Sunday, January 14, 2007

P0wned by certs

Have we been p0wned by certs?

You're probably asking yourself, "What the...?" right about now. Bear with me on this one. How many of us go away to training, receive a certification, and then never use that training again? Or worse, without an instructor there, we are sloppy about how we use the training, and then it's as if we had never gone in the first place. Come on, raise your hands. Okay, now, think about it...how many of us go away to training, come back, and thankfully never get evaluated on what we learned?

We've all seen it...we meet someone with a certification in, say for example, incident handling. And then we watch how they go about handling an incident, either in a training scenario or during a real incident, and we wonder...why are they doing that, or "what the...?"

I'm sure we could all trade stories on this, but I think that we've already gotten to the point. So the question becomes, what's the purpose of the certification if the person who gets it cannot then perform to the minimum level specified by that certification?

Back in the '90s, I decided that I wanted to learn SCUBA. So I went to the nearby military base, took classes, paid my tuition, took the "final" and then received my certification. From that point on, if I failed to perform at the level specified by my certification, I could have seriously injured (or killed) myself, or worse, others. Had I been unsafe and irresponsible, some one would have likely reported me, or at the very least, refused to dive with me and left me to hurt only myself.

The military itself is very similar. If you get sent off for training, it's very likely that when you return to your unit, you will have to actually use that training for something. During military training, I was taught how to disassemble and reassemble several weapons, to include the M9, M16 (w/ M203 40mm grenade launcher), M249, M60, and M2 .50 calibre machine gun. Not only did I have to pass a practical, but I then had to use that knowledge at my first unit to teach the same things to others.

So someone goes off to learn to be an incident handler and then returns to their organization, and an incident occurs. How is the certified individual evaluated, or are they evaluated at all? What is the outcome of the incident? Does the certified individual declare that the incident was the result of "rootkit" with no data to support that claim?

See, I guess what I'm getting at is...are certifications effective, or have we been p0wned by certs? I guess you really have to look at the purpose of a certification, and what it's intended for. However, I do have some recommendations as to an alternative approach...
  1. Rather than sending someone off to take generic training, have functional training within your organization. That way, the training can be specific to your environment, and immediately useful in that environment. Be sure to coordinate with the instructor and provide input on the types of incidents you're seeing.
  2. This type of training isn't just for the technical folks...managers need it, too. Not to the same technical detail, of course, but managers need to know what skills they are deploying against an incident, so that efforts can be coordinated and properly...uh...managed.
  3. Managers also need to know how to evaluate the performance of the team, as well as each member. After all, don't we tend to remember things better if we know that we're going to be tested on it, and that something (bonus, promotion, etc.) may be riding on how well we use that knowledge? Also, being able to evaulate the team will allow the manager to identify shortcomings, obtain additional training, etc. One great way to do this is to see who's really strong in one area, and have them work with others to bring them up to speed.
So, in a nutshell, IMHO 'tis better to spring for functional training that can be used and evaluated than to send someone off for a certification and then not be able to evaluate them when they return. I do believe that certifications have their purpose, but I also believe that there a few folks out there that actually evaluate interview candidates or new hires or even those who've just received their certification.

Thoughts?

2 comments:

dimitry said...

I think we need to look deeper at the motives for the training.
Compliance, policy vs. internal, in-house know-how if you will.

I think the functional training for a specific environment comes internally from :
1. lack of theoretical/practical base in-house for solving the problem at hand - the need
Therefore,
2. interest in finding solution to the issue at hand and desire to expand on it. - the drive
3. Certification as reflection of the understanding of the subject.
- the reflection.

I feel these things have to be understood by the person and management alike and present in every decision for training choices.

There's no way a certification should be an entry point for this chain. I would not want to be treated by a doctor who gets through the M.D. exam to get to the medical school. :)

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