Did Your Colleague Cheat to Get That IT Certification?

Don Tennant

How widespread is cheating on IT certification exams? If you're like me and assumed it's extremely rare, it seems we both need to wake up and smell the Java. According to a recent survey of 200 IT professionals, 12 percent of respondents said they had directly witnessed someone cheating on a certification exam.


The survey was conducted by Network World, which reported last week that CompTIA, the IT trade association best known for its certification exams, has seen a 10 percent increase in cheating incidents since the economy collapsed. The report quoted Jill Burroughs, CompTIA's director of exam services:

It's human nature that in a down economy, people get desperate ... They rationalize that they have to cheat because they are out of work and need a job.

The report also quoted Stephen Northcutt, president of the SANS Technology Institute, who said the fact that there are so many cheaters in IT is a cultural thing:

Router jocks tend to be young, male and ADD ... You add to that the sense of anonymity, that when you're on a computer screen you don't think people can watch you. There's a sense that nobody knows what you do on the Internet.

David Foote, CEO of IT research firm Foote Partners, which monitors certified and noncertified IT skills, said in an e-mail that he liked Northcutt's viewpoint, and he added this:

I've always suspected porn, gossip, and cheating/theft is the three-legged stool holding up the Internet's mass popularity, bottom line. Oh, and now you can add insurrection.

According to the Network World report, the preferred methods of cheating are to either pay someone as much as $2,500 to take the exam, or to purchase materials that have been posted illegally online, commonly known as "braindump" materials. In fact, the survey found that although 58 percent of respondents said they consider use of braindump materials to be unethical, nearly three-fourths of the respondents said they think IT pros use those materials "sometimes" or "often."


There's a strong argument to be made that the cheating phenomenon has its roots in the university level. A report by Network World last year found that computer science students are under so much pressure to write good code that many resort to copying from each other:

More students are caught cheating in introductory computer science courses than in any other course on campus, thanks to automated tools that professors use to detect unauthorized code reuse, excessive collaboration and other forbidden ways of completing homework assignments. Computer science professors say their students are not more dishonest than students in other fields; they're just more likely to get caught because software is available to check for plagiarism.

In any case, how does all of this mesh with your own experience? How widespread do you think the cheating problem is?

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 26, 2011 4:39 AM Joseph Puglisi Joseph Puglisi  says:


People who cheat to obtain certifications may be able to fool the people who issue the paper but how can they hope to perform a job without the necessary skills? Seems like a silly and shortsighted approach to enhancing your resume. Perhaps this is why I put so much weight on the interview and personal recommendations when I am hiring.  You can flash all the certificates, degrees and awards you want, but make sure you have a couple of reputable people to speak out for you or I'm not buying it.

Feb 27, 2011 6:41 AM Drunken Economist Drunken Economist  says:

My favorite story was from a friend in an ObjC class. A group of guys were all huddled in one corner of the class talking in their native tongue while the prof was lecturing about memory management and garbage collection. Of course the prof tried to shush them, and then the grumbling started:

"Why do we have to learn this? In Java this is all done for us."

The other one was that due to the widespread 'collaboration' between the foreign students at Stanford, they've moved from letter grades to the 'check' system.

Of course for your little cert thing, it is, as always a question of price. If one candidate APPEARS to have the cert and is MUCH cheaper he's considered because he 'made it' thru the HR screening.

Joseph P is right. I've gotten more repeat clients due to word of mouth than certs or the ol' sheepskin. After even 5 years it really matters not.


Oct 12, 2011 11:14 AM General Lavender General Lavender  says:

I despise cheating, though there are certain rare instances where cheating isn't necessarily a bad thing. But cheating does get you nowhere in life, because after you cheat on all those tests and everyone thinks you're a super genius and you get an online edd and an incredibly high-paying job for someone who's extremely well-educated like a high-end lawyer/doctor you'd still be completely incompetent and have no idea what you're doing

Jan 3, 2012 8:05 AM Malinda Hartwig Malinda Hartwig  says:

I don't get why people do that. You cannot cheat forever. I know someone who got a masters in public administration online degree and a criminal justice degree. She told me that even when it comes to the fields of study that require honesty and objectivity people cheat. What amazes me is that they don't realize how much they will need the skills they don't have.


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