On Track With Internet Certification

Find the right program to leverage the skills of a technology in flux

It's no secret. Com-panies are spending millions of dollars to deploy new Internettechnologies to compete in today's cyber-driven age and there's a gross shortfall oftrained Internet professionals to fulfill the growing need. How do you determine whatInternet certification program is right for you?

As the Internet's enterprise implications continue to grow and the supply of ITprofessionals who understand Internet technologies becomes even more in-demand, there hasbeen a growing appeal and industry attention to Internet skills certification.Certification has been proposed as a means to ensure the staff working on Internet-relatedsystems has proven proficiency in the skills necessary to understand and fully leveragethe technology.

While certification provides a baseline from which professionals' skills can be judged,there are no universal standards -- yet. So, employers and individuals are left toquestion which Internet certification program provides the best proof of competence fortheir particular needs. Investing some time to research the certification options can payoff with a more valuable certification experience.

The most important issues are:

Credibility in the Marketplace and Expert Resources. In researchingthe Internet certification programs available today, look for a program that iswell-regarded in the industry and has a proven track record of professionals who havesuccessfully gone through and achieved certification. Endorsements from Internet industrygroups such as the National Association of Webmasters (NAW), the Association of InternetProfessionals (AIP) and the Institute for Certifying Computing Professionals (ICCP) areimportant indicators.

Specific Internet experience lends further credibility to a certification program.Again, check with industry associations and with customers who have taken the program todetermine value and overall fit for your company's certification and training needs. Agood certification program has been in existence long enough to have passed severalprofessionals through differing levels of Internet skills certification and offerscomprehensive training to prepare students to take the certification exam.

Independent Testing. Certification credentials carry more weight iftesting is conducted by an independent third-party, adding a level of objectivity andraising credibility of the certification. By placing the testing responsibilities apartfrom certification/training companies, a sense of propriety is maintained, removing anyquestions about testing procedures. Third-party testing also eliminates the possibility ofa certification/training company directly tying certification to the purchase of trainingcourses.

Independent testing companies such as Sylvan Prometric (Baltimore, Md.) can be goodsources of certification information and alternatives. Sylvan Prometric provides testingon a wide variety of topics including product-specific Internet certification for Novell,Microsoft and IBM as well as vendor-neutral, Internet skills certification.

Full Service Certification and Training. Many experienced Internetprofessionals could pass a test to earn certification without training. On the other hand,an Internet novice needs to start with the most basic kind of training before working upto Internet skills certification. Most fall somewhere in between the two extremes.

Steer away from programs that require mandatory training to qualify a student forcertification. If a student already possesses the Internet skills necessary to provecompetency, he/she should have the opportunity to "place out" and omitunnecessary training. If training is needed to fill the knowledge gap, look for a trainingalternative that can address all the levels of Internet skills competency, from basic tothe most complex technical skills.

A wide range of training options based on a sound curriculum with expert instructionensures that various levels of the organization can achieve Internet proficiency. And itfacilitates a focused approach to pinpoint the training need, saving both class time andmoney, while creating the most efficient path towards earning your certification.

A clearly drawn "certification track" can be an extremely useful tool to mapout the cost, time and number of courses needed to be prepared for specific certificationtesting. The investment can range from as little as $150 for a third-party certificationtest to around $300 for a simple supplemental course to more than $2,000 for amulti-course package that can cover a full week of training and testing time.

Internet Administrator Manages and tunes corporate Internet and intranet infrastructure including DNS, FTP and Web server systems for medium to large-sized businesses.
Internet Network Professional Defines network architecture and infrastructure components; monitors and analyzes network performance; designs, manages and troubleshoots corporate enterprise TCP/IP networks.
Internet Security Professional Defines, develops and manages corporate security policy; analyzes security mechanisms such as firewall systems and attack recognition products and technologies; manages the deployment of security solutions.
E-commerce Professional Defines, develops and manages e-business policy; analyzes electronic com- merce standards, technologies and product alternatives; manages the deployment of electronic commerce solutions.
Web Designer Creates and maintains Web pages using languages such as HTML and XML; works closely with content creation and content management tools.
Internet Developer I Develops Web applications using scripting languages and Java; understands Web-user interface design principles.
Internet Developer II Develops and implements solutions for integrating the back-end database system with Web applications for real-time access to customer or corporate information.
Java Programmer Develops Java applets and applications and creates graphical user interfaces based on Java standards such as JDK and the event model.

Real-World Applications. In preparation for certification, lecturesand learning from books can be valuable, but for a true sense of how knowledge will betransferred to usable skills, look for hands-on training that makes the subject comealive. To take interactivity out of the learning equation would be a mistake, so look forcourses that move beyond theory and actually apply the needed skills.

By creating a curriculum that comes from real-world cases, an individual is one stepcloser to applying the certification when the class is finished. Most course outlinesaddress the sophistication of the hands-on experience. If in doubt, ask for specificdescriptions of the interactive features. For instance, for an e-commerce course, askwhether the class work is being applied in an actual Web site environment, or if theclassroom examples will be hypothetical exercises.

Understanding the concept of product-specific certification is simple; it's acertification that proves competency on one version of software or a series of specificsoftware applications. The vendor-neutral approach to certification places professionalsand businesses on firm footing in the overall context of the Internet because it focuseson a broad range of skills, as opposed to specific products, which are likely to bereplaced by new products or upgrades.

Because the Internet is comprised of various platforms and products, this big-pictureperspective is necessary to build a clear path through the electronic maze and apply thatknowledge to leverage all its capabilities.

When coupled with vendor-specific certification, like those developed by Microsoft,Netscape and Novell, vendor-neutral training raises the level of overall comprehension andcompetency. Vendor-specific certification is not recommended to stand-alone since productshave ever-changing life cycles. Focusing only on product certifications leaves students atthe mercy of the market's need for those products. These guidelines will help illuminatethe path to meaningful certification, a never-ending process.

Degrees change and grow in the academic community, and certification will continue toadvance as Internet technology advances. Keeping up with the pace of change is a challengefor everyone and certification can help businesses and professionals synchronize abilitiesand expectations in this ever-changing market.

--Uday Om Pabrai, chief technology officer and vice chairman of Prosoft InternetSolutions, developed the industry's first Internet certification credential.