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Face Off: Should CIOs Value IT Certification?

Face Off: Should CIOs Value IT Certification?

CERTIFICATION. TESTS. UGH.

Cliff Brozo, Professor of Computer Science, Monroe College, New YorkThe last thing IT professionals need is some governing body telling them what they should know. In a corporate environment where stress, deadlines and creativity are part of the job, programmers need certification before writing a program about as much as a dog needs to know how to put out fires before using a fire hydrant.

Certification tests mean nothing when it comes to getting a job done, because at least half of programming involves understanding the business of the company, not understanding the intricacies of multiple choice questions. What skill set is necessary to become successful?

Today's employees need to be flexible in terms of what they know and what they can learn. If someone decides that the model programmer needs to know C++, Java, Visual Basic and SQL, how does that help when the next hot language comes along? Should we require recertification every five years? Every three years? Every 18 months? Where do we draw the line? How can IT professionals find the time to study for these tests? Are employers going to grant a study hour and, while we're at it, why not have a certification in test taking as well?

What certification means is that you studied from a book, or went on to an internet brain-dump page, to cram enough knowledge into your short-term memory (yes, humans do have RAM) so that you can answer a bunch of silly questions. If I score a 95 on a multiple-choice exam, does that mean I can write a C++ program? Certainly not. All it means is that I can answer questions about it. That's why corporations assign big IS projects to people with experience, not students right out of college who have passed a bunch of tests. Experience is what matters most today, and not the experience of taking a test.

WANT GOOD WORKERS? MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF.

Kewal Dhariwal, Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals, IowaIt's no secret that many CIOs and IS employees question the advantages of IT certification. But if you look closely at the issues, you'll see that benefits come in two important guises: project efficiency and legal protection.

Today many contracts require specific skills from the employees who are going to be assigned to work on a particular project. These requirements are specified in the RFP. Names, rsums and certifications are a fundamental part of that equation. People who have been objectively tested by external agencies are proud of reaching a difficult universal standard and proud to be part of the projects.

IS employees who have demonstrated their knowledge and skills through certification have been found to solve problems much faster, work better in teams and show a higher level of confidence in their own abilities and solutions than those who haven't. The result? Greater confidence from the customers, both internal and external. And another benefit comes in the bottom line. Ultimately, better solutions and employees with greater confidence lower costs by simplifying processes and relationships. If fewer people are required for projects, that reduces project complexity, which further reduces costs.

Let's face it. Most IT projects suffer from technology challenges, inadequate cost estimation, complexity introduced by team size, inappropriate systems development processes and poor risk-assessment techniques. Any one of these factors can lead to delayed or incomplete projects and cost overruns. Any one of these situations can also bring litigation against your company. If you can prove that you have sound methods in place for measuring your employees' skills and the quality of their work, and if you have ensured that your people have external validation of their skills through nonprofit industry associations and that those employees have maintained the currency of their certification, you'll see the benefits for yourself.

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