If you aren’t familiar with online certification vendor Brainbench.com, it’s time you take a look at what it has to offer. Last year, Brainbench awarded over 900,000 certifications in a variety of areas—everything from Windows 2000 Server Administration to Written Portuguese. Some organizations now use Brainbench to help screen job applicants by requiring them to take Brainbench exams as competency tests. Brainbench provides a number of popular certifications in the IT arena. We’re going to examine what Brainbench has to offer and how its certifications compare to other vendor and third-party programs.

Brainbench IT certifications
In terms of information technology certifications, Brainbench offers just about everything you can think of. In fact, if the test you are searching for isn’t currently available, look under the Beta Tests section on the company’s site to see if it is in the process of being developed.

Some of the IT tests offered by Brainbench are free, but others require a fee. Most tests are $19.95 and (if passed) include a hardcopy certificate to hang on your wall. If you fail the test, you can retake it for only $9.95. Brainbench offers an even better value in a subscription service, for $14.95 per month. With the subscription plan, you can take any of its 300-plus tests as many times as you want. Brainbench also offers what it calls “certprep” tests for $25 each. These preparation courses ask you questions and provide the correct answer with a detailed explanation so that you can learn before testing.

Although I don’t have any official statistics on Brainbench’s most popular certifications, they’re likely to reflect what’s most popular in the industry as a whole: PC troubleshooting and Windows NT/2000 administration are probably on top. Here are some of Brainbench’s programs:

  • Cisco Network Support
  • Cisco Network Design
  • Oracle Financials
  • Oracle Database Administration
  • Microsoft Windows 2000 Administration
  • Sun Solaris UNIX Administration
  • Red Hat Linux Administration
  • Java
  • XML
  • Visual Basic
  • C++

The obvious question for many IT pros is this: “Why would I want to get a Brainbench certification when I can get a certification from a major vendor like Microsoft or Cisco?” Let’s consider some of the pros and cons of the Brainbench approach.

Brainbench advantages
Some of the benefits of getting a Brainbench certification are:

  • Price. There is no other credible place to get an IT certification for less than $20, or free, in some cases. Compare that to the Cisco CCIE qualification exam at $300, CompTIA exams at $190, and many other exams at $100.
  • Vendor neutrality. Many of the certifications cover an industry standard such as UNIX or Networking. If you get certified on a vendor-specific certification like NetWare or Red Hat Linux, and the version of the product you certified on is no longer offered, your certification loses value. Compare that to getting a certification in UNIX Administration, which gives employers the impression that you can work on any flavor of UNIX. Brainbench also offers the more specific certifications like Windows 2000 Administration and Sun Solaris UNIX Administration.
  • Convenience. The ease of taking a test online, from your own home or office, saves you time and money. You can take a test online from anywhere, anytime. There’s no waiting on hold to schedule an exam or driving across town to a testing center.
  • Flexibility. With Brainbench online testing, you can retake the test immediately if you don’t pass. There is no scheduling, so there is no chance of losing your money should something interfere with your testing slot (like a flat tire on the way to the testing center).
  • Feedback. Brainbench gives you helpful feedback on your strengths and weaknesses and your percentile compared to other candidates.
  • Permission of reference material. While this may be a pro for the test takers, it may also be interpreted as a con to the would-be employer. Since Brainbench allows you to use reference material for the test (how could it stop you?), you may have a greater chance of passing the first time. However, I have taken Brainbench tests—and if you can’t find what you are looking for in about 30 seconds, you have to go on to the next question. As a result, most reference material doesn’t help that much.

Brainbench drawbacks
Most of the disadvantages of Brainbench certification are subjective to the person who places value on that certification. That being said, some of the main drawbacks are:

  • ID verification. Brainbench doesn’t have any way to tell whether the person who took the test was really you. This tends to place Brainbench certifications in question.
  • Third-party certification. Because Brainbench certifications aren’t awarded from the manufacturer of the software or hardware product you are certifying on, some suggest this makes them of less value. Of course, this concern also applies to other established vendor-neutral certification companies, such as CompTIA.
  • Lack of recognition. Not everyone knows what Brainbench certifications are. Telling the HR recruiter of a small office that you are Brainbench certified might not provide recognition and therefore will probably be of little value. But if you tell someone you are Microsoft certified, most people know what that is, since the name comes up on their screen every time they turn on their computer. However, Brainbench claims that recruiters at companies in over 100 countries recognize its tests.

Final analysis
In my opinion, it is better to have a Brainbench certification than nothing at all. In other words, Brainbench is a great place to �start your certification process. Hopefully, most people would agree that certification, just like learning, is a never-ending, lifelong process. I have read discussion board posts from people who credit Brainbench with getting them a new job. In today’s job market, it is important to show differentiation between yourself and the other candidates. Sometimes, a simple certification is all that is needed to do the trick.

If you’re already employed in your desired IT area, I would recommend using Brainbench as a springboard to broaden your knowledge. You can study for and take a test in an area different from where you may already have your certification. For example, if you are a UNIX system administrator, you could take a test in Windows 2000 administration or HTML development. If you’re a C programmer working in the communications industry, you might take the Brainbench test in telecommunications knowledge. And those who are new to IT can use Brainbench as the first step down the certification path. For instance, they might begin with the Windows 2000 Administration certification from Brainbench and then progress to an MCP or MCSE from Microsoft.

How do you feel about Brainbench certification?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.