Three types of organizations typically
back certification programs: vendors that sell specific platforms
or applications, training companies that support specific programs
of study or methodologies, and nonprofit or user organizations
that likewise support specific programs of study or methodologies.
Just to make things interesting, such offerings can overlap!
By testing method, in which the
kinds of interaction with prospective candidates for certification
help to describe a program. Certifications invariably include
exams (and some also include detailed application forms, projects,
essays, reports, and even background checks) as part of the
In the various headings that follow,
you will learn about vendor-neutral versus vendor-specific certification
(a distinction that derives from the axis of origin); and also
about content-, simulation-, and performance-based certifications
(a distinction that derives from the testing methods used).
- When considering a certification program of any kind, it's
important to understand who's behind that program. Vendor-neutral
certifications earn this designation when they cover a subject
or technology without focusing on any single specific implementation.
That's why vendor-neutral certifications can be valuable to
those seeking to demonstrate a broad knowledge of big subjects,
such as PC repair, networking, or information security. This
broad focus also explains why most vendor-neutral certifications
focus on entry-level or intermediate professionals in specific
fieldsbecause these are the levels of knowledge at which
broad conceptual coverage is most likely to be useful. Also,
most certified professional populations include more entry-
and intermediate-level professionals than advanced professionals,
in a typical pyramid model for a variety of reasons.
Vendor-neutral certifications most
often originate from training companies, or user or industry
groups that don't have particular product or platform allegiances
to worry about.
- As the designation indicates, vendor-specific certifications
focus on specific products or platforms. In this realm, there's
often a distinction between "official" certificationssuch
as those in the Microsoft Certified Professional program for
Windows and "unofficial" certifications, such
as those available for Windows, SQL Server, and other Microsoft
products and platforms from various training companies (Global
Knowledge or Learning Tree, for example).
Content-Based Testing -
Some credentials rely on examinations that seek to assess a
certification candidate's knowledge (in whole or in part) of
concepts, tools, technologies, and platforms by asking substantive
concept- or activity-based questions about such things. An example
is a hot spot question, in which the test-taker is asked to
correctly identify an item by clicking an area of a graphic
or displayed diagram. Another example is the case in which a
candidate must apply her knowledge to construct an appropriate
TCP/IP subnet mask or CIDR address range. Such tests rely on
reading and comprehension skills as much as they rely on knowledge
of the underlying subject matter to test the candidate's skills
and knowledge. Nearly all certifications include at least some
content-based components, even if they also use other testing
models such as simulation or performance-based testing.
- Some credentials rely on examinations that seek to assess
a certification candidate's knowledge (in whole or in part)
of concepts, tools, technologies, and platforms by requiring
candidates to run a simulator that looks and acts like the "real
systems" it imitates to solve problems, answer questions,
or demonstrate specific proficiencies. Such tests rely on hands-on
knowledge, skills, and experience in operating the various tools,
utilities, consoles, and so forth that practitioners must use
on the job. A growing minority of certifications include some
simulation-based components along with content-based testing.
Microsoft and Cisco's certifications increasingly fall into
this domain, for example.
- A small but growing number of credentials rely on examinations
that model or are based on real-world experience, skills, and
knowledge. All of these programs also include one or more conventional
exams as part of their testing strategy, along with a so-called
"practicum" or "laboratory exam." In this
latter component, candidates must install and configure systems
and equipment to meet specific needs or troubleshoot real installations
of some kind; that's what makes such credentials performance-based
(at least in part). Other such programs rely on the observation
and analysis of a candidate's activities in the workplace to
verify real-world skills and abilities.