There certainly is no shortage of certifications. Perusing the staggering selection of books on certification in bookstores can be a frightening experience. Many of these texts can hardly even be lifted. They’re enough to propel a would-be techie into another field.

I’ve asked two prominent experts, Norman Rankis and Dennis Scheil, to evaluate the most popular certifications. Rankis is CIO/CTO at Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ, and former general manager and area president of New Horizons Computer Learning Centers. Scheil is chief technologist at Delta Corporate Services, a Parsippany, NJ-based computer consulting company.

Rankis says all of the key functional areas such as databases, networks, Web sites, computer security, and telecommunications, for example, have their respective certifications.

In order of demand, Rankis ranks CIW (Certified Internet Webmaster), MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer), as well as Oracle and Cisco certifications as the hottest.

In e-commerce, the CIW carries a lot of clout, according to Rankis. “It’s the best investment you can make in yourself,” he says.

Scheil thinks that Microsoft certification is not as impressive as it used to be, yet it’s still a worthwhile certification. “The MCSE is even more valuable if you add Internet credentials with the MCSD (Microsoft Certified Solution Developer),” he said. “With the breakup of Microsoft, the MCSE has been discredited, yet it continues to be a respected certification,” says Rankis.

Both men agree that Oracle is a hot certification. “Oracle is still the vendor of choice,” Scheil said.

“Oracle certification is valuable because there aren’t enough people to fill all the DBA (Database Administrator) slots,” Rankis said. “Databases are the repositories of data that drive e-commerce applications.”

The Cisco certification is very hot, according to these experts. “Cisco routers are the backbone of the Internet,” Scheil said. There are a number of Cisco certifications, and the more advanced tests can be grueling.

“It takes more than classroom experience to pass advanced Cisco certification tests,” Scheil said. “You also need real-world experience. The test is more than a written examination. You’re put in a room, for example, with broken routers and are asked to make them work. It requires a good network technician who has worked with LANs (local area networks) and is familiar with switches.”

A logical career progression is to get an MCSE first, and then go on to tackle the Cisco certifications. Linux and Sun Microsystems also have their own certifications, which Rankis also deems valuable.

Yet, both men give Novell CNE (Certified Novell Engineer) a thumbs down. “Its ranking has plummeted,” says Rankis. “I’m still waiting for Novell to come up with a strategic product that no one can match.”

“Four years ago, the CNE meant something,” Scheil said. “Now the supply of CNEs far exceeds the demand for them. Novell is no longer a viable player in the network operating world.”

Vendor-neutral certifications
Then there are the vendor-neutral certifications developed by impartial professional associations, which means they’re not concentrating on mastering a particular vendor’s products, such as Microsoft, Cisco, or Oracle. “The first vendor-neutral certification was the A+ certification, which was developed by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA),” says Scheil.

Rankis says the A+ certification is a “low-end certification” and recommends it as a great way to break into the industry. “You learn how to build and configure a computer and other valuable basic skills,” he said.

Another vendor-neutral certification, the Certified Network Professional (CNP), was once respected but is now worthless. “It was originally developed by the Network Professional Association but was never updated,” Scheil said. “Now there is no demand for the certification.”

How to choose
So how do you choose a certification? The answer starts with your inclinations. If you’re interested in developing applications, the MCSE is a good place to start; Web development, the CIW and MCSD are recommended; databases, Oracle certifications; and if you’re interested in telecommunications or you’re mechanically inclined and fascinated with hardware, Cisco certifications are a good choice.

The frequently asked question is whether or not certification alone guarantees a job. The answer depends on whom you ask. Scheil says certification is great, but there is no substitute for experience. “Without experience, it often means that you have to step down and take a low-end job until you get some skills under your belt,” he says.

Rankis disagrees. “The people who don’t land jobs either have a lousy resume, poor interviewing skills, or both,” he said.
Do you have an MCSE? Did you start with A+? Do you have a Novell CNE? How did you decide which certification to pursue? Post your comments and tell us.