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The GPs of the IT world

Several certifications can give you a broad overview of computing topics. Training Advisor hed: The GPs of the IT world dek: several certifications can give you a broad overview of computing topics. by Molly W. Joss

The medical world has two kinds of doctors: general practitioners (GP) and specialists. You usually see a GP for routine medical care, but you turn to a specialist when you have a particular problem. When it’s an acute problem, the GP and the specialist need to work together to help solve it. You’re better off with two medical minds working as a team than one working alone, no matter how good the specialist is.

The same scenario exists in the IT world. Specialists in networking and Web site development are great when you are addressing a specific business problem, but you need to start with a GP when you’re not sure what the problem is. You also need a GP to keep you on track with regular checkups and ongoing, up-to-date care of chronic problems.

Since 1973, the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) has been in the business of helping computer professionals establish themselves as the GPs of the IT world. If you are interested in a computer certification not tied to a specialized area in IT, you might be a good candidate for the ICCP certification programs.

When it first started, the ICCP offered three certifications-CDP for data processing, CCP for computer programming, and CSP for systems professional. While the organization continues to support these certifications, it is no longer accepting new candidates for these programs.

Today, the organization offers several kinds of certifications. The most well known is the Certified Computer Professional (CCP) designation. Others include the Professional Industry Entrance Certification (ACP) and Proficiency Certifications (PC) in specialty or programming language.

The guts of GP certs

You can get all the ICCP certifications without spending weeks or months in expensive, formal training programs. They are made for those who prefer self-study. They do presume a certain experience level in a broad range of areas, but you can acquire most of that knowledge working in the field. With a little extra time spent focusing on unfamiliar areas, you can pass the certification exams.

The CCP certification is best suited for someone who has several years of experience in the IT world, but is not interested in developing a career path along such well-worn trails as networking and programming. Thus, it’s a good fit for computer consultants, trainers, CIO candidates, and even MBAs who want to work in computer fields.

To acquire the certification, you must pass the core exam and two specialty exams with a score of 70 percent or higher. You can substitute two computer-language exams for one of the specialty exams. ICCP also will accept many of the vendor certifications, such as the MCSE or a CISCO certification, as a substitute for one of the specialty exams.

There are 11 specialty exams, including systems development, software engineering, micro computing, and networks. The language exams include BASIC, COBOL, C, and C++, along with a few others. ICCP is working on adding exams for Java, HTML and the Internet, among others.

The ACP certification is a less rigorous process. You need to pass the core exam and one specialty or language exam with a score of 50 percent or higher. If you’re just starting out in the computer field and you’re not sure which certification you want to pursue, consider this one. You can always add a specialization later. If you already have a specialized certification, such as MCSE, you might want to round out your résumé by adding an ACP.

To earn a Proficiency Certificate in a language or specialty, you need to score 70 percent or higher on that particular test. These tests are thorough and inexpensive, so they make excellent criteria for companies looking to screen IT applicants or test an employee’s qualifications prior to promotion. They’re also a quick and affordable way for someone looking for an IT position to add weight to his or her résumé.

All of the tests are multiple-choice exams with time limits. Once you’ve made arrangements with ICCP to take the tests, you can take them at any Sylvan Technology Center. Since the tests are computerized, you can get your score and a printed analysis of your test results before you leave the test center.

Even if you pass the CCP exams, you have to meet the experience requirements for each certification and sign a document agreeing to comply with the ICCP Codes of Ethics, Conduct, and Good Practice. You can take the exams any time, but ICCP won’t grant the CCP certification if you can’t meet the experience requirement. There is no experience requirement for the ACP or PC.

Acceptable experience for the CCP is a total of 48 months of experience working full-time in computer-based jobs (excluding clerical, data-entry work, and classroom work). You can, though, get up to 24 months’ credit for a bachelor’s degree in fields related to business and IT. If you aren’t sure you have enough experience yet, contact ICCP for complete information on requirements and to find out what counts on your résumé.

Training and costs

While you don’t have to train for the tests, it’s necessary for most users. Test yourself first by downloading the sample exam from the ICCP Web site and taking it. You will quickly realize that to do well, you have to be familiar with IT and business terms, concepts, and applications. This is heavy-duty stuff-you can’t be an IT or a business dilettante and hope to pass.

ICCP works with Bird Professional Publications to develop study guides and training materials for each certification. You can also find cram courses that are held in conjunction with major trade shows, such as Comdex. Contact ICCP for details on the location and dates of the next set of cram courses. ICCP also offers a short study guide for each exam that has sample questions and answers. You can also get study guides and tapes from several other companies–search the nearest bookstore for these resources.

The exams themselves are not expensive; for a few hundred dollars, you can take all the tests you need for any certification. The core exam is $195, each specialty exam is another $195, and each language exam costs $105. Couple that expense with a hundred or so dollars in study materials, and you’ve got a high-quality certification for less than $500.

If you’re working on your degree, you’ll be glad to know you can get up to 25 hours of college credit for taking and passing the exams. The American Council on Education has reviewed the ICCP exams and has approved them as a means of obtaining undergraduate college credits.

Recertification requirements

Unlike many IT certifications, the CCP recertification is not an expensive or time-consuming process. The requirements are just enough to be serious, but not enough to be a drain on a professional’s time. If you are a working IT professional, you’ll get most of what you need by working every day.

Once you’ve been awarded the CCP, you need to keep the certification current by re-applying every three years. To qualify for recertification, you need to prove to ICCP that you’ve participated in 120 hours of IT-related activities. You also can sit for, and pass, the CCP exams.

There is no recertification for the ACP or PCs. The next logical move, if you have one of these certifications, is to work toward the CCP certification.

More than 50,000 people have earned some kind of certification from ICCP, so it’s an organization people have heard about. That makes the certifications valuable, but the exams are in-depth enough to make them worth the investment. You really are a good GP and a well-rounded computer professional if you can pass these exams. That’s good news for you and for any potential or current employer.

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