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Certification Top 10 Lists
04-23-2004, 08:17 AM,
#1
Certification Top 10 Lists
There are hundreds of programs in today’s certification landscape. How can you tell the good from the bad, the winners from the losers, or what’s up-and-coming from programs on their way down? While careful analysis of the market is always warranted, and reality checks against current classified employment ads and job postings are highly recommended, we present lists of leading certifications in this story, across various categories we believe to be of definite interest to our readers.

How did we compile these lists? By employing the same kind of analysis we routinely recommend to all our readers, but also by relying on exposure to the marketplace, numerous published certification surveys and wish lists and careful perusal of recent reports in the computer trade press. With high hopes, but with tongues planted firmly in our cheeks, the lists present as much consensus about what’s hot as we can shake out of today’s increasingly complex and specialized certifications. That said, there’s no arguing that these lists reflect the author’s knowledge and experience, and thus, his biases. That’s why inclusion or exclusion from these lists is more important than the order in which specific items appear (and it’s certainly easier to argue about list position than what’s kept in or left out of any specific list).

In every case, each list begins with a heading that names the category it represents, followed by a brief explanation of what that category means and the characteristics that leading certifications in that category should possess.



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Program/Certification Selection and List Order
In analyzing certification offerings according to specific criteria—like those used in this story—it’s important to understand how individual certifications and programs stack up against them. Wherever possible, we used the relative size of certified populations and such consensus as was available about the appeal, popularity, employability and pay for certification holders to break ties among otherwise equally ranked programs. In many cases, item order is arbitrary.

Though the appearance (or absence) of a program in any particular category is significant, the order of items in the individual lists is far less important. Nevertheless, certification sponsors or readers with strong opinions about the way in which our lists are presented are invited to e-mail us at editor@certmag.com. Likewise, those who’d like to suggest other categories by which we might choose certifications in the future are invited to share those suggestions with us as well.



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Best Hands-On Programs
Certifications in this category involve exams that not only test real-world skills and knowledge, but also demand that the test-takers demonstrate such skills and knowledge as a part of an exam or hands-on training. Such exams or programs are sometimes called “performance-based,” “practicum” or “laboratory” (lab) exams. Whatever name is used to identify these certifications, they all involve on-the-spot analysis and problem-solving and do their best to stage (or simulate) real-word system and hardware situations. Roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty while getting as close to a reality check as any certifications deliver today.


Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) With more than 10,000 CCIEs certified worldwide, this nonpareil credential includes a challenging, one-day lab exam that’s still widely regarded as the toughest certification exam around. Most CCIE candidates take the $1,250 lab exam—which also requires travel expenses for those who don’t live within driving distance of one of the 10 lab test centers around the globe—more than once to get certified. While neither cheap nor easy, the CCIE remains a valued prize as certifications go, which explains why it appears at or near the top of lists of the most desired or most valuable IT certifications. See www.cisco.com/go/ccie.
Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) The RHCE exams take an entire day and include about six hours worth of what the company calls performance-based exams—where candidates must install, configure or troubleshoot Red Hat servers and related network protocols and services. Highly regarded as representative of real-world situations and circumstances, these challenging exams also get high marks from certified professionals and their employers alike. The Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) exam is also performance-based and gets many of the same accolades. (It originally ranked as No. 4 in this list, but was dropped as a separate entry for brevity’s sake). See www.redhat.com/training/rhce/courses/.
Novell Certified Directory Engineer (CDE) Novell calls the CDE exam a practicum, which requires logging into a carefully contrived and constructed set of networking components—servers, services and directories fully populated with users, groups, accounts, access controls and so forth—to analyze, design, configure, troubleshoot and repair the directories that make them work. Successful exam takers label the exam as demanding and intense, but also as an honest test of real-world knowledge and skills. See www.novell.com/training/certinfo/cde/.
Oracle9i DBA Certified Professional (OCP) With the introduction of the Oracle9i DBA program, Oracle also now requires all candidates to complete an instructor-led hands-on course that involves significant real-world interaction and problem-solving, in addition to standard multiple-choice exams. This injects the kind of hands-on component needed to qualify for this list. See www.oracle.com/education/certification/index.html?dba9i_ocp.html.
Oracle9i Database Administrator Certified Master (OCM) This credential requires a grueling two-day practicum exam administered at Oracle University locations. The exam’s still too new for a lot of intelligence to be available, but word is that it’s demanding, comprehensive and difficult. See www.oracle.com/education/certification/index.html?dba9i_ocm.html.
Field Certified Systems Engineer (FCSE) Sponsored by the Field Certified Professional Association (FCPA), whose mission is to provide certifications based on the principles and practices of performance-based testing, the FCSE is available for Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000/XP environments, with numerous additional environments slated for coverage. Initial reports describe the credential as living up to its promise to identify individuals with real-world skills and knowledge appropriate for senior system engineering positions. See www.fieldcertification.org/Exams/FCSE_Exams/FCSE_Exams.htm.
Field Certified Systems Administrator (FCSA) A more junior-level version of the FCSE, available for Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000/XP and Cisco-based networking environments. See www.fieldcertification.org/Exams/FCSA_Exams/FCSA_Exams.htm.
Field Certified PC Technician (FCPT) One of the Field Certified Help Desk Technician group of exams from the FCPA, this credential aims to identify individuals with real-world PC skills suitable for a bench technician, installer or help-desk professional. Numerous additional credentials in this general area are planned and should be worth watching. See www.fieldcertification.org/Exams/FCHDT_Exams/FCPT_Exam/FCPT_Exam.htm.
Certified Professional Information Technology Consultant (CPITC) A certification from the Professional Standards Institute, an organization devoted to establishing performance-based credentials for all kinds of professionals, this credential covers a broad range of IT subject matter and must be supported with documentation and testing designed to measure real-world knowledge and expertise. The credential also carries hefty annual recertification requirements. To learn more, see www.professionalstandardsinstitute.com/cpitc.htm.
Cisco Career Certifications (Associate, Professional and Specialist) Although the various Cisco certifications beneath the CCIE do not include lab exams or practicums, they do make extensive use of simulation technology to include real-world problem-solving and to measure real-world skills as part (but not all) of the current exams relevant to these credentials. This makes them worthy of mention as the last item in this list. See www.cisco.com/go/certification.
Best Vendor-Neutral Credentials
Programs that not only preach vendor-neutrality, but also deal frankly, freely and fairly with both weaknesses and strengths in specific solutions, while covering a realistic range of offerings, are more prevalent in certification program descriptions than in actual practice. The following programs do a good job of maintaining vendor-neutrality as well as claiming that perspective. Because such neutrality is a hallmark of academia, many leading contenders also have strong academic roots and relationships. It’s no accident that with only a single exception, all the organizations listed here are industry or professional organizations or consortia with strong roots in academia as well as in industry.


National Association of Communication Systems Engineers (NACSE) With 12 certifications at multiple levels of competency in the areas of data networking, Web design and development and telecommunications currently available, and 12 more on programming topics under development, NACSE offers a large slate of vendor-neutral certifications developed in concert with academic institutions and industry players. See www.nacse.com/pages/orgcharts/certinfo.asp.
National Association of Radio & Telecommunications Engineers (NARTE) With numerous certifications in the areas of telecommunications, electromagnetic compatibility/interference, electrostatic discharge control and wireless systems installation, NARTE also administers FCC commercial operator license exams. See www.narte.org.
Project Management Institute (PMI) PMI is best known for its Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. The PMP embodies the kinds of strong credentials and broad acceptance that powerful alliance between academia and industry can create. Numerous undergraduate and graduate programs in computer science, engineering, MIS, IT and similar disciplines routinely offer curriculum elements that can lead to PMI certifications. See www.pmi.org/info/PDC_CertificationsOverview.asp.
Field Certified Professional Association (FCPA) See the listing in the “Hands-On Programs” section for more information on the association’s certifications. See www.fieldcertification.org.
Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) Parent to the large and popular Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) program and to the recently released Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) program, ISACA has already certified more than 30,000 CISAs worldwide. Its credentials are highly regarded for their even and open-handed approach to tools, technologies, policies, principles and practices. See www.isaca.org.
BICSI This group acts as a credentialing organization for the telecommunications industry and offers various certifications that include the Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) and other installer and technician credentials. The organization and its credentials are highly regarded for their general applicability and vendor-neutrality, as well as for preparing professionals to be effective in the workplace. See www.bicsi.org/Training/Index.aspx.
Service & Support Professionals Association (SSPA) This trade association sponsors four help-desk/support-related certifications ranging from certs for support professionals and specialists who work in the trenches to credentials for managers and executives who must oversee service and support operations. With an emphasis on skills and knowledge throughout, as well as best practices, the SSPA maintains a strictly neutral stance on vendor products and platforms. See www.sspa.org.
Linux Professional Institute (LPI) This nonprofit organization works to advocate and assist users worldwide who wish to work with Linux, open-source and free software. Best known for its Linux skills certifications for end-users and administrators, the organization works in multiple languages and locations around the world to reach the broadest possible community. Its stance on the technologies it covers is deliberately vendor-neutral, though it does include implementation-specific details in some of its exams. See www.lpi.org.
The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) A leading proponent of and source for vendor-neutral certifications, CompTIA is a consortium that involves individuals, businesses and government players at all levels and also includes significant academic and research institutions. Its certifications seek to meet broad industry knowledge and skills needs and are vendor-neutral to serve the biggest possible audience. See www.comptia.org.
Brainbench A skills assessment and training organization, Brainbench does a great deal of business evaluating and assessing skills and knowledge to help employers gauge current and prospective employee qualifications for specific job roles and duties. In its mix of hundreds of exams and assessments, Brainbench does a great job of presenting vendor-neutral concepts and basics across a broad range of topics. See www.brainbench.com.
Most Technically Advanced Programs
Some certifications in this list require mastering an enormous amount of material in and of themselves; others require ingesting somewhat less information by volume but come with seriously hefty prerequisites. All of them, without exception, require deep skills and knowledge so that nearly all individuals who qualify for these certifications have eight to 10 years of relevant work experience, if not more.


CCIE A leader in many aspects of certification, the CCIE tops our list of technically advanced programs because of its broad and deep content coverage and the extreme demands it makes of candidates’ knowledge, analytical and troubleshooting skills.
ASIS International Formerly known as the American Society for Industrial Security, ASIS International now serves a global audience. This organization’s Physical Security Professional (PSP), Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Professional Certified Investigator (PCI) credentials impose strict experience requirements on candidates, as well as involving large amounts of complex, detailed subject matter. These are capstone certifications for those seeking to specialize in physical security, general security strategy and implementation or security-related investigations. See www.asisonline.org.
NACSE This organization offers multiple certification ladders of three or more levels across numerous topics of interest to communications engineers and telecommunications professionals. For more information, see the discussion in the preceding vendor-neutral certifications section. Here, it suffices to say that programs are both broad and deep, and the highest-level credentials are quite technically advanced.
NARTE This organization offers several deeply technical certifications of interest to radio and telecommunications professionals and engineers. For more information, see the discussion in the preceding vendor-neutral certifications section. The credentials require broad and deep knowledge, and the highest-level certifications are quite technically advanced.
HP Master Accredited Systems Engineer (Master ASE) The former highest-level Compaq certification, this HP credential requires multiple HP/Compaq and third-party certifications as prerequisites, along with a dizzying array of deeply technical certification options that range from enterprise management to various database platforms. To learn more, see www.hp.com/certification/levels/mase.html.
(ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) By itself, the CISSP imposes a pretty serious technical burden on certification candidates. The CISSP concentrations—including the Information Systems Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP), Management Professional (ISSMP) and Engineering Professional (ISSEP)—permit CISSP-certified professionals to further concentrate in the areas of security architecture and design, security management and national-security-oriented engineering. As such, they raise the technical bar higher and present formidable technical challenges to candidates. See www.isc2.org.
SANS GIAC Security Expert (GSE) A daunting set of five intermediate-level GIAC certifications—each of which must also be kept current to remain certified as a GSE—are the prerequisites that GSE candidates must first complete. They must qualify for honors in at least one of these areas, then sit for the GSE exam and complete a research project. The effort is intense, the amount of material enormous and the cost fairly high. As of this writing, only two people have qualified for this credential worldwide! See www.giac.org/track_cert.php.
Sun Certified Enterprise Architect for the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition Another capstone credential, this one sits atop Sun’s highly regarded Java certification program. Candidates must not only accumulate at least two prerequisite certifications, they must also complete a multiple-choice exam, submit a completed design assignment and write an essay about that work. The time investment is significant, the learning curve steep, and the amount of related material quite large. See suned.sun.com/US/certification/java/java_archj2ee.html.
Senior Protocol Analysis Certifications These include Sniffer Technologies’ Sniffer Certification Program (www.networkassociates.com/us/services/education/sniffer/certification.htm), the Pine Mountain Group’s Certified NetAnalyst program (www.pmg.com/cna_chart.htm) and Wildpackets’ Network Analysis Expert program (www.wildpackets.com/services/certification). Protocol analysis requires deep and thorough knowledge of networking, protocols, messaging, services, security and more. All of these credentials require years of experience, cover a huge amount of territory and require intense study and effort.
Master Certified Novell Engineer (Master CNE) With a serious prerequisite (CNE), plus four further required and elective exams (with CompTIA’s IT Project+ among the core exams), the Novell Master CNE was an original capstone, advanced IT certification. It has stood the test of time and remains both a challenging and highly regarded professional credential. See www.novell.com/training/certinfo/mcne.
Best Supporting Materials
Many of these certifications enjoy absolutely universal third-party support from practice test vendors, study guide and exam cram publishers, plus a plethora of Web sites, reports and exam intelligence, and analyses in magazines like this one. Others benefit from the very best official training and study materials around. Some—like those from Cisco—qualify on both counts! Coverage of these areas does not include pointers (they are far too numerous to do them justice)


Cisco Great in-house training materials, a strong official press, great coverage in the aftermarket and more choices for popular topics than you might believe. It doesn’t get any better than this anywhere! See www.cisco.com/go/certification.
Microsoft While the Microsoft Official Curriculum (MOC), MS Press books and other internal publications and information sources sometimes come in for their share of knocks (depending on the topic), no one can argue that Microsoft enjoys the best support in the aftermarket. Be it third-party training, study guides, exam crams, practice tests, flash cards—you name it—Microsoft still benefits from broad and comprehensive coverage. See www.microsoft.com/traincert.
Novell Strong in-house training materials, another strong official press and reasonable coverage in the aftermarket keep Big Red near the top of this list. Though neither NetWare’s market share nor aftermarket coverage of Novell cert exams are as big as they were 10 years ago, this program still enjoys strong support. See www.novell.com/training/certinfo.
CompTIA Especially for its biggest and most popular exams (A+ and Network+), CompTIA certifications enjoy extraordinary aftermarket support. Though the company itself offers no official training, the CompTIA Authorized Quality Curriculum (CAQC) program provides an official imprimatur for aftermarket materials that meet the company’s requirements for coverage, comprehensiveness and quality. See www.comptia.org/certification.
Oracle The biggest of the database vendors offers a formidable array of official training, supports a decent official press and benefits from aftermarket support across the board. Though frequent releases of Oracle versions mean equally frequent updates to training and certification materials—with occasional lags between release and availability nearly inevitable—there’s no shortage of good training and study material on Oracle certification topics. To learn more, see www.oracle.com/education/certification.
Macromedia With numerous certifications on ColdFusion, DreamWeaver and Flash available, an active official training program, a strong official Macromedia Press, lots of additional aftermarket support and a keen eye for compelling design and interesting content, Macromedia’s materials are hard to beat. See www.macromedia.com/support/training/certified_professional_program/.
Sun Microsystems With numerous publishers supporting Solaris and Java certifications, a strong official training channel and equally strong aftermarket support for training, practice tests and so forth, Sun’s certifications benefit from a broad array of supporting materials, some of which are as good as anything available to IT professionals anywhere. See suned.sun.com/US/certification.
Apple Computer Long a pioneer of technology innovation and information sharing, Apple’s various certification programs get strong internal support in the form of training, publications and online information. Aftermarket support for its offerings varies by topic, but its Apple Certified Technician for Pro Products program is targeted for strong support. See www.apple.com/training.
(ISC)2 CISSP The best-known of the intermediate-to-advanced information security certifications (and the new follow-on concentrations) are well supported through officially sanctioned training and study materials, but also with great aftermarket support. See www.isc2.org.
Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) With wireless technologies popping up in organizations and companies worldwide, the CWNP credentials from Planet3 Wireless are enjoying great interest and support. A strong official curriculum (developed by the same people who crafted the exams), a nice official press and strong aftermarket support give this area coverage to match its current cachet. See www.cwne.com.
Best New Programs or Certs
Though not all of the items in the following list are less than a year old, most are still relatively new to the IT certification scene. These new offerings represent innovative topics or subject focus, certify interesting and useful skills and knowledge or represent ways to involve IT professionals early in programs that require years of documented work experience. In the interest of brevity, these certifications are listed in no particular order and without additional supporting detail


EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) See www.eccouncil.org/CEH.htm.
Apple Certified Technician for Pro Products See www.apple.com/software/pro/training/cert_programs.html.
Dell Certified Enterprise Engineer (DCEE) See www.dell.com/training/lookingtoyou.
(ISC)2 Associate Program This program lets individuals who don’t yet meet experience requirements pass the CISSP exam, then qualify when experience criteria are satisfied. See www.isc2.org/cgi/content.cgi?category=84#cat07.
Sun Business Component Developer See training.sun.com/US/certification/java/java_busj23e.html.
ISACA’s CISM See www.isaca.org/Template.cfm?Section=CISM_Certification.
CWNP Program See www.cwne.com.
Novell Certified Linux Engineer (CLE) See www.novell.com/training/certinfo/clefaqfinal.pdf.
CompTIA Security+ See www.comptia.org/certification/security/.
HP’s Revamped Certification Program This program does a great job of rationalizing former HP and Compaq credentials, while keeping the best of both programs going. See www.hp.com/go/certification.
Best Enty-Level Certifications
Those who wish to walk the certification trail, or climb one or more certification ladders as they tackle increasingly more difficult or demanding subjects, have to start somewhere. All the certifications in this list represent popular places for IT professionals to start. Most are highly regarded and remain widely sought-after. In the interest of brevity, these are listed in no particular order and without much additional supporting detail


Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) See www.cisco.com/go/ccna.
Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) See www.cwne.com/cwna/.
Sun Certified Programmer for the Java 2 Platform (SCJP) See suned.sun.com/US/certification/java/java_progj2se.html.
Red Hat Certified Technician (RHCT) See www.redhat.com/about/presscenter/2002/press_rhct.html.
LPI Level 1 (LPIC1) See www.lpi.org/en/certification.html.
SANS GIAC Security Essentials Certification (GSEC) See www.giac.org/subject_certs.php#GSEC.
CompTIA A+ See www.comptia.org/certification/a/.
CompTIA Security+ See www.comptia.org/certification/security/.
CompTIA Network+ See www.comptia.org/certification/network/.
Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) See www.microsoft.com.
Best Specialty Certifications
Specialty certifications exist to permit intermediate- to senior-level IT professionals to focus in tightly on relatively narrow (but often very deep) subject areas. Most apply to specific vendor offerings or technologies; many leverage one or more prerequisite certifications; all require serious study and effort to obtain.


Cisco Specialist Certifications Topics include broadcast media, telephony, firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), wireless technologies and more. See www.cisco.com/en/US/learning/le3/le2/le41/learning_certification_level_home.html.
Project Management Professional (PMP) An increasingly important adjunct certification for IT professionals from all parts of the industry, from services to development jobs. See www.pmi.org/prod/groups/public/documents/info/pdc_pmp.asp.
ISACA’s CISA One of the most popular and respected credentials in the increasingly important system audit area. See www.isaca.org/Template.cfm?Section=CISA_Certification.
CISSP Concentrations Add-ons to the popular and respected CISSP certification in the areas of security engineering, architecture and management. See www.isc2.org/cgi-bin/content.cgi?page=240.
Nortel Networks Certified Architect (NNCA) A highly respected, senior-level credential for those who specialize in Nortel switches, systems and networks. For more information, see www.nortelnetworks.com/certification.
IBM Tivoli Software Program A range of specialties related to the Tivoli Management Environment (TME) and its capabilities for software distribution, management and security. See www-1.ibm.com/certify/certs/tv_index.shtml.
HP Accredited Systems Engineer (ASE) and Master ASE These offer numerous areas of specialization on server topics from systems management to high availability and clustering to DBMS platforms. See www.hp.com/go/certification.
IBM DB2 Universal Database Certifications A top IBM platform gets a top-notch specialist certification program to match. See www-1.ibm.com/certify/certs/dm_index.shtml.
SAP Certified Technical Consultant The leading ERP software vendor offers a rich, interesting and often highly lucrative certification program. See www.sap.com/usa/education/certification/techconsultant.asp.
Microsoft MCSA/MCSE Specializations Specializations in security and messaging are now available for Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003. These are definitely worth investigating for those interested in Windows messaging or security work. To learn more, see www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcsa or www.microsoft.com/traincert/mcp/mcse.
Toughest Recertification Requirements
These days, the majority of credentials come with some kind of expiration date or are tied to specific software or platform releases (which themselves tend to vanish from the workplace after a while, rendering related certifications more or less obsolete). The credentials in this list are ranked as tough because they require one or more of the following


Frequent renewals (one to three years for all certifications with “freshness dates”; within 12 to 18 months of product release for version-specific certifications).
Recertification exams or re-examination.
Stringent continuing education, documented training or other certification maintenance.

Novell CDE Probably the toughest around, with yearly recertification required. Because this means CDEs must retake the practicum exam annually, it’s a toughie!
Red Hat Certifications (RHCE, RHCT) Within one year of new major product releases, certificants must recertify when the release upon which their credential is based goes two revisions back (in other words, as soon as the second major release becomes available).
Cisco Certifications All Cisco certifications are time-stamped and must be renewed within two or three years. More senior credentials last two years, more junior certifications last three. When a specific recertification exam is not available, certificants must requalify on current exams for that certification.
CISSP Certification holders must meet continuing professional education (CPE) requirements or retest every three years and pay annual dues to (ISC)2. The exam is fairly expensive, and meeting CPE requirements can cost even more.
GIAC Security Certifications Candidates must recertify every two years, which means reviewing current online training materials and taking a “refresh exam.”
TruSecure ICSA Computer Security Associate (TICSA) Holders must recertify every two years, which means meeting continuing education requirements at a minimum and which may also mean retesting depending on recertification policies in effect at the time of renewal.
IBM Platform- and Software-Specific Programs
Oracle Programs
Macromedia Programs
Microsoft Programs
Items 7 to 10 are tied to specific software or platform versions, in that recertification is required no later that 12 to 18 months from the date of new software, OS or platform releases (and applies most stringently to partners who must maintain a minimum complement of certified professionals on staff to remain actively enrolled in such programs).

Ed Tittel is president of LANwrights Inc. and is contributing editor for Certification Magazine. Ed can be reached at etittel@certmag.com.


Anyone donig or have done any certification Please share his or her experiences and comments.
<b></b>

I've learned-
that you can get by on charm for about
fifteen minutes.
After that, you'd better know something.
Reply
04-24-2004, 05:02 AM,
#2
 
Exellent post Xavier, though the formatting of this message could be a bit better. Its a bit difficult to read without any line breaks. Anyways, this post will help many readers of this forum in choosing a professional certification of their liking.

________________________
Arrrgh... it sure's gonna be mighty rough sailin' today ... mates!
Reply
04-27-2004, 07:42 AM,
#3
 
I have posted a new topic in a better formated and better organised format. i hope it helps.

I've learned-
that you can get by on charm for about
fifteen minutes.
After that, you'd better know something.
Reply


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