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From Certified to Certifier

The current Global Program Manager for Ericsson's certification program started out by earning a few designations of his own - more than twenty.

Picture a man, the subject of this months IT certification portrait, sitting on a couch as he strums a guitar and sings. Picture him joined on that same couch by a wife and two young children, one of them not older than a couple of months. The man in the picture could be an American living in New York City, or a Japanese in Tokyo, but it so happens hes Polish and lives in Sweden.

Krzysztof Szarkowicz (pronounced Kristoff Sharkovich, with the accent in the last name on the first syllable) is the Global Program Manager for the Ericsson Certification Program. Ericsson is the Swedish multinational giant whose name adorns millions of cell phones worldwide. The company's range of tele- and data communication products includes systems and services for handling voice, data, images and text in public and private fixed line and mobile telecommunications networks, power equipment, defense electronics and telecommunications and power cables. Ericsson has subsidiaries and branches or representative offices in more than 140 countries.

Szarkowicz is responsible for certifying Ericssons global IT staff, no small task given Ericssons far-flung presence. He attained his impressive position in great part because of his extensive certification history. In a stunning display of will and ability, Szarkowicz earned more than twenty certifications in a four-year period (1996 to 1999) while living in England, Hungary and Sweden, in succession. In addition to his eye-popping certification count, Szarkowicz speaks six languages and holds two master's degrees.

His certifications include CNI, CNE, MCT, MCSE, MCPS and Certified Technical Trainer, which is a key certification for him. When asked if certification changed his goals, Szarkowicz responded, Yes. I wanted to be more than an instructor so I started to work on creating certification programs for Ericsson. The company was sufficiently inspired to allow Szarkowicz to begin training people toward their certifications. Once they saw him in action, the promotion to his current position happened.

Szarkowicz prefers hands-on certification test preparation. Usually I prepared by self-study and gaining experience in the lab by 'playing' with the products in question. Sometimes I attended related training, but I think the most important part of preparation is real, hands-on experience. It is most important, more important than the course. Taking the course only (without hands-on preparation) doesn't guarantee success in certification. I studied manuals, online help, training material, etc. And after strong preparation the exam itself was no surprise for me. I've never failed an exam.

We asked Szarkowicz if there is anything he does that is special, having gone through the process of becoming certified himself? What influences on the road to certification does he bring to his students who seek certification? He replied, "Knowing all the small tricks available as short-cuts to students, I am trying to design the Ericsson program to minimize the possibility that candidates may try to take shortcuts in order to become certified. Also my approach is more professional (formal), as I have had the possibility to experience other certification programs myself". So, Szarkowicz's students have a training program that has its antennas raised to detect any easy detours, helping to ensure accurate and complete training, ultimately to the students' advantage.

What does Szarkowicz tell his students about certification and goals? It's all about learning enabling more learning: "Certification helps in competence development, as it puts some pressure on candidates to learn more and in more effective ways. So, they learn more and more and thus increased their skills and knowledge in certain area. They get better and better".

Like Andres Segovia, the Spanish guitar master who practiced and played hours each day in spite of his amazing artistic gifts, Krzysztof Szarkowicz does not take his extensive native abilities for granted. Certification has given him a career he cherishes, but he made sacrifices and worked hard to attain it. Which makes having two masters degrees and speaking six languages no real surprise, after all.