From 1999 to 2005, few people in the world were better at anything than Lance Armstrong was at winning the prestigious Tour de France cycling race. After winning the global showcase event for the first time in 1999, cancer survivor Armstrong went on to win the next six Tour de France events. His seven consecutive victories were hailed as one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of sport.
There's more to Armstrong's story, of course, as we all learned several years after his final Tour de France win. A cascading series of revelations and accusations, sparked in part by former Armstrong teammate Floyd Landis, eventually led to a public confession from Armstrong himself. He had cheated. Using banned substances to promote red blood cell production, Armstrong had given himself a dominating edge over his competition.
An intense competitor and gifted athlete, Armstrong might have won some of his races without ever needing to cheat. Unfortunately, we'll never know: After a truly remarkable recovery from testicular cancer in 1997, Armstrong squandered the prime of his cycling career by coloring outside the lines. He didn't trust his own gifts and ultimately chose to violate the rules of his sport in pursuit of victory.
There's a damaging parallel in the IT certification world. Both aspiring and incumbent IT professionals pursue new skills through certification, frequently with the aim of moving up to a better job, or earning a better salary. Sometimes, the prospect of those rewards is too tantalizing to let the outcome of a certification exam be entirely dependent on individual ability. Exam candidates cheat to ensure a passing score.
As with Armstrong, cheating obscures true potential, and as with Armstrong, there are damaging consequences. After admitting to cheating, Armstrong himself was stripped of his victories, suffered irreparable damage to his profitable global brand, and quickly became mired in a torrent of lawsuits, some of which are still unfolding. He also damaged the image of professional cycling, which was already more than a little besmirched.
Certification cheaters likewise do damage to their own careers and aspirations. Perhaps to an even greater extent, however, certification cheaters damage IT certification itself, casting doubt upon the accomplishments of legitimate certificants and making certification less valuable both to employers and to certification providers.
Many people who successfully cheat on certification exams are never caught, and are even hired for jobs they aren't entirely qualified to perform. Just as Lance Armstrong couldn't cover up his misdeeds indefinitely, however, certification cheaters eventually pay a price, sometimes losing a job and perhaps even finding themselves enduring the harsh spotlight of legal proceedings.
Don't fall victim to the temptation of taking the easy path. Even if your cheating isn't discovered initially, you run the risk of stranding yourself in the midst of an important work assignment with no idea of how to proceed. And any failures on that level not only affect you, but also impact both the perceived value of your specific certification, and of IT certification in general.
All that and you'll never experience the satisfaction and growth of succeeding on your own merits. You may not succeed the first, or even second or third time you attempt your exam. You'll probably find it a lot easier to sleep at night, however, and success, when it comes, will be that much sweeter.
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