"As someone who hires individuals, I look for the certifications because it shows a dedication to the profession and giving back to the company, as well as your own personal growth," said Linda Kostic, director of enterprise risk management at E*Trade Financial and a member of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association.
"I think for a young professional, certifications are a good way to validate a skill set," said Tara Dean, government business development manager for CompTIA.
The discussion took place Tuesday as part of the Federal Information Assurance Conference held at the University of Maryland, College Park.
The Defense Department already requires information security professionals to obtain credentials and complete ongoing training to keep those certifications current. The requirements are spelled out in 2004 Directive 8570.1.
"This model is being looked at across the federal spectrum as a grand experiment to determine whether this is the appropriate thing," said Rosey Greer, the former information assurance program manager for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. "[The National Institute of Standards and Technology] has an effort under way to examine that requirement and determine whether that can fit the entire federal workforce."
Greer cautioned that federal agencies should be careful when crafting requirements, but stressed that credentials are a good way to test skills and to inculcate new employees into a professional culture.
"We're trying to keep people away from the dark side," Greer said. "They're going to be out there on the Internet, and we want to train them to be responsible, and to help us."
Lynn McNulty, director of government affairs for (ISC)2, an information assurance credentialing organization, said a credential should not be taken in lieu of experience, but academic programs increasingly ensure that the two go hand in hand.
"We have an associate program where people can come from an academic background, sit the test, and then get put in a pool until they have the required number of years of experience," McNulty said. "One of the changes in the academic environment [is that] you have people who are very, very knowledgeable, who are working in the summer or working part time, and may be able to demonstrate that they have enough experience to attain the credential."
In a best-case scenario, Kostic said, a certification can give an employee a long-term sense of membership in a professional community.
"We have chapters; they're all around the world," Kostic said. "We provide an awful lot of training."