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A certification, or qualification, is a designation earned by a person, product or process. Certification may be a synonym for licensure but more often licensure applies only to persons and is required by law (whereas certification is generally voluntary). Certification of persons indicates that the individual has a specific knowledge, skills, or abilities in the view of the certifying body. Similarly, certification of products indicates their reputed suitability for a specified purpose (e.g. a computer system might be certified as being fully compatible with a large software package).
People become certified through training and/or passing an exam. Products become certified through testing. Individuals often advertise their status by appending the certification abbreviation to their name (e.g. "Jane Doe, RHCE"). Strictly speaking, most certifications do not grant post-nominals and it is usually the professional certifications that do.
Certifications may be perpetual, may need to be renewed periodically, or may be valid for a specific period of time (e.g. the life-time of the product upon which the individual is certified). Although it is more common in regards to licensure, sometimes as part or whole of the renewal of an individual's certification, the individual must show evidence of continual learning — often termed continuing education — or earning continuing education units (CEU ).
Certifications are offered through a certification body. This is usually a business organization. Sometimes, the organization's business is directly related to the certification, as in a software firm that certifies individuals as competent to use its products. In other cases, an organization (often a not-for-profit organization) exists wholly, or in large part, to offer a particular certification. Whatever its nature, the certifying body determines the policies of the certification program. Potential consumers of a certification wish to understand the nature of the certifying body and the certification process. An individual who bears a designation but appears unable to perform competently is said to be a paper tiger because their resume suggests that they are more effective than they actually are.
Certifications are very common in industry, and in particular the computer industry. The National Organization of Certification Agencies (NOCA ) is a US-based organization which helps certification bodies with information. Many members of the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) are certification bodies, a segment of the ATP membership which is experiencing strong growth in the late 1990s and 2000s.
The exponential growth in the number of computer-related certifications coupled with the relative ease of their acquisition has led to their devaluation in the eyes of many people in the technology field. In some cases, exam content is easily found by certification seekers (through less-than-honorable methods such as "brain dump" web sites) allowing them to gain certification without knowing, or even understanding, the concepts being tested. Certifying agencies have responded in various ways. Some certification tests have incorporated hands-on testing, although there is no evidence that this reduces cheating or improves reliability or validity. Many have explored anti-cheating methodologies (e.g., Caveon ) or expanded their exam content. Others have simply raised the price of certification, in a bid to reduce exam resits (and increase the profit margin per head). Faced with this difficult problem, many certifying agencies have not made any changes.
Abbreviated Listing of Computer-Related Certifications
- CompTIA's A Plus (A+), Network Plus (Network+), Linux Plus (Linux+), etc.
- European Computer Driving Licence and International Computer Driving Licence
- Several offered by Linux Professional Institute
- Microsoft's MCP, MCSE, MCSA, MCSD, MCDBA
- Red Hat's RHCE, RHCT and RHCA
- cSAGE Certification
- Cisco Systems, Inc.'s CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, etc.
- MySQL has a certification program
- Others listed at http://www.certmag.com/issues/jan02/feature_sosbe.cfm
- Novell has a large and extensive certification program
- Sun Microsystems Solaris Operating Environment
Non-Computer-Related Certification Example (Off-site)
Certifications are not limited to computer technologies...
- The Certified Beer Judge Program (BJCP ) has certified over 2000 amateur brewers and beer-lovers, mainly in the United States
Certification News Sites
Certmag Lots of in-depth 'no registration required' articles
Certcities Has a 'Big Portal' feel, seems extremely busy with new content all the time
Support Insight Magazine reports on certification issues from a technology support perspective
MCSE Practice Exams
- 70-210: Windows 2000 Professional
- 70-215: Windows 2000 Server
- 70-216: Network Infrastructure
- 70-217: Windows 2000 Active Directory
- 70-218: Managing Windows 2000 Network Environment
- 70-219: Designing Windows 2000 Directory Services
- 70-290: Microsoft Windows Server 2003
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