These days, more certifications than not require continuing education or recertification at regular intervals. The constant churn of technology means certification programs are also constantly changing, with older obsolete credentials shuffling off the scene and newer ones popping up like mushrooms after the rain. This raises a very interesting question: “How can we keep up with these changes?” I have a few ideas on that subject that I’ll share with you here.
Create a Certification Calendar
When you achieve a certification that comes with an expiration date, it’s your responsibility to understand what it means to keep that certification current. Some credentials, such as those from Cisco, require you to retest on the original certification or to earn a more advanced certification to keep a less advanced one current. Other credentials, like those from (ISC)2, the parent organization of the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential and other well-known information security certs, impose an annual quota for Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits and accept retesting in lieu of meeting that requirement.
Figuring out what’s involved in maintaining a particular certification will take some research on your part. It will also require some scheduling effort to make sure you meet deadlines associated with that credential. For example, knowing that you have to earn a total of 120 CPE credits over the three-year life of a CISSP is one thing, but also recognizing that you must earn at least 40 CPE credits in each of those three years, no matter how many credits you might have earned in other years, is another thing entirely. And, while the $600 cost for retaking the CISSP exam (plus time and travel to get to a test location) may seem like a lot, it may be cheaper than the cost of meeting those annual CPE requirements through activities like attending conferences or for-a-fee online seminars. Fortunately for CISSPs, every CPE task doesn’t come with an associated cost. Writing articles, teaching classes and completing other professional activities count toward meeting the CISSP CPE requirement.
Along with knowing what you must to do to stay certified, it’s also important to keep track of the dates on which you complete qualifying activities or work. These may prove necessary to demonstrate your compliance with recertification policies should self-reporting ever be questioned.
That’s why establishing a certification calendar is so important. You can use it to schedule activities and submissions far enough in advance to meet requirements before your credential might actually elapse. If you need further motivation, consider that allowing a credential to lapse may not only force you to retake the cert exam, but also almost always involves a reinstatement fee and a fair amount of paperwork to get yourself back in the program’s good graces.
So make a list of all of your certification credentials. Figure out the deadlines for continuing education requirements and get them on the calendar. If meeting requirements means attending a class or a conference or submitting some piece of work, create a schedule for those things and put them on the calendar too.
You’ll need to check the calendar monthly, particularly when one milestone might read “Sign up for a class,” which would then result in later adding class dates and locations to make sure you honor your commitments. If there’s some kind of form that must be submitted afterward to prove you attended, include that in the schedule as well. This will create a kind of regular routine that will help you keep up with all the nitty-gritty details.
Keep an Eye on Certification Sponsors and Programs
Another important activity in the certification world is to keep up with changing credentials, programs and sponsors. For example, I’d urge individuals with EMC and/or VMware certs to keep an eye on those programs over the next year, as Dell’s purchase of EMC works its way through the process. Though there’s every chance that this acquisition won’t cause immediate changes in those certification programs, there’s no way to be sure unless you check in at regular intervals. I recommend quarterly, if not more often.
Likewise, certifications and certification tracks tend to change with the introduction of new platforms or major versions of platforms. Microsoft is getting ready to unleash a major new version of Windows 10 this summer. At around the same time, it will also release new versions of Windows Server and Microsoft SQL Server. Because numerous elements in the Microsoft certification program, including the MCSA, MCSE and MCSD credentials, depend on one or more of these platforms, those certifications are bound to go through some changes to reflect the phasing out of older versions and the phasing in of newer ones. Here again, the only way to be sure is to keep an eye on what’s going on.
Fortunately, savvy IT pros will quickly discover that most certification programs or their parent organizations, offer their certified professionals email newsletters and other online publications, forums and so forth. These information outlets will usually provide advance notice about program and credential changes, related exam changes and retirements, and other such news.
You can also find plenty of certification news and information through a variety of IT industry information outlets, such as Computerworld, ZDNet and TechTarget, that are independent of program sponsors. Some training companies, like Global Knowledge, also share such news with their customers and newsletter subscribers to help cert holders keep up with current and ongoing requirements.
Build Yourself a Routine, and Stick with It!
If you set a schedule and put it on a calendar—preferably something digital that will send you regular reminders about what to do and when to do it—you’ll be well on your way to keeping up with your certifications and their maintenance.
Then, as long as you keep up with the programs that you’re invested in—or that you’re thinking about adding to your certification portfolio—and you stay current on changes and new developments, you should be able to keep your certification portfolio entirely up to snuff. Make it a part of your professional routine, and you’ll never be blindsided by having a credential lapse and then find yourself having to jump through the hoops necessary to regain valid status. Do things by the numbers instead, so that you know what’s coming and when it must be done!
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