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The CNP Designation as a Differentiating Standard

Articles and Tips: tip

Jessica Madsen
CNP Program Manager

01 Aug 1996


As the Certified Network Professional (CNP) program completes its first year of existence, it has established itself as a standard by which companies and clients can identify those individuals with up-to-date, superior skills and training. For example, Abacus Information Systems, Inc. recently made the CNP designation a requirement for its Senior Network Consultants.

The Certified Network Professional program (CNP) began as an initiative by network computing professionals to bring their occupation to a higher level of professionalism, to distinguish their skills from others in the industry, and to inspire customers with confidence that the individuals they hired had and would maintain the expertise that is necessary to provide services in rapidly changing market. The CNP Model consists of five major components:

  1. Core Fundamentals

  2. Areas of Specialty

  3. Work Experience

  4. Continuing Education and Activity

  5. Professionalism and Ethics

These components work together to unify a traditionally fragmented group of product certifications into a coherent framework and to combine them with components that have been traditionally associated with professional certification.

Core Concepts and Fundamentals

Core concepts and fundamentals are not basics. They are the central concepts, principles, practices, and protocols that provide the framework or standards within which the industry agrees to operate. Neglecting to learn and understand these fundamentals means failing to learn the common language of professionals in the industry.

A solid grounding in core concepts is essential in a rapidly changing industry. As an industry expands, the ability of a single individual to be an "expert" in all areas decreases. Areas of specialization become necessary and even preferable. However, if the core concepts behind that industry are not understood, specialists cannot communicate clearly with each other as they seek each other's expertise in dealing with the problems they must solve.

The medical profession is a good example of the core concepts component. All doctors start their training as general practitioners; then they may they seek training in more specialized areas. The core fundamentals that doctors acquire as general practitioners allow them to communicate clearly with others in the profession. They may not fully understand a detail, but they know how it fits into the overall scheme.

Network Professionals in particular deal with a highly technical and fast paced industry. However, the industry's standards and protocols are not always well known among the general practitioners of the profession--this is partly due to the product slant of today's training and certification; network professionals are taught only those core concepts necessary to understand the product they certify for. This strategy, while providing effective product training, may not be enough if you are working in a multi-product, multiple technology environment.

Five categories emerge to define the current core concepts and fundamentals: client operating systems, microcomputer hardware platforms, network operating system fundamentals, protocols, and topologies.

Areas of Specialty

Due to the breadth and complexity of the technology network computing professionals face, they must select areas of specialization. Historically, many have specialized in a specific Network Operating System (NOS). While this was sufficient even a few years ago, it is no longer enough today.

The CNP area of specialization component requires at least two areas of specialization. Professionals fulfill the area of specialty requirement by acquiring at least two qualifying certifications:

Banyan CBE/CBS Cisco CCIE CNX (any version) Compaq ASE IBM CLSE/CWSE/PSE Microsoft MCSE Novell CNE/MCNE

They may select only one from any single organization.

Work Experience

Professionals need a credential that will indicate experience levels. The CNP program requires two years' work experience. While performance-based testing can measure an individual's ability with a product to some degree, it cannot fully simulate the challenges that a network computing professional faces on the job. In addition, the mixed environments of hardware, software, budgets, and personalities add complexity that demand experience and judgment acquired only through trial and error over time.

Continuing Education and Activity

The CNP requirement for continuing education is as important and unique in the networking industry as the Work Experience requirement. Professionals in the industry who move away from the network computing environment soon lose their currency on products and technologies. To stay certified, CNPs need 20 units (approximately 60-120 hours) of CNP approved education and four months of on-the-job experience per year.

Professionalism and Ethics

A key to differentiating professionals from others in their field is the level of performance and ethics exhibited. The Professionalism and Ethics component of the CNP is based on NOCA (National Organization for Competency Assurance) guidelines and was developed by a task force of network professionals. The basic concepts are straightforward:

  1. Certified Network Professionals have an obligation to their profession to uphold high ideals and levels of personal skill and knowledge, as evidenced by the Certificate held, and to encourage the interchange of ideas among peers.

  2. Certified Network Professionals have an obligation to serve the interests of their employers and clients confidentially, diligently, and honestly.

  3. Certified Network Professionals shall not engage in any conduct or commit any act which will discredit the reputation or integrity of the networked computing profession in general.

  4. Certified Network Professional certification will be revoked if the CNP violates agreed upon professional and ethical conduct.

Certification can be revoked or suspended if the recipient engages in conduct which is a discredit or disgrace to the network computing profession or otherwise violates the Code of Ethics. This component is critical to the profession's credibility and is essential to those who hire networking services.

Network computing professionals must be able to differentiate themselves by industry-wide experience and expertise, by continued training, and by ethical commitment. Likewise, corporate IS groups must be able to find those individuals with the skills necessary to move a company forward with the latest technological innovations. CNP is the framework that can provide the means for accomplishing both objectives.

Certifying the Certification

To ensure that the CNP program is valid, the NPA has worked closely with NOCA and NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) to ensure that (1) no one who is unqualified can obtain the CNP designation and (2) the certification does not discriminate unfairly.

Following NOCA and NCCA guidelines validates certification and ensures legal defensibility. Of the more than 40 product certifications currently available in the network computing industry, none have been NCCA certified, and none follow NOCA guidelines.

Aside from ensuring that certification is reliable and valid, NOCA requires that the certification be independently administered, so the "economic and related interests of the members of the profession are not allowed to impose so much weight onto the certification process as to compromise the essential integrity and fairness of the credentialing mechanism." Out of this requirement grew the CNP Advisory Board. The board has nine seats, representing government, vendors, education, testing, service providers, Fortune 500 MIS/HR, international, academic, and NPA membership.

For more information about the CNP program and how you can become involved in it, send e-mail to cnpinfo@npa.org or call 801-379-0330 x 284.

* Originally published in Novell AppNotes


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