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Lessons Learned
Lessons Learned

Sharing nuggets of wisdom from a 20-year certification career

Peter Manijak
I’ve been involved in IT certification for close to two decades now. Which is a funny thing, because when I first encountered certification, I wanted nothing to do with it. It didn’t seem like it would have any impact in the IT world. Now, of course, I see it as a strategic and driving force, both for IT and IT professionals.

I’ve weighed in and played my hand in several areas of certification, and carved out a path that has been both challenging and rewarding. One of the most important actions for me when first starting down this road of IT certification was reducing the time it takes to create and publish an exam from months to weeks, instituting rapid development workshops.

The need for speed

There are product life cycles that only last 6 months or less, so if it takes that long to publish an exam, you are already out of date. Not only did rapid development workshops actually work, despite the fear of losing people from the field to act as Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), they accelerated the time to market, making it less of a drain on those same SMEs.

There are a couple of other decisions I made as well to help extend the life of exams. One was to create role-based exams instead of product-based ones, a common practice today. Another was to write “truisms.”

It can be hard to separate a product or a tool from a role-based exam, but if you focus on objectives that won’t become obsolete and write questions that will be true today as well as true tomorrow, your exams have a longer shelf life.

Expert advice needed

Without SMEs, a test simply cannot be written. When looking to create my first exam, the best advice I got, given by one of the few certification program managers in the world at that time, was to entice the participation of experts by conducting test writing at a desirable location like Orlando or Amsterdam. It worked. Simple as that.

The other thing I discovered about working with SMEs is that anytime you bring people from the field to the home office you will lose them and their focus to others — so avoid doing that. If you have to use a company office, use a satellite location.

Do things differently

Time to market, as mentioned, is a critical factor in creating a certification exam. With changes being made so frequently to products, different thinking is needed today to meet this demand. This includes alternate delivery vehicles and creative “credentialing.”

Launching a low-stakes non-proctored “accreditation” program, then having second thoughts and later launching low-stakes “qualification” programs instead, led me to write a piece titled “Certification vs. Qualification” for Certification Magazine in 2005.

Over the years, this concept has come up regularly in conversation with other IT training and certification leaders. Now that digital badging is further blurring the lines, those ideas have become more relevant than ever.

I’ve even had some engaging discussions about using the word “qualification” instead of “accreditation.” Should “accreditation” be used only for an institution, rather than for individuals? I think so. The key thing here is to protect the value of the word “certification,” which is tied to high-stakes proctored testing.

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October 2017