IT Certification: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Ed Tittel is excited about the future of IT certification.

As I write my last GoCertify item for 2018, I find myself looking back at where IT certification (and I) have been in the past. I also find myself looking forward to where IT certification (and I) may be going in the future. This provides interesting food for thought and reflection, and various causes for optimism and anticipation.


I start with some backward glances, then shift my focus forward in time.


IT Certification(s) Past and Passed


I first got involved with IT certification in passing in 1988 and 1989, when I got tapped to work temporarily for the training group at a company that was then named Excelan, based in Milpitas, Calif. It was my pleasure and privilege to help develop the company's "Intro to LANs" class, a task that involved living in California two weeks out of each month, with the remainder working at home in Texas.


In mid-1989, Excelan got acquired by Novell, and my "Intro to LANs" class ultimately served as the basis for Novell's "Networking Fundamentals" class and cert exam. I moved on into a marketing job after that, but kept on working with and writing about networking and other IT technologies.


In May, 1994, Novell announced it was closing down its Austin, TX, facility. Though they offered me my choice of a job in Provo/Orem (in Utah) or the Bay Area, by that time I'd written half a dozen books and hundreds of articles. I was convinced I could make it as a freelance writer.


Twenty-four years later, still working mostly in that role, I'm starting to believe it was a good decision. In 1995 and 1996, I worked for American Research Group (now part of Global Knowledge) developing classes and course materials for the Microsoft Windows NT 3.51 certification exams on Server and Workstation. This roped me back into the certification and training game, and introduced what has remained a major personal and professional interest ever since.


In 1996, I started writing for Norm Kamikow and Tim Sosbe at Certification Magazine, a publication where I remained on the masthead until the mid-2000s. In 1997, I created the Exam Cram series of IT cert preparation books. My primary focus was on helping IT professionals with academic or on-the-job backgrounds in computing dig into and pass IT certification exams with an emphasis on streamlined materials, and economy of time and effort for preparation.


I've been following IT certification closely ever since the mid-1990s. My emphasis remains on understanding the time, effort and expense involved in earning various IT cert credentials, and then comparing and contrasting those outlays against the return on investment that such activity can offer to their holders. Along the way, I've seen a lot of changes.


The focus has shifted from an arbitrary or abstract collection of information that is supposed to help people perform well in the workplace, to a much more formal, job-task-analysis-based approach. This new path involves contacting current skilled practitioners to elicit their input, experiences, and knowledge in targeting specific job-related skills and knowledge.


In the early 2000s, international standards bodies such as ISO, IEC and ANSI collaborated on ISO 17024 (latest version 2012) to codify and formalize the process of creating, maintaining and vetting IT certifications. Most of the major cert providers are now onboard with this approach, including Cisco, Microsoft, CompTIA, Dell, and many others.


This is what has really moved IT certification from a vendor- or sponsor-controlled and -managed operation. Whereas in the past, it was primarily aimed at lowering internal support organization costs, certification is now a more formal and job-task based process for conferring, testing, and validating individuals' understanding of specific bodies of knowledge, as well as their ability to perform well-defined job tasks and solve a variety of problems and challenges.


IT Certification Looks Ahead


As we progress further into the 21st century, IT certification is becoming highly specialized and virtualized, with an increasing emphasis on specific job roles, tasks, and responsibilities. Technology has made it possible to turn cert candidates loose on complex virtualized systems and networks where they can tear things apart and put them back together without actually impacting profit-generating production environments.


This turns out to be a great way to learn, but also a great way to present cert candidates with situations that could have serious negative impacts on real-world implementations but zero such impact in "pretend virtualities." My gut feeling is that putting people to work first in simulated or emulated environments, teaching them important skills and imparting hands-on knowledge and experience, testing their abilities and capabilities before turning them loose on real-world systems is the way the world is going in general, and in IT in particular.


Performance-based testing in 2019 is more common than it was in 2000 for sure. Performance-based testing in 2030, I believe strongly, will be more the rule than the exception. Given also the constant churn of tools, technologies and platforms, the culture of lifelong learning will only grow stronger over time. It's already the case that for most IT pros, their knowledge base turns over completely on a five-to-seven-year cycle.


I'm observing that the length of that cycle is shortening, but also that organizations and individuals are keenly aware of this. That's why employers and employees alike are exploiting an ever-growing array of options to keep training and learning constantly, the better to stay both abreast of such changes, and equipped to transform today's workplace into tomorrow's achievements and successes.


IT Certification, interesting and challenging already, is about to become a whole lot more interesting and challenging as pervasive, ongoing training and certification becomes part of the workaday world and its routines. Should be fun to watch ... and learn from!


A Personal PostScript


I was pleased and surprised to tally up the authors who appeared in GoCertify's 10 Most Popular Articles of 2018 list, which was posted on Dec. 19. Yours truly penned fully half of those articles, with two in the top 5, and three more in the bottom 5, on that list.


My topics touch on a Google Support Professional Certificate program, free retakes for MS exams (always popular), MS Azure certification offerings, Anaconda's Data Science certs, and compared the CASP to the CISSP. Here's hoping I can keep up that good work in 2019 at the same level. To that end, do please share your questions, comments, and concerns with me.


You can forward email to me through (be sure to include "Fwd2EdTittel" in the subject line, please) or contact me on Twitter: @EdTittel. Please also accept my wishes to all for a safe, happy, and prosperous 2019.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.