 2004. Thankfully, the Redmond Media Group continues to cover certification issues and maintain an online presence for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.
MCPmag, as the online presence is known, may remain the best news site for Microsoft professionals looking to keep pace with changes and updates to Microsoft's certification tracks. In addition to timely certification and career articles, the site boasts industry-leading salary survey and statistical information. Visitors will also find dedicated certification-focused forums, numerous reviews of exam-preparatory materials, and a wide range of exam reviews (including for some of the latest certification tests, such as Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista desktop support).
#7: Certification Magazine
Besides a Salary Calculator, the Certification Magazine Web site includes another can't-miss feature: news. For certification-related news, updates, and even white papers across a range of tracks -- a variety of programs are covered, from IBM to Sun to Microsoft -- it's hard to find another outlet that does as good a job either creating its own certification content or effectively aggregating related contextual information from other parties.
That information alone makes the site worth checking out. Add in study guides, timely articles, and overviews of different vendors' certification programs, and Certification Magazine quickly becomes a trustworthy source for accreditation information.
#6: Cert Cities
From regular columns to breaking certification news, IT pros will find CertCities an excellent choice for helping stay current on changes within certification's ever-changing tracks and programs. But that's not all the site offers.
CertCities.com also includes dedicated forums (including comprehensive Cisco and Microsoft sections and separate categories for IBM, Linux/UNIX, Java, CompTIA, Citrix, and Oracle tracks, among others), as well as tips and exam reviews. There's also a pop quiz feature that's not to be missed. While not as in-depth as entire simulation exams, the pop quizzes are plentiful and can be used to help determine exam readiness.
Associated with Pearson Education, the InformIT Web site boasts a collection of ever-expanding certification articles, as well as a handful of certification-related podcasts. You'll also find certification-related video tutorials and a helpful glossary of IT certification terms.
But that's not the only reason I list InformIT in the top 10. The site also provides an easy link to its Exam Cram imprint. I've never taken a certification exam without first reading and rereading the respective Exam Cram title. I continue recommending them today.
Of course, if you're going to become certified, you have to take the exam. Before you can take the exam, you have to register.
Prometric bills itself as "the leading provider of comprehensive testing and assessment services," and whether you agree or not, if you're going to schedule an IT certification exam, visiting the Prometric Web site is likely a required step. The company manages testing for certifications from Apple, CompTIA, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, the Ruby Association, Ubuntu, and many others. Thus, it deserves a bookmark within any certification candidate's Web browser.
Training and professional education are critical components of certification. In fact, they're so important in a technology-related career that I'd rather see computer technicians and programmers purchasing and reviewing training materials than just trying to earn a new accreditation.
While there's certainly been a shake-out in the last few years, a large number of vendors continue to develop and distribute self-paced training materials. As I have personal experience with PrepLogic's training aids, I believe the company earns its spot this revised top 10 list.
With a large assortment of video- and audio-based training aids across a range of vendor tracks, PrepLogic develops professional tools that can be trusted to help earn certification. Visitors will also find Mega Guides that cover all exam objectives.
Other training aid providers that deserve mention include QuickCert, a Microsoft Certified Partner and CompTIA Board Member that provides guaranteed computer-based training programs, and SkillSoft, which delivers online training programs covering tracks from Check Point, CIW, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, PMI, Sun Microsystems, and others.
Just as I never attempted a certification exam before studying the relevant Exam Cram title, I also never sat an accreditation test before ensuring I could pass the respective Transcender simulations. The method worked well for some 10 IT certification exams.
Whether it's the confidence these practice tests provide or that the actual simulation so well replicates the real-world exam, I'm not sure. All I know is I always recommend candidates spend hours with practice exams after completing classroom or self-paced course instruction. And, when it comes to simulation exams, I'm a believer in Transcender products. I've repeatedly used them and always found them to be an integral component of my certification preparation strategy.
Other outlets offering quality simulation tests include MeasureUp and PrepLogic (previously mentioned). All three companies (Transcender, MeasureUp, and PrepLogic) develop practice tests for a large number of technology certifications, including Cisco, Citrix, CompTIA, Microsoft, and Oracle.
#1: The certification provider's own Web site
The most important site, though, when preparing for an IT training exam is the certification sponsor's own Web site. Nowhere else are you as likely to find more accurate or timely news, information, and updates regarding a certification program. Vendor sites are also an excellent source for officially approved study aids and training guides.
So if you're considering a Microsoft certification, don't skip the basic first step: Thoroughly research and review Microsoft's Training and Certification pages. The same is true if you're considering a Cisco, CompTIA, Dell, or other vendor accreditation; their respective training and certification pages can prove invaluable.
It's always best to begin your certification quest by visiting the vendor's site. And to avoid unpleasant surprises, be sure to revisit often as you continue your certification quest.
Those are mine...
That's my list of the 10 best certification Web sites. What are yours? Post your additions by joining the discussion below.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.