The Constant Gardener: Keeping Up with the Certification Landscape
Ask the pioneers of any age, or any farmer, and they'll tell you the same thing: Taming the landscape is not just hard work, it's work that never ends. I was forcibly reminded of this as I had to take inventory of a series of 100 certification articles I've written for publication over the years.
Even though most of its items were updated sometime in 2019, I was astounded to see how much of that information was already out of date. Let me give you two major examples, by way of illustration:
This month, Cisco is completely overturning and revamping its certification offerings. Its entire cert portfolio is being rebooted, and a new program will emerge on Feb. 24 (next Monday, as I write these words). If you visit their cert program home page, you'll see these words "On February 24, 2020, Cisco will release a new certification and training program. The last day to test under the current certification program is February 23, 2020."
Last year, Microsoft did more or less the same thing. Gone forever now are the MCSA and MCSE. Now they have role-based certifications for Developers, Administrators, Solutions Architects, and Functional Consultants. The current set of offerings is Azure-oriented, developer heavy, and has little in common with the old familiar exams and programs I've been following since 1994, when NT 3.5 ruled the Microsoft certification world.
I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea: the certification landscape is ever-changing, and subject to occasional major modifications. Keeping up requires constant effort and attention.
What This Means to Me
For me, keeping up requires a regular circuit of the training and certification pages at a large number of companies and professional organizations. In performing the inventory I mentioned in the preceding section, I realized that I track more than 100 business entities of one kind or another more or less monthly.
I also keep an eagle eye on my e-mail inbox because most of these companies know I follow certification and training, and try to keep me informed when new things are happening, or when program/offering changes get underway. Keeping a collection of articles on the overall certification landscape (or at least, its most meaningful features and monuments) requires updating 8-to-10 articles every month.
Each update takes anywhere from 2-to-4 hours unless — as with the Cisco and Microsoft items mentioned earlier — an entire program or portfolio gets reworked or revamped. In which case documenting the changes and capturing all the small but important details (for example, exam IDs and duration, registration requirements, test center affiliations or online security requirements, and related costs) can take a full day, or even a bit longer.
It's a constant time commitment, which is why I like to use the landscape and gardening metaphors in talking about this part of the IT world we all live in.
What This Means to You, Dear Reader
Change is a constant disrupter and mover for anyone who works in IT. Old things go, while a constant stream of new things keep showing up. Information and training is always important when it comes to keeping up with what's new and potentially interesting or even valuable to you as an IT professional, and your employer or clients, as consumers of IT tools, services, and technologies.
Certification can and does play a continuing and occasionally important role in shaping IT careers, especially for those just getting started in IT (entry-level personnel) and those advancing into more responsible positions of many kinds after a few years in the IT game (IT management, IT project management, IT team leads, senior technical staff across many areas of expertise, and so on).
For some people approaching the apex of their careers (10-plus years in, and committed to reaching the top of one or more technical niches) certain certifications range from absolutely essential to making the difference between advancing up the career ladder or staying in place a bit longer. I'm thinking of certs like the CCIE, CCAr, CISSP, VMware Design Expert credentials, Open Group TOGAF, and so forth as I ponder life-changing, career capstone credentials.
As individual IT professionals tend to their own certification portfolios, they too, must think like a gardener. Old, obsolete items need pruning. Aging but still viable credentials may require continuing education, or another examination, to keep them fresh and blooming for another two or three years (the most common recertification periods).
And, of course, as new tools, technologies and platforms gain in value and importance — think about the explosion of cloud computing and related technologies over the past 10-15 years — you may need to dig in, and start planting some new growth amidst the other occupants of your certification portfolio. Keeping up is important, and staying current equally so.
That's why I'm glad to be affiliated with and write for GoCertify, because it remains a constant, quality source of news and information about IT certification and training.