Last night, President Obama addressed the US Congress, and proposed a new jobs-focused economic stimulus that would broaden the current Social Security tax cut for workers, and extend similar payroll tax cuts to small businesses. It would cut Social Security taxes by more than half for individuals (from 6.65 to 3.1 percent) and by about half for small businesses with payrolls of $5M or less (which means 98% of American businesses).
Another aspect to the President’s plan: a tax break of $4,000 for companies that hire individuals who have been unemployed for more than 6 months (according to the latest Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this means 43 percent of the unemployed population, which currently tops 15 million people). Other spending would extend existing unemployment benefits, boost support for public works, and provide aid to state and local governments to head off teacher layoffs. Total costs for all these suggested outlays: $447 B.
Economists are reacting positively to this plan with predictions for resulting new job creation ranging from one to two million new jobs as a result of the tax break. But predictably, Republicans are averse to any plans that involve additional spending without also providing offsetting sources of revenue. Given the current political climate, I give this plan a snowball’s chance in hell of being enacted as legislation. And even if the predictions prove true, reducing unemployment by 8-16% (from 9.1 to 8.4 or 7.7 percent) doesn’t strike me as a bold enough stroke.
If the President wants to dream big — and I think he should — I’d like to see more ambitious public works projects, more money (and work) for the chronic unemployed and underemployed minority populations in major metro areas, and some kind of “Newer Deal” for American citizens. If the Republicans are going to shoot it all down anyway, why not go for something really ambitious and meaningful instead of what economist Menzie Chin (University of Wisconsin) calls something that “merely makes up for the expiration of the president’s earlier $862 billion economic stimulus plan” (Chicago Sun Times, 9/8/2011).
My eyebrows went up a bit as I read this headline in Anne Martinez’ latest Certification Watch newsletter (Volume 14#11, 9/1/2011, 2nd headline from the top): “Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) Exam to Double in Price, Independent Prep Costs Extra.” Here are some details:
- As of September 30, 2011, the cost of the CEH exam goes up from $250 to $500
- Those who don’t purchase a CEH class from an authorized training partner must also pay a non-refundable $100 “application fee” to challenge the exam directly, and skip the class.
Martinez goes on to observe that the $100 fee is already in effect right now, but that the new CEHv7 exam won’t actually go live until October 1. If you’re already prepping for this exam, you can save quite a bit by accelerating your schedule to beat the deadline, but you’ll want to act fast: with such a powerful impetus, seats at Prometric or VUE testing centers for this exam in advance of that date are bound to fill up fast.
As for me, I’m not sure I like this maneuver on the EC-Council’s part. Though they do state that they “regret the inconvenience” of these changes on their CEH Web pages, they offer only the information that the course materials have been reworked and that they have invested “thousands of hours researching the latest trends and uncovering the cover techniques used by the underground community” (CEH Brochure, p. 2) to indirectly explain the price increase. When prices go up a little inflation and overhead are easy to invoke to explain such jumps; when costs double and new fees are levied, some form of direct acknowledgement and explanation seems to be in order. I don’t see anything like that from the EC-Council. I can only hope somebody in the organization will see this blog, and step forward to provide some more information. Without it, the move seems like nothing more than an outright profit grab, as does the $100 application fee.
What does this change tell you about the CEH? Its sponsoring organization (known as the EC-Council) obviously thinks a great deal of this exam. It also obviously wants to steer candidates into official training classes (most with price tags of $2,500 or higher) as evidenced by its $100 add-on application fee for those who want to challenge the exam directly. I’d urge such folks to meet and probably exceed the organization’s requirement for two or more years of information security related experience and to read over the Exam Eligibility Application Form carefully to make sure they can provide all of the requested information, and count on whomever the proffer as an employer reference to back up their assertions that they meet the organization’s background and experience requirements.
Today’s the first Friday of the month, so the US Bureau of Labor Statistics posts last month’s employment numbers. As I was driving to an appointment this morning, I heard an NPR reporter describe the Dow Jones Industrial Index as “plunging” in the wake of this report. And indeed, today the DJIA closed down 253.31 points to 11,240.26, down 2.2 percent. Sigh.
So, what happened, you may ask? A whole lotta nothin’ as it turns out. Jobs created for the month were a big fat goose egg (zero, that is) with gains in healthcare and mining offset by losses in the information sector thanks to the huge group of Verizon workers who went out on a two-week strike in August. But lack of evidence of growth translates into a stagnant economy, one that’s right on the brink of shrinking, and thus falling back into a recession once again. Yes, that’s right: the dread “double-dip recession” now looks increasingly likely. Hence the expression of discontent and dissastisfaction in the stock markets round the world.
Against this backdrop, President Obama’s speech about jobs and the economy to the congress next Thursday, September 8, takes on added significance. Given the declining state of our infrastructure, especially our highways and bridges, I say let’s go ahead and spend some more money to improve those failing assets and put more people back to work.
And for us IT professionals, my mantra cannot (and apparently will not) change: “Hunker down. Be calm. Stay put. Wait for things to get better.” At least, after three years of more of the same, I can’t claim this isn’t a familair refrain. Sigh again.
Take a look at this graphic, lifted straight from the CompTIA page in the “Expand Your Credentials” area on the Cisco Website:
Yes, that’s right, Cisco is plugging the A+ and Network+ sequence as a natural precursor to the CCENT and CCNA certifications. In light of their recent announcement of the CCT program (see my 8/24/2011 blog on this subject for more information) I have to wonder if this changes anything.
But for now, here’s what Cisco says about the Network+ credential:
Network+ provides a solid foundation for networking professionals to pursue vendor-specific certifications such as the Cisco CCNA or CCENT. In fact:
* Most Network+ certified professionals move on to a Cisco exam within 6 months
* Network+ certified professionals have a higher CCNA exam pass rate
Shoot! There’s even a CompTIA IT Certification Roadmap on this page, too. What does it all mean? For one thing, it means that Cisco thinks CompTIA is doing its job to prep IT workers for entry-level skills and knowledge and building the kind of informed certification candidates it likes to see. For another thing, it means that both organizations find synergy between their respective programs and offerings. I’d like to see more of this kind of thing going on in the IT certification space, and I can’t help but think that we will.
Vendor-sponsored certification programs often get the reputation of presenting the world from a cloistered (or at least one-sided) perspective. But the more you dig into certain programs, the more you learn that they do recognize that the world they serve is bigger than their organization, and that there’s lots of good stuff people can benefit from learning outside their domains. Case in point: Cisco Learning’s great page on “IT Service Management (ITSM) and ITIL.”
It’s a treat to see this familiar ITIL diagram on the Cisco site, along with a very good explanation of the various ITIL certifications available to IT professionals, and what they cover. They even include pointers to key ITIL organizations, and a pointer to itSM Solutions for ITIL training online. There’s also a link to a 2009-vintage presentation on Cisco and ITIL that talks about its formal adoption, regular use, and future within Cisco itself. Good stuff!
Here it is, straight from the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) home page:
The new exam goes live on Monday, August 29, and the old VCP 4 exam will be phased out by the end of 2011. VCP 4 holders who take and pass the VCP 5 exam on or before February 29, 2012 can skip taking the update course to qualify for a cert upgrade to VCP 5 status (VMware vSphere: What’s New [V5.0]) and save $1,500! For more information on the new VCP 5 credential, requirements, and so forth see my PearsonITCertification.com blog from August 3, 2001 entitled “New VCP5 Exam Spurs Special Offer for VCP4 Certified VMware Pros.”
After listening to the folks at Cisco Learning explain to me why they decided that the CCT was necessary, I had to let go of my inclination to view this latest member of the Cisco cert portofolio as either a case of
- Matching the Microsoft Technology Associate at the high school and community college, cert for cert
- Playing some kind of “how low can you go?” game in defining what “entry-level credential” means these days, as big programs seek to embrace ever-broader portions at the bottom of the technology pyramid seeking to funnel more candidates into their embraces and programs
No, it seems that a big driver for this program came from big companies like NCR, RescueCom, Dimension Data, and so forth, that need to dispatch qualified service technicians to onsite customer locations. These technicians have to be able to run basic troubleshooting maneuvers, diagnostics, and so forth, and must know how to swap out switch and router modules (CCT Routing and Switching), work with Cisco Unified Computing Systems components and servers, accessories, cabling, and interfaces (CCT Data Center), or do likewise with Cisco TelePresence models, accessories, cabling, and interfaces (CCT TelePresence). In other words, this is a hands-on program that’s designed to make sure CCTs who go onsite know what they’ll be working with, what kinds of things to test and check to identify problems, and what kinds of devices, modules, cables, and so forth to swap out to fix such problems.
I see this as a good thing for serveral reasons. First, because the CCT feeds into the CCNA, it will help to ensure that CCTs seeking CCNA certification will have some hands-on knowledge and experience with Cisco gear as it’s used in the field. Second, it includes a built-in guarantee of experience and brings both theory and practice together in helpful ways. Third, it teaches solid well-understood maintenance and troubleshooting procedures, which make a great foundation for working in and around networks and networking technologies.
I also had a chance to look through the CCT online training modules for the CCT Routing and Switching courseware ($299 for one year of online access through the Cisco Store: courseware link). Cisco Learning has done a bang-up job of putting a great set of training materials together, and of making them available as a sequence of relatively short (under 15 minutes per module) elements that should work well to train folks who are constantly on the move and who can’t turn off the world to sit in a classroom for days at a time to learn this subject matter.
Overall, the CCT looks pretty interesting, and should give the new entry level Cisco cert candidates a great opportunity to mix hands-on interaction with theory, and to put both learning elements to work on the job.
Saw a great blog from Susan Harkins on freelancing this morning over at TechRepublic. It’s entitled “10 things you shouldn’t believe about freelancing” and its various bullet points not only struck home (and occasionally also, my funnybone) they also go me to thinking about what’s involved in launching a self-directed career as a freelancer, especially in today’s dicey economic climate.
Here are Harkins’ 10 points with my own reactions to them, which I’ll follow with additional input and advice to those who may be pondering the leap from working for “the man” to working for themselves:
1. Freelancers make the big bucks: You may occasionally make more per hour freelancing than you make on salary, but you will often make a lot less. When you’re self-employed the paying work has to fund your overhead, and most people have at least one day of overhead time per working week.
2. Freelancers can specialize: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that you’ll always tend to take on work you know how to do properly and well; no, in the sense that any work is better than no work when you’re trying to keep the cashflow going.
3. Freelancers are their own bosses: Again, yes and no. Sure you may run the firm of me, myself, and I, but I agree wholeheartedly with Harkins that every customer is your boss when you’re a freelancer, and that you should bend over backwards to keep all of those bosses happy.
4. Freelancers accomplish more: Here, too, Harkins point that freelancers get more done because they spend more time working is right on the money. In good times, you work to meet deadlines and get the job done; in bad times, when you’re not working for whatever income you can generate thereby, you’re out hustling for new work.
5. Freelancers are happier because they’re doing what they love: I’m not entirely in Harkins’ boat on this point, but it is true that freelancing involves doing what you’re good at and what pays. As you get better at it (and better known), however, you will have more opportunities to be choosy about what work you take on.
6. Freelancers work in their pajamas: They can if they want to but most of us don’t. FWIW, it’s not an option to me because I don’t wear pajamas…ever!
7. Freelancers have more freedom: Yes and no: you can decide when and if you want to work, but you must work or you won’t get paid. For most of use this means most waking hours during the week are spent working, even if we do get to decide when those hours might occur.
8. Freelancers have less stress: I don’t buy into Harkins’ thought that “people with real jobs get unemployment benefits, and freelancers don’t” because unemployment benefits are largely terrible, and because everybody who works deals with stress as part of the job (and then, of course, there’s the rest of your life, which comes with its own stresses, too). We all cope as best we can, whether employed full-time, freelancing, or doing something else.
9. You need a Web site: Harkins opines one really isn’t necessary because hers hasn’t brought in any new business. Like most Internet phenomena, this is clearly a case of YMMV (your mileage may vary). Mine has brought me plenty of business, but only at odd intervals. If you want to create a personal brand, or are thinking about starting a company, building a Web site will teach you stuff that will come in handy someday, if not right away. Your call!
10. Freelancers can sleep in: Only if they make up for getting up late by working late. But if you work with customers (and who else is gonna pay you), you’ll work when your customers work because that’s when they’re going to want to work with you.
Other thoughts I had while chewing on this material included the idea that you shouldn’t go freelance without at least 3 months worth of cash flow available to you. It always takes a while to fill up your pipeline, and for that pipeline to start pouring cash into your bank account. Be sure you can cover your costs while you’re waiting for invoice payments to start appearing (and in these times, if your terms are net 30, adding 30-45 days to this is a good idea because many customers will be slow to pay). You should also be sure you’ve got some initial business lined up before you take the freelance plunge, because while it’s always a good idea to keep marketing and actively soliciting work, if you have none and can find none, your brilliant freelance career can’t last very long!
And finally, here’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned in my 17-plus years of freelancing: if you have to choose between sitting idle and taking on work that’s going to lose you money, keep sitting. If you’re going to lose money anyway, why not do it looking for new work, instead of knocking yourself out working on something that’s going to bring you financial losses when all is said and done. This is a tough lesson, though: I have to relearn this one myself at about 5-7 year intervals when the work flow slows to a crawl. I hope I don’t have to learn it again, ever!
I’ve been brainstorming a bit lately with a long-time cert industry colleague, Anne Martinez, whose terrific Website (GoCertify.com) I have mentioned in 25 of my 400-plus blogs here (for my most recent accolades to that magnum opus see my August 1, 2011 blog entitled “Hats Off to GoCertify.com“). We’ve been talking a lot about what IT professionals, hiring managers, and technical recruiters need to know about IT certifications to make them intelligible, understandable, and sensible to all parties.
This turns out to be a little trickier than it might appear upon first consideration. To some extent, this stems from the different interests of the three different constituencies involved in looking for and pondering IT certification information. As far as we can tell EVERYBODY wants to know the following:
- How much demand is there for this cert? Is the demand trend rising or falling?
- How much is this certification worth?
- How do similar certifications compare with one another?
- How many people hold a particular credential?
- How many job postings online have recently mentioned that credential?
- How current is the knowledge base likely to be for someone who holds this credential?
Beyond that interests diverge pretty widely and wildly. IT professionals (and prospective certification holders) want to know lots of nuts and bolts details about each credential, including:
- How long does it take to prepare for and earn this cert?
- What is the passing ratio for this cert’s exam(s)? How likely is a re-take for one or more exams?
- How much does it cost to earn this cert?
- Is self-study an option? Is taking a classroom or online course required to earn the cert? Do community colleges or technical schools offer courses on the credential?
- What kinds of study materials are available? Study guides? Exam Crams? Practice tests? Flashcards? …
- What kinds of infrastructure surrounds the credential? Resource sites? Online forums? Online or physical study groups?
Hiring managers, on the other hand, are more interested in answers to the following questions:
- How relevant is this certification to my company’s current and planned technologies and platforms? What happens if we adopt new or different technologies or platforms?
- Does hiring a certified professional make them more likely to leave or stay at my company when the economy is booming?
- How often must an employee recertify to stay current on this credential? What costs are involved?
- What is the return on investing in certified employees? How do outlays to maintain certifications stack up against cost savings from having certified employees on staff?
- How does IT certification figure into staff development and retention plans and goals?
And finally, technical recruiters (and in house placement and HR professionals) have their own specific interests, too:
- What does holding a particular certification say about some candidate’s skills, knowledge, and motivation?
- What is the employer’s attitude toward IT certification in general, and specific certifications in particular?
- How likely is an employer seeking to fill a particular position to be interested in some specific certification? (Easy to answer when certs figure into job requirements or “nice-to-have” elements; tricker when absent.)
- What are the long-term retention or mobility characteristics for holders of this certification, and how to they compare to otherwise similar professionals who lack this certification?
- What kinds of career tracks or ladders do holders of this certification typically follow?
I am sure there are lots of other questions of interest to these constituencies, too, but I’m scratching my head and trying to come up with them. If you have ideas or suggestions to share, please post a comment to this blog, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to flesh this list out more fully, in large part to help Anne how to add to and grow her already terrific database of IT certification programs and credentials, and to help her better contextualize that information.
When I blogged back on July 27 about a Microsoft recertification survey (“Microsoft Seeks Recert Feedback“), I was already more than half-convinced that a new era of Microsoft certification might be about to dawn. The first article in Anne Martinez’ most recent Certification Watch newsletter (Volume14#10, 8/16/2011) goes a long way to confirm my presumption. Therein she cites the appearance of some brand-new content and requirements associated with the brand-new Windows Phone Certification. Here’s a screen cap that tells this story pretty eloquently:
Notice the new recert requirement language at the bottom of this table!
Here’s what the fine print at the bottom says, verbatim, for those who may not be able to parse the preceding screenshot: “*Note that candidates who earn the MCPD: Windows Phone Developer certification will be required to show continued competence in this technology area by completing a recertification exam every two years.”
And there you have the first concrete and irrefutable evidence that a new era for MS certification is dawning. I’m contacting folks in MS Learning to get such information as they may be willing to divulge about how this will fold into the MCTS, MCITP, MCM, and other Microsoft certifications over time. Very interesting!