Early this year, CompTIA modified its certification renewal policy to come more in line with other players. Until the end of 2010, anyone who passs the A+, Network+, or Security+ certifications will be certified for life. But:

As of January 1, 2011, CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and ComptTIA Security+ Certifications are valid for three years from the date the candidate becomes certified. A'valid through' date will appear on all certificates and certified holder CompTIA ID cards.

The vendor neutral test service reversed a policy that was originally issued in January that effectively invalidated lifetime certification status for thousands who had already passed the tests. Under the new policy, certificate holders had less than two years to renew their certification, which is plenty of time but violated their original testing agreements.

The blowback from cert holders caused CompTIA to reverse policy a few weeks later. Those who have already passed the tests would keep their lifetime certification and the new policy would not go into effect until January 1, 2011.

That leaves a window of opportunity for those who have yet to take these tests to squeeze in under the wire. However, the lifetime certification comes with a caveat: After December 31, anyone certified will receive a "CE" next to their certification (indicating "Continuing Education"), essentially setting a two tier class of certs for the same test. The distinction of CE and non-CE certifications may show up on hiring managers' checklists. In an atmosphere of greater applicant scrutiny, the CE would carry more weight, which is what CompTIA wants.

It's up to the test taker. A lifetime certification is very tempting, but the status CE may have a greater impact.

By the way, Cisco professional level certifications are valid for three years. VMWare and Microsoft certifications do not expire.

-- Dino Londis