Blogging Idol contestants debate IT certification

Should IT managers be required to have a professional certification? This topic has been the subject of much debate in light of the Canadian Information Processing Society’s ISP designation, and the plethora of certification programs led by vendors.

This was the first topic of ComputerWorld Canada’s Blogging Idol contest, and we have published extracts from IT bloggers’ entries on our site.

The complete posts can be viewed at the Blogging Idol Web site.

Christopher Shaw

Time for a shakeout in IT Certifications

From a few early offerings in the 1980s, IT certifications have proliferated to the point that many seriously question their value. An industry has sprung up whose sole purpose is to improve its students’ skills at certification exam writing, resulting in MCSE holders who have no idea how to develop an application and network “engineers” who cannot explain what the SYN flag does in TCP/IP (hint: sequence numbers).

This prompts some very valid questions. What value do certifications offer to IT workers and to industry, especially when (unlike the medical professions) there are so many different certifications available for any given specialty? Each different certification often requires the learning of completely different technical material, standards and procedures.

I counted over 40 different networking certifications – this without including ones that specialize in less common technologies and hardware. Things that seem to be sorely lacking are standardization, and pre-certification evaluation of the degree to which the IT skillset has actually been learned outside of a written examination setting.

Perhaps in response to the perceived shortcomings of the IT certification process, in 1997 the Canadian Information Processing Society first achieved legislative recognition of their ISP professional designation.

It is unfortunate that the ISP (Information Systems Professional) certification has not yet achieved “critical mass”, because in many ways it addresses issues that few other certification programs do. Among other requirements, the holder of an ISP must have two sponsors and 1,000 hours of relevant industry experience before being awarded the qualification. The Body of Knowledge that must be learned to gain this designation is considerable, and touches on most areas of IT. Even though it might not be necessary for, say, a software developer to have detailed knowledge of systems architecture, it certainly does not hurt to have a good overview of the topic.

Michel Labelle

Should there be a Professional IT Manager designation? In a word No

Personally as a professional IT manager myself, I’d have to say that most “industry” professional designations and titles are little more than a nice piece of paper for covering the holes the wall from the last sucker to hold the job.

In IT very few people go to the extent of being university graduates in computer science. For the most part we are certified by a vendor who “wants” us to be certified for marketing and product loyalty reasons, then we evolve into the roll of manager or project manager as appropriate or required by our employer.

If you want to see the difference in other terms, then think about a professional engineer, architect, lawyer or doctor. These are true professions and there is a reason. They have mandatory government recognized colleges and governance. Each individual is regularly scrutinized by their piers (think second opinion) and has mandatory participation rules. The individuals need to be licensed in their jurisdiction and carry professional insurance. While similarly to IT they will need to stay current with latest requirements and technologies the single most important face is they don’t become an “insert title of choice here” by default or promotion.

Take a look at the typical Canadian IT manager. How many of them do you think could write a formal business plan, develop an IT strategy, write or perform an information risk assessment, develop a business continuity plan, perform a total cost of ownership assessment, or build a business case based on ROI or TCO? The simple fact of the matter is that the typical Canadian IT manager is not a business manager first, but a technologist. Very few have the formal business training to be a manager let alone a professional manager.

We have good technologists in this industry, but it is not a profession in the traditional sense. In the 90’s the various engineering professional associations took offence to the use of the word engineer in titles like software engineer or certified network engineer. They did so to protect their own reputations and to clearly bring to the table the issue that none of these so called engineers could meet their entry and licensing requirements.

Groups like the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) now have their generic titles like the Information Systems Professional. I may be cynical, but I sure don’t see the value in their training and certification. It may come into vogue for a few years, but in the end the profession will be little further ahead.

If you have a desire to be a professional IT manager, I recommend going to college or university and getting a BS in computer science, take a few additional years to also get your electrical engineering degree, then transfer to an MBA program. Then at least you will be qualified to be a professional IT manager. Kind of sucks as a route, but you will be able to claim be a certified professional.

Don Sheppard

Professional designation for IT managers: Why Not?

This topic is an old one. As a professional engineer, I’ve seen the debate occur in the engineering profession. Remember the debate over IBM customer engineers? the P.Eng. designation is defined and protected by law in Ontario. I’ve also studied PMBOK (the bible for project managers) but never took the test. I’ve taken Cisco courses but never tried to become a CCIE. I’ve read the ITIL books but, again, never took the test. I don’t think designations are critical if you have enough of the right experiences. Some people think that having too many designations can actually be a warning sign!

Do IT managers get (or need) formal training the same way engineers or architects do? In fact, do IT managers even have to be able to do all of the things their employees do? Not in my experience! Not even close! What should an IT manager’s professional designation be based on? Should it be a sub-set of the P. Mgr. designation developed by the Canadian Institute of Management? Should it be based on a degree such as a Master’s in Management Sciences for example? Should one organization be given the right to offer an IT manager professional designation (see the CIPS site )?

Are specific experiences, testing, programming skills, membership, attestation to honesty and ethical behaviour needed? In some ways, creating professional designations in IT

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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