Unless you’re prepared to make a significant year-round commitment to IT certification, you might want to rethink your accreditation plans. Don’t think that once you complete an MCSE, CNE, or CCNA track, your work is done. In fact, your certification experience is just beginning.

If you need convincing, just ask one of the 880,000-plus certified Microsoft professionals or an individual who’s earned Cisco’s Routing and Switching certification. A vast majority of them, many of whom just earned accreditation, are having to determine how they’ll keep their cert current.

Just like doctors and accountants, it’s become necessary for IT professionals to devote time and financial resources to continuing-education efforts. Failure to do so means you’re likely to get left behind. And quickly.

The reason pilots must practice their skills regularly or recertify is that people’s skills, if left unused, begin deteriorating as soon as they stop using them.

The trend has begun
If Microsoft’s relatively quick retirement of the Windows NT 4 track is any indication, vendors will increasingly phase out old accreditations. In fact, vendors will likely do so sooner, as product lifecycles begin shortening.

As new software is developed and new versions enter distribution, significant market pressure exists to sell the product. Forcing IT professionals to upgrade their skills results not only in training and certification dollars, but the increased likelihood that when it comes time to deploy a new system, an administrator will select the newest version.

Now, although this certainly isn’t true in every case, it makes some sense. Think about it. If you’ve just completed an arduous certification process and developed razor-sharp skills with a new platform, you’re going to think long and hard about selecting it for deployment. After all, you’ll know it inside and out.

Prepare yourself mentally
It’s one thing to devote a few months, or even a year, to earning an industry designation. As you’re probably well aware, it’s necessary to sacrifice time with family, vacations, weekends, and discretionary income in order to best prepare for certification exams.

Don’t let yourself believe that such sacrifices will end with your newfound knighthood. Think of it, instead, like the statement found on every American Express card: Member since 1998 (or whatever year you obtained the card).

When you do complete a certification program, that’s just the beginning. That’s the year you become a “member” of IT’s club of certified professionals.

But just like with your American Express card, you have to keep paying dues every year. You’ll need to continue working with new software, reading new books, and probably sitting in classrooms learning the ins and outs of new software that will be required to keep your certification active and current.

Erik Eckel MCP+I, MCSE, knows firsthand what it’s like to have to maintain certification. He’s currently working to upgrade his Windows NT 4 certification to the Windows 2000 platform.

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