The Certification Conundrum

The world of certifications opened up to me in 1999, when one of my colleagues, a security manager, earned his CISSP. That is my earliest knowledge of IT professional certifications to the best of my recollection. This was when I made my pivot from IT engineering to security engineering and, soon after, later security management.

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Immersed in IT security over several years, I already had the background and the experience, and passed my CISSP exam in November 2000 on the first attempt. Two years later, I studied for and earned my CISA. At the time, I thought that these two certs would be all that I would ever need. Funny how plans can go awry.

EC-Council released its CCISO (Certified Chief Information Security Officer) certification in 2011-2012 and offered me an opportunity to earn it through grandfathering. As is typical for security-related certifications, earning a certification through grandfathering involves a good deal of paperwork, documenting one’s experience in one or more domains, and having one’s current and former supervisors attesting in writing that the experience is genuine.

My reasons for obtaining the CCISO certification were two-fold: first, I wanted to show that I had the chops to be a security leader – a CISO. Second, I wanted to someday have a job where that was my job title, and I believed that having the cert would demonstrate that I had the background for such a job.

Four years later, I reached that goal, as the CISO for a Los Angeles-based public company, on a contracting basis, for two and one-half years. Mission accomplished.

A couple of years later, during certification renewal season, I re-evaluated all of my certifications and decided, for each, whether to renew them or not. For only the second time, I decided not to renew a certification, and I let my CCISO certification lapse.

Here was my thought process: I had had CISO in my job title for over two years, a testament that I had not only the desire, but the experience, of being a CISO. The CCISO cert felt like a proxy that was no longer necessary, since I had the real thing. For me, getting CISO after my name involved either the certification or the job title, and having both did not seem to add value.

I want to be clear on one thing: EC-Council is a fine organization, and my experience with them has been nothing but positive. This article is not a hit-piece on the organization or the certification, and I can understand that other security professionals may have different reasons for choosing to earn and retain the CCISO.

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