In standard news releases, there’s typically little worth repeating. But I’m going to make an exception for the Field Certified Professional Association (FCPA), as a quote in the organization’s April release announcing its formation caught my eye. A rather arresting statement was attributed to FCPA Chairman Dr. Amir Elahi:

“Something is broken in the IT certification process when the individual feels compelled to cram for an exam rather than learn actual technology and product skills. Performance-based testing resolves that contradiction.”

Considering the vast amount of knowledge tested on standard multiple-choice certification exams, it should come as no surprise that IT professionals feel compelled to cram as part of their studying. But I don’t believe it is appropriate to say IT professionals would rather cram than learn actual technology and product skills. I think most IT pros seek certification in an attempt to improve their product and technology skills.

Regardless, the FCPA is breaking new ground by offering vendor-neutral certification that can be earned only by demonstrating a hands-on ability using actual equipment. The organization, composed of a conglomeration of industry sponsors and vendors, oversees a full slate of certifications.

FCPA certifications
Many FCPA exams are available now, and more are planned. Top-level certifications include:

  • Help Desk Technician (FCHDT)
  • Systems Administrator (FCSA)
  • Systems Engineer (FCSE)
  • Database Administrator (FCDBA)
  • Database Developer (FCDBD)
  • Applications Developer (FCAD)
  • Internet Professional (FCIP)
  • Security Specialist (FCSS)
  • Hardware Engineer (FCHE)
  • Applications Specialist (FCAS)
  • E-Mail Expert (FCME)

Customized exams are also available.

Each top-level certification consists of sublevel exams. For example, the Help Desk Technician certification consists of three exams, each of which carries its own certification:

  • PC Technician (FCPT)
  • Server Technician (FCST)
  • Network Technician (FCNT)

Field Certified Professional (FCP) certification is earned when any one FCPA exam is passed. Candidates can prequalify for FCP certification if they’ve passed and maintained any of the following hands-on performance-based certifications:

  • Cisco’s CCIE
  • Novell’s CDE
  • Red Hat’s RHCE

Fast Track FCP
A Fast Track FCP program is also available for IT professionals meeting these requirements:

  • A+, CNA, CNE, MCSE 4, or CCNA status
  • Three years of direct experience (since receiving the credential)
  • Two references to substantiate that experience

Fast Track candidates must also pass a condensed Field Certification exam, which is defined as a test in which 65 percent of the scoring and testing time is devoted to performance-based testing, among other factors.

FCPA exams
Regardless of where you stand on performance-based testing, two things are certain. FCPA exams cost more and take longer to earn. Such are the hazards of field certification testing, in which the goal is to have candidates configure, administer, or fix real-world systems and technology.

Exams range from two to eight hours in length. Calculating examination fees is a little more complicated. Nonmembers pay $395 for two-hour exams, while Corporate Members pay $355. An eight-hour exam runs nonmembers $995, while Corporate Members pay $935.

Basic Corporate Memberships range from $500 for companies with revenues of $2 million or less to $5,000 for companies with revenues of $100 million or more. FCP Individual Memberships ($95) and Academic Memberships are also available. The Academic Membership fee is dependent upon a number of factors, including whether the academic institution is a for-profit or nonprofit entity.

Scheduling an exam might prove a deal-breaker, though. There are only four FCPA-Approved Testing Centers, and neither Thompson Prometric nor VUE lists FCPA as a client. For more information, visit FCPA on the Web.

Eckel’s take
While I believe performance-based certifications better test a candidate’s knowledge and skills, it’s not realistic to expect that all IT professionals will be able to travel to approved testing facilities or take the time to complete hands-on tests. Those who do, though, will find myriad FCPA certifications with which to build their resumes.

The rest of us will have to continue making do with standard exams that often include simulations, which most vendors continue using today. While not ideal, traditional testing does offer a reasonable, cost-effective method for IT professionals to demonstrate that they have mastered specific skills.