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A Brief History of Certification

Posted by TestOut Staff on

I’ve done a bit of studying on certifications lately — which is a good thing since I write about them for a living. The simple definition of a certification is “a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task.” Although I deal almost exclusively with certifications in IT, I was surprised to learn that there are literally thousands of certs across all occupations. There are certs for business, banking, engineering, real estate, medicine, law, religion, plumbing, sales and even peer support — you can be a certified peer recovery professional providing guidance, knowledge and assistance to others.

Medieval guildsmen

Certifications have also been around for a long time. It’s easy to imagine the first caveman to build a fire being accosted by a bureaucrat to certify he did it correctly. It was the medieval guilds, however, that took certification into the mainstream. The guilds consisted of artisans and merchants who would get together to share trade secrets and control who could practice their craft in a particular town. To maintain credibility and work quality, they also oversaw the training and education of prospective members. They even developed trade-specific signs (their version of a digital badge) that hung in front of their workshops as an easy way for illiterate customers to find them.   

Official certifications go back almost 500 years. In 1518 Thomas Linacre petitioned Henry VIII for permission to establish a college of physicians for the purpose of granting licenses to practice, and to punish “unqualified” practitioners. Over time this became the Royal College of Physicians in London. Prospective doctors had to pass exams to prove they were classically educated and possessed the right medical knowledge. 

Certifications are also found in almost every country. Even the defunct Soviet Union had their own cert — the State Quality Mark of the USSR, which was used to certify that goods produced were of “higher quality. Ironically, the Kremlin would lease the certification mark to factories allowing them to charge 10 percent more for their products — so much for equality of the proletariat. 

So what does this have to do with IT certifications? A lot!  

Recently I was invited to sit in on a board-meeting at Stevens-Henager, a private non-profit college. The reason for the meeting was to review their curricula. I of course attended with the intention of pushing IT certification. But lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised to learn just how invested their courses already are with all sorts of certifications, especially in IT.

The administration and instructors are big believers in the value of certification. As experienced professionals in a wide variety of industries, they understand that success in a position involves more than book learning. They know employers are looking for people with experience, and that a great deal of experience comes through certification training.

The College utilizes certs in classes ranging from nursing to real-estate. I was especially pleased to see their focus on IT. As Janet Rose, associate dean of the School of Technology said, “Certifications and accompanying practice labs are an excellent way for students to develop crucial hands-on experience that will help them enter the workforce, and move up the career ladder.”

The first official IT cert, CISA (Certified Information Systems Auditor), was offered in 1978 by ISACA. Since then, tens of millions of people around the world have earned certifications in dozens of domains. Certification is a crucial step in building a successful IT career, and more colleges and universities are including certs in their curricula. As new technologies continue to be developed there will continue to be a high-demand for certified It professionals. The future for certified IT pros looks pretty bright.

Chuck NorrisAbout the AuthorCalvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. He does not belong to any secret societies that incorporate the principles and privileges of medieval tradesmen and are still in existence today. (Or does he?)


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