I’ve a funny relationship with ‘authorized training’ and certification. In one way, it is great that I know that within a reasonable period of time, I’ll be able to attend a course which will give me a good grounding on ‘how to drive’ a particular technology. In Cisco land, the breadth of subjects that they cover is very impressive, they’ve made a real effort here. the certification process (especially the CCIE level exams in my opinion) drive us to better knowledge and to be better engineers. I’ve been well enough convinced that it’s a good thing to make me go through CCNA, CCNP, CCIE, checkpoint CCSE and RSA certification processes.
On the other side – the training is generally just an intro. My personal experience of these courses has generally been underwhelming, and I’ve hoped to come out with a lot better understanding than I actually did. Certification (with the exception of CCIE) is generally about memorizing the theory of how these things should work rather than a test of how well you can actually do it.
Who goes down the route of official training?
Speaking to people on courses, there are typically three kinds of people who attend them :
1) End users of the equipment, who are buying an and as part of the budget are going on the training. They generally don’t care about doing the exam.
2) People doing certifications for their own career (more applicable to the CCNA/CCNP/CCIE specific courses). Often very dedicated to get as much out of the experience as they can – although you can get braindump-bunnies too..
3) Partner employee’s who have to get the certification asap as their employer is going to be audited by Cisco soon.
Let’s ignore the first two for the moment. Anyone who’s ever worked for a Cisco partner knows audit time. It’s when senior management work out that if they get two people with certification X, they’ll get an extra percentage point or two from Cisco on everything they buy. It’s big money actually, and can be the difference between winning and losing business, so is important. So if you make the mistake of walking near them at the time they have this revelation, you will volunteer to go and do the certification.
This unfortunatly leads to a lot of cheating. You see nobody cares how well the engineer knows the technology. That’s another days problem. The key is to make sure that the certifications are in place by audit day. Quick is better than good. I don’t like this (and let’s be clear, it’s not the way I do things!), but it’s the way it is. It’s a rotten part of the certification business, always has been and probably always will be.
How bad is it?
This week I heard a story that made me realize how bad things have actually got. And I have to say, after all these years, it still shocked me. A friend of mine has recently attended an official Cisco course, provided by one of the big UK authorized providers. The instructor started by handing out the official course guide, and a photocopy of the testking for the exam, and told the attendees to start reading through the questions during the evenings and come to him with any questions. Then he started going through the course notes.
Now as I’ve said before, I don’t approve of the whole braindump thing. It’s pointless, it devalues the work of those who make the effort to actually go and learn the technology, but mostly it turns the whole certification business into nothing more than a racket. But I didn’t think we’d got to the point where there was such acceptance of the fact that most people on the course are just going to then just going to braindump the exam. Surely most of us want to do it properly right?
We have to decide what we want from a certification process. The problem is the partners who need certified staff, the training company, the testing firms, and Cisco themselves all do just fine out of the current system. It’s us as engineers who are devalued and cheapened by a process which is meant to make us better at what we do, but actually just makes us rats in a process. If we don’t approve, then expose the cheats, do it properly ourselves, and lets take the high ground and be better people as well as better engineers..