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Newest of Technology Rip-Offs!

Has the certification game become just that?  A renewable gouge for Hardware & Software Vendors?

Companies may have to spend money they consider a waste and suffer lost worker time to re-certify their network staffs as a result of changes Novell and Microsoft have recently made to their certification programs.

Novell announced that all Certified Novell Engineers (CNE) will lose their certification unless they become trained on NetWare 5 by the end of August 2000. Microsoft will revoke the certification of its Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) in December 2001 unless they re-certify on Windows 2000.

The issue may prove particularly nettlesome in shops that have no foreseeable plans to move to Windows 2000 or NetWare 5. "Why should their staffs need Windows 2000 certification to maintain their MCSE?" asks Dave Kinnaman, a network consultant in Seattle who also writes MCSE study guides. The same is true for NetWare, he says. At present, 90% of Novell's installations are NetWare 3 or 4, and Win 2000 won't ship until February of this year.

"Saying MCSEs are no longer qualified for their work is a foolish marketing based exaggeration," Kinnaman says. "They are still quite qualified for the Windows NT 4.0  and 5.0 work in their companies."  The differences in 5.0 are so obvious because of a super user friendly interface that re-certification is really an exercise in redundancy.

The cost of obtaining a MCSE is steep, running from $5,000 to $10,000 for six to seven weeks of classes. If a person elects to become certified through self-study, the investment can be as little as $1,000. For a company that offers tuition reimbursement, the cost of re-certification can be as much as $2,000 per network professional.

While the certification changes are causing a fuss in some circles, other network managers see the changes - and the programs themselves - as much ado about nothing. Some net professionals say that while continuing education is important, it's not mandatory for them to have or to keep their current jobs, although they aren't anxious to let their certifications lapse. Their bosses apparently agree, saying they'd rather hire staff with documented work experience as opposed to certification, and they will provide training in specialized areas such as Cisco routers, Linux or security.

"It's just a bunch of letters," says Mark Labow, a network engineer at Skadden Arps, a large law firm in New York. Labow is Microsoft, Novell and Cisco certified. "When you interview a person, just because he has a certificate doesn't mean he knows anything. It means he has certain base knowledge, but after a point, you need to be sure he can apply it," says Clarence Ng, network manager at the firm.

"Certification is an added plus, but we are more concerned with hands-on experience that can be proven through work history," says Chuck Yoke, manager of technology architecture for Janus, a Denver-based mutual fund company.

IS managers also say that hiring network professionals has changed in the past few years. Now CNE and MCSE certifications don't have the cachet they once had because almost everyone is getting them. Novell, for instance, has 168,000 CNEs and Master CNEs. A glut of MCSEs is also occurring, Yoke says.

"Instead of being flooded with paper CNEs, now we have the same thing with paper MCSEs. They go to a boot camp for two weeks, cram and get their MCSE, and they come and sit down and have no idea how to really troubleshoot a file server," he says. Yoke would rather hire someone with Cisco certification or experience working with Cisco routers.

Cisco certification, according to Mike Prince, chief information officer at Burlington Coat Factory, is very broad-based training that requires knowledge of the multi-vendor network infrastructure. Prince is also looking into Linux certification for his staff.

Steve Lopez, director of systems and technology at the National Board of Medical Examiners, looks for more than practical experience. Certification is a plus, he says, but only as an indication that the person sought and achieved certain knowledge. "Certification is still a factor at review time," Lopez says.


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