Understanding IT Credential Maintenance: To Recertify, Maintain Credentials, or Not
- Where Certification Programs Stack Up On Recert/Maintenance
- Between Credential Expiration and Nothing, What Is There?
- Ranking Programs by Expiration Date, Version, or No Expiration
This brief article sums up the results of a survey of all the IT certification programs and credentials I could identify as of September, 2003. As is often the case when large amounts of data are collected and analyzed, the results involve some interpretation that can possibly skew the results reported. That's why I explain how I came up with my numbers as well as sharing those numbers with you. Table 1 describes the overall populations surveyed; Table 2 shows the relative proportions of credentials and their recertification requirements (or lack thereof). Most of this article concentrates on explaining how Table 2 is broken out and what its numbers mean.
My sources for data included the certification databases at CramSession, GoCertify, Certmag.com (Certification Magazine), and CertCities. I surveyed certifications from 109 distinct companies, associations, or organizations; and I uncovered a total of 467 certification programs with a total of 1,102 certification credentials in all. But because one single companyBrainBenchaccounts for 448 certifications in five programs, I also report an adjusted count that omits these items because by themselves, that single collection of certs accounts for nearly 41 percent of the total credential count. Because this represents a more substantial chunk of the total than any other single player (IBM comes in a distant second with 8 programs and 126 credentials; that latter number is only about 11 percent of the total), it seemed reasonable to report counts that excluded Brainbench, as well as those including Brainbench.
Table 1. Overall Survey Counts
Brainbench offers a staggering 448 certifications in five programs. I also provide adjusted numbers without those counts.
Where Certification Programs Stack Up On Recert/Maintenance
Analyzing the data requires recognizing that it's not only possible that certification sponsors may either require some form of credential maintenance or may simply have no recertification requirements at all. Alas, there's a huge grey area between programs with explicit maintenance or timed requalification requirements and programs that currently require no credential maintenance whatsoever. Therefore, let me explain some terms and share some observations about programs that include explicit credential maintenance requirements and the grey area where credential maintenance (or upgrade) is implied, but not always explicitly required.
Table 2 reports three categories for credential requirements:
Timed. Credentials not only come with specific maintenance requirements, but also come with expiration dates. For example, this category includes credentials such as the Cisco CCNA, which expires three years after it's granted (unless maintenance requirements are met), the Cisco CCIE, which expires in two years (unless maintenance requirements are met), and the ISC2 CISSP, which expires in three years (unless continuing education requirements are met).
Version-related. Credentials are tied to specific versions of systems or software. Some such programs require credential holders to recertify or meet maintenance requirements to continue to claim their certifications over time; others simply assume that because credentials are associated with specific releases or versions, their holders will recertify (or upgrade) when newer releases or versions replace older ones in the marketplace.
None or not available (N/A). In this case, either the sponsor explicitly states that no maintenance is required or there's no information about maintenance (and the sponsor did not respond to my requests for information on this topic, leading me to assume that no maintenance requirements are currently defined).
For the record, credential maintenance is my term for any activity required to keep certification credentials current. Across all the programs and credentials I surveyed, this includes one or more of the following for most programs with explicit maintenance requirements:
Further testing. Includes retesting, upgrade, or recertification exams.
Continuing education. Covers anything from self-directed reading and study programs to attendance at sanctioned seminars, conferences, or classes.
Activity reporting. Requires certified professionals to describe maintenance activities or efforts, continuing employment in the field of certification, and numerous other items that vary from program to program.
Annual fees. Or any of a number of mechanisms that sponsors use to enforce ongoing activity and involvement with specific programs and credentials.