Last week, I wrote a blog entitled “Pondering Certification Building Blocks,” wherein I waxed eloquent about certification programs that are wisely and well-built. In particular, I lauded those programs like Microsoft’s where junior level certs roll up, then add up to more senior level ones, and where forethought has been expended to enable people to grow themselves, and organizations to grow their people, so that by occupying more junior job roles and earning more junior certs, over time these things accumulate. Smaller certs eventually lead to bigger ones, and lesser job roles likewise to greater ones, and everybody wins. The company wins by grooming and developing its talent pool, the people win by advancing up a well-defined career ladder, and the sponsoring organization wins by attracting more adherents to its certification program and creating advocates for its tools, techniques, and technologies.
In that same blog, though I used Microsoft as an example, I indicated that what had stimulated my thinking was some company other than Microsoft, but that I was under embargo for talking about it. Well, that embargo is lifted as of yesterday morning (February 2, 2011), so I can talk about it now. The sponsoring organization is the other “big gun” in the IT certification world — namely, Cisco Systems — and the program in question is their security certification program. As of today, they are adding three new credentials to their existing security line-up and these certs do more than just expand their portfolio. Each one contains elements that are also required for the CCNP Security certification, so they also define true “stepping stones” to that credential starting from high-demand, more narrowly focused areas of specialization.
The new security certifications from Cisco all fit under their Specialist branch, and are designated as “Security Specialist Certifications.” These new certs are as follows:
1. Cisco Firewall Security Specialist (FIREWALL): A certification that recognizes security professionals who possess the skills and knowledge necessary to design, implement and maintain Cisco security appliance solutions, using the Cisco ASA adaptive security appliance and zone-based firewall solutions.
2. Cisco IOS Security Specialist (IOS Security): A certification that recognizes professionals who have demonstrated the hands-on knowledge and skills required to secure networks, using features within Cisco IOS Security from the latest Cisco routers and switches, and in widely deployed Cisco security appliances.
3. Cisco VPN Security Specialist (VPN): A certification that recognizes security professionals who possess the knowledge and skills necessary to configure, maintain, troubleshoot and support VPN solutions , along with Cisco IOS software and the Cisco ASA adaptive security appliance.
The following snippet from Cisco’s press briefing slide deck on the new certifications puts these items into context along with three other security-related specialist certs (the one in gray is attached to the Cisco Certified Security Professional, or CCSP credential, which works in tandem with the new Cisco Certified Network Professional , or CCNP, Security certification, to which the specialist certs in yellow below it are attached).
The real point of the building block approach that applies to all the items in yellow in the bottom row is that the exams that apply to those credentials may all be applied when earning the more senior CCNP Security credential. That’s what makes them building blocks, and why they should be quite attractive to aspiring Cisco security professionals. Furthermore, Cisco says their customer research shows that the job roles associated with these specialist areas are in high demand and that while many organizations don’t need large numbers of CCNP Security certified professionals on staff, those resources will be nicely augmented by other, more junior professionals who earn one or more of the specialist certifications shown. Over time, as higher-level professionals themselves grow out of their CCNP Security positions, more junior Security Specialist staff can climb the ladder and grow into those vacant positions. This creates nice opportunities to groom and develop staff, and to offer them a clear, well-defined job and certification ladder to climb.