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How and Why Certs Change

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With CCNAv2 sunsetting on Sept. 24, 2016, we’re dedicating this full week to an in-depth profile on the structure of Cisco certifications and the CCNAv3 exam, including Jeremy’s webinar yesterday, CCNAv3: The Full Story, and a look at why IT certifications change. 

Before we talk about why and how certifications change, let’s ask ourselves why certifications exist.

Why Certification in the First Place?

Vendors start certification programs to encourage the availability of trained technicians to support their products in the marketplace. Professional bodies  —  think auditors, program managers, etc.  —  also use certification to ensure minimum standards for their professions. In both cases, certification provides a level of assurance to employers and customers of what they are getting. A byproduct is that certification — when applied and managed correctly — confers a level of prestige and perhaps higher levels of compensation. Incorrectly managed, certifications can become devalued and meaningless.

The Chicken and the Egg

There is a ‘chicken and the egg’ issue related to certifications. If there is no employer demand for professionals with a specific set of skills, then few people will spend time and energy learning them, and hence there is little need for a certification program. This explains one reason why certification programs come and go.

  • Rising demand for skills = increasing need for certification,
  • Falling demand for skills = reduced need for certification.

Maybe that helps explain why the Netware Certified Engineer  —  once the gold standard of networking certification  —  no longer exists.

Changing Certifications

So, why do certifications change? They change when something happens with the base product, or if there’s a change in how the technology is applied. For example, as Microsoft Windows Server went through several release iterations — from Windows Server 2008, to Windows Server 2012 and 2012 R2, and to the new Windows Server 2016 — so did the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification requirements and exams. Similarly, so did MCSA Windows 7 to Windows 8 and now Windows 10.

Another way that certifications change is as the program matures. In some cases, as an expert-level certification becomes established, entry levels may be introduced to make it easier for less experienced practitioners to gain a foothold. Think how Cisco’s expert-level CCIE was introduced in 1993, to be followed by the more accessible CCNA in 1998. Alternatively, as an initial level becomes established, vendors may introduce expert-level certifications to differentiate levels of skills and capabilities.

Certification programs also may change as dictated by industry trends. For example, as voice conferencing has been subsumed by the more general concept of collaboration, Cisco decided to retire the CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE Voice certifications, replacing them with the equivalent Collaboration editions.

Because of the rapid pace at which technology changes, most certifications are awarded for specific periods of time and certificate holders are required to recertify. Cisco, for example, requires recertification every two or three years, depending on the type of certificate. Microsoft does not have recertification requirements. Their certifications are valid “as long as companies are using the technologies covered in the certification.”

Your Certification is Retired. Then What?

But what happens if your certificate is retired, or worse if — like Novell and NetWare — the vendor and technology loses its market position?

In Novell’s case, the company introduced different technologies — including Suse Linux — and changed their certification to the more general Certified Novell Engineer, so there was a migration path for existing NetWare specialists, but perhaps without the market demand.

Probably, many of them sought Microsoft NT certifications and are now proud holders of MCSA or MCSE certificates, or maybe they threw their hats into the Cisco ring and are now a CCNP or even CCIE.

Normally, if a vendor retires a certification, they will have an upgrade path to their preferred new certification. For example, Microsoft recommends that MCSAs certified for Windows Server 2008 or 2012, should upgrade their certificates to MCSA: Windows Server 2016, by passing a special exam. If you’re in that situation, check out the CBT Nuggets course “What’s New in Server 2016?” as preparation for learning the ins and outs of Windows 10.

Keep Your Eye on the Ball

Certification programs usually aren’t changed without significant advance notice. But changes do happen, so you need to be aware of potential career impacts. Be dialed into the places where you will hear first about certification changes, the impact of those changes, and the steps you must take.

As a certified professional, you’ll almost certainly be on your certification program email list and will receive email alerts on any changes. CBT Nuggets tracks all major certification programs very closely, so whenever there are significant changes, you’ll hear about them in our certification blog posts like “CCENT Changes: What Do They Mean For You?” You’ll also hear about emerging certification opportunities, such as “Top Trends In Depth: Cloud.”

Also, it’s good to be able to share experiences with and ask questions of your peers. Tune into the CBT Nuggets community. There you’ll find posts such as “New CCNA FAQs: Questions about the redesigned CCNA.”

You’ll also be able to participate in the Community Discussion and ask questions of CBT Nuggets certification specialists, as well as your peers.

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