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How Certifications Are Born

Ever wonder just what goes into making an IT certification? We found out for you.

As IT professionals flock to the quickly growing smorgasbord of certifications now available, their focus is on picking the right combination of designations to help guarantee professional success. Concern over how these certification programs came to be is often far from their thoughts. But how certifications are made is critical to their value as professional credentials. And as it turns out, certification development is quite an undertaking.

Certification development is a lengthy process that normally consumes nine months to more than a year. The process, whether done on behalf of a client (or sponsor, in certification-speak) or done internally, is the same: Select a product, determine its features, develop a curriculum and test bank for it, test all of that material for validity and reliability, then launch the certification.

The concepts of validity and reliability have always been at the core of a certification programs worth; a certification program and its tests must be valid (teach and test the right kind of material) and reliable (passing the tests means that the certified person will be able to apply the knowledge in the real world).

Preliminary Decisions

The first decision facing a company considering launching a certification is whether or not to offer a certification program for a particular technology or product. While non-profit and professional societies considering a certification program often choose the vendor-neutral, technology area (such as PC hardware), computer industry vendors most often focus on certifying expertise with a particular product or family of products.

A common reason for offering a certification program is to reduce technical support demands on the company. This was key goal is what led Novell Corporation, a certification pioneer, to launch its first certification, reports Grace Yeung, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Goal Designs, a company that helps IT corporations through the certification decision process. With Novell, their primary reason for establishing a certification program was to help alleviate tech support because so many people were calling in, Yeung says. The new certification program included courses those callers could take to get educated, thereby lessening the support needs.

A second reason to create a certification program for a product is to use it to develop a network of quality business partners that can then provide product training and technical support and resell the products.

According to Gary Clark, formerly a manager with Novell, now Director of Certification for Galton Technologies, a company that creates certification programs, We wanted to sell more NetWare, and the way to sell more NetWare is to wherever you find a bottleneck in the sales process, open that up. In Novells case, the bottleneck was the insufficient number of quality sellers and installers of NetWare. Novells objective in creating its certification program was to increase the number of qualified people to sell and install NetWare. Their efforts were wildly successful.