IT professionals had a bumpy ride this year. Technology was particularly hard hit by the economic downturn, making IT certifications more important than ever for landing a new job or solidifying a current job. Despite the importance of certs, exam prep vendors suffered too. Coriolis, a popular IT certification publisher, was among the casualties.

The year also saw other important changes. Here are my top-five certification stories from 2002. Feel free to post your top-five list in the discussion below this article.

1. Microsoft exams move to pass/fail grading
Either you like it or you don’t. Microsoft’s move to pass/fail grading means IT professionals no longer receive score breakdowns. Some candidates claim those breakdowns helped them know where they were deficient, which in turn helped them to know where they needed to beef up their skills to have a better chance of passing the exam the next time around.

That’s illogical. As I said in my February column, “Moving to a simple pass/fail keeps you focused on what’s important: gaining sufficient knowledge to pass the exam and not worrying about how an exam is scored or what the minimum passing score might be.” The purpose of a score report, after all, is to tell you whether you passed the exam. The goal shouldn’t be to help you in your studies.

Consider the fact that no one outside Microsoft really understood how exam questions were weighted or how overall scores were calculated, and you can see it makes sense to simply focus on pass/fail. Many candidates continue to disagree, but the move to pass/fail was a good one.

2. CompTIA prepares new certification: Security+
No topic in IT is hotter than security right now, and CompTIA wisely built a vendor-independent security certification that is sure to fill an important niche. Its Security+ accreditation tests candidates’ knowledge of general security concepts, communications security, infrastructure security, cryptography basics, and operational and organizational security. Everything from social engineering to security topologies to policies and procedures is fair game on the exam.

3. Microsoft announces new security test
Not to be outdone, Microsoft announced it would introduce a new security exam too. Exam 70-214: Implementing and Administering Security in a Microsoft Windows 2000 Network will test the ability to:

  • Implement, manage, and troubleshoot baseline security.
  • Implement, manage, and troubleshoot service packs and hot fixes.
  • Implement, manage, and troubleshoot secure communication channels.
  • Configure, manage, and troubleshoot authentication and remote access security.
  • Implement and manage a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and Encrypting File System (EFS).
  • Monitor and respond to security incidents.

The exam is expected to go live in January 2003.

4. Cisco increases its certification options
As new technologies enter the workplace, Cisco is maneuvering to ensure that its certified professionals are prepared to support them. Cisco introduced and then expanded the number of IP telephony certifications it offers.

Cisco also recently added two new wireless certifications: the Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist and the Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist. The two certs are designed to show that the IT professionals earning them understand what is required to design, implement, support, and administer 802.11-powered wireless LANs, and that these professionals are proficient with Cisco Aironet equipment.

5. New Network+ exam and Red Hat’s RHCT (tie)
CompTIA made an important move early this year when it updated its Network+ certification. This popular equivalent of Microsoft’s old Networking Essentials exam was due for updating. With the revised exam objectives, CompTIA is assured that its Network+ accreditation continues to garner respect in the industry.

Just a few weeks ago, Red Hat introduced the new Red Hat Certified Technician certification. As I wrote last week, “Red Hat needed a certification positioned a level or two below its RHCE. The RHCT addresses that need perfectly. Now entry-level administrators and support professionals, MCPs, and others new to UNIX/Linux have a realistic shot at diversifying their resumes with a respected Linux certification.”

Eckel’s take
There you have them: my top-five IT certification stories of 2002. Do you feel other developments or announcements had greater impact? Post your list of the top five stories in the discussion below.