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Information technology is a highly dynamic and ever-changing field.  As the industry evolves, new types or sets of certifications continue to crop up.

Because of the sheer number of certifications, certification paths, specializations and providers out there, it is easy for someone new to IT to be confused about where to start.  Even people who are certified might be unsure of the next steps.

Let TrainSignal walk you through the basics of IT certification training, including how to carve out your own certification path and a few tips on how to ace certification exams.

In this easy-to-follow guide, you will get the answers to these often-asked questions:

    • Why should I get certified?
    • What are my certification options? What is the difference between them?
    • Which certification should I start with?
    • Which exams should I take first among the various certification paths?
    • How do I prepare for a test?

Why should I get certified?

There are myriads of reasons why you should seek out certification in a number of IT-related programs, software or skills, but three reasons are key:

    1. Credibility
    1. Marketability
    1. Personal development

Credibility

IT certifications are testaments to your skills and proficiency in a certain area.  For example, becoming a VMware Certified Professional tells hiring managers, companies and clients that you have the experience and skills needed to effectively create, design, manage and maintain a cloud environment.

This is the biggest reason why IT professionals pursue IT certifications.  It helps validate your skills and expertise in your current job.

Marketability

There are certain certifications that are appropriate for wherever you are at in your career.  For example, it may help new graduates land entry-level positions if they pursue basic certifications such as CompTIA A+, Microsoft Certified Professional, Certified Internet Webmaster Associate, Sun Certified Java Programmer and Cisco’s CCNA.

These certifications validate the skills they learned in school  and can help make up for not having the right work experience for the job.

In fact, no matter where you are in your IT career, certifications will almost always give you an edge over non-certified IT professionals.

Certifications do more than just validate your skills and experience.  It also shows potential employers that you are committed to the IT field by spending the money and time to obtain your certifications.

IT certifications also make career advancement more likely.  The plain truth is that, in general, IT certifications can help you get a pay raise or a promotion.

According to Rich Hein at CIO.com, the right certifications could mean anywhere from an 8 to 16 percent increase in your pay, so certifications are very important when it comes to compensation.

Lastly, certifications are a must in certain sectors within IT. Consultants and  people who are self-employed would be wise to obtain certifications so more clients will trust them.  Additionally, most government IT positions require certain certifications for you to be eligible for hiring.

Personal and Professional Development

IT is a very dynamic field and new technologies are introduced every single day.  Certifications are important to ensure that you are on top of these developments and that your skills are updated.

Certification training can help you cover new areas while also reinforcing the skills you already have.  Think of it as a refresher course that can help you identify and overcome your problem areas.

Certification can also help you to network with other IT professionals.  Your next job, project or endorsement could very well come from someone you met at a study group or technical conference related to a certain certification exam.  Certification can help you meet IT professionals who have similar interests and specialties as you.

Heading down a certification path will also give you access to resources that would not be available otherwise.  This includes access to online forums, training materials and other learning resources that are provided by certification providers such as Microsoft and Cisco.

There’s also something to be said about the personal satisfaction that comes with acing an exam that validates your expertise.  Go ahead, put your certificate on your wall or add those letters after your name!

What are my certification options? What are the differences among them?

There are a lot of answers to these questions, really.  It would all depend on what you need for your job, what your career goals are, and what you are interested in.

What it comes down to is that your certification path should reflect your career path.  There are two things that you should know about certifications.  The first is that hiring managers will be able to weed out applicants who have obtained certifications but don’t have the appropriate job experience.  A certification alone will not help you land a job nor will it make you ready to perform a certain function.

The second thing is that you really need hands-on, real-world experience with the technology, devices and software involved in the certification you are seeking.  It will make passing the exams easier, which is something we will discuss later.

Choosing your certification path depends on two things: Where you are now and where you want to go in your IT career, and what functions and work-related experience you have in your profession.

Knowing these will help you wade through the numerous certification providers that offer different paths. You will also have to decide whether to go for vendor-neutral certifications or vendor-specific ones.

The certifications provided by the biggest certifications providers, are:

In recent years, another group of certifications have cropped up: those related to the cloud, specifically, virtualization.

Examples include certifications from:

What certification should I start with?

If you work with technologies, devices and software from a particular vendor, you might want to start with that.  For instance, Microsoft has certifications for their products in network administration, Windows administration, programming and databases, among others.  With Microsoft, the Microsoft Technology Associate credential is the most basic and people with some experience or education in the field may start with a  Microsoft Certified Technical Specialist, or MCTS, certification.

If you are up for a little challenge, you might want to try for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).  The CCNA is regarded as one of the most difficult entry-level certifications. Cisco also offers the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)which is the starting point for all advanced associate, professional and expert certifications from Cisco.

If you do not want to be locked into just one vendor, go for CompTIA, which is vendor neutral and focuses on general technologies and concepts rather than specific hardware from a single manufacturer.

With CompTIA, most people start with the CompTIA A+ and then take the CompTIA Network+ exam.

Which exams should I take first among the various certification paths?

Once you have determined the right certification path for you, you will need to research about the various certifications available for that particular path and select the ones that you probably would not need in the long run.

For example, if you are just starting out your IT career, you would want to start off with an entry-level certification such as CompTIA A+, CCENT or CCNA, among others.

Once you have your niche, then you should have a clearer picture of which certifications to pursue.  For example, an IT security professional will want to get CCNA SecurityMCITPMCSE, Security+and/or Network+ before moving on to Wireshark Certified Network AnalystCertified Ethical HackerCertified Professional Penetration Tester and Offensive Security Certified Professional.

If you are aiming for a particular higher-level certification, your certification choices become a lot easier.  For example, if you want to be a CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner, then you should get CompTIA Security+ first.  It is recommended that you should also have a CompTIA Network+ certification under your belt when aiming for Security+.  Conversely, if you are aiming for a Microsoft Certified Master level of certification, it would help to first obtain a Microsoft Certified Technology and then Professional level certification first.

More Popular Certifications

Project Management Professional is a highly sought-after certification for IT professionals.  It will validate your skills as a project manager and is admittedly one of the most difficult certification exams to pass.  The requirements are quite stringent. You would need thousands of hours of general leadership experience and months of project management experience.  You would also need 35 hours of formal project management education before you can take the exam.   The PMP Exam has 200 multiple-choice questions and most of these are based on theoretical situations that force you to apply your knowledge to real-world scenarios.

VMware Certified Professional 5 or VCP 5 is another one of the most popular certifications today.  VMware is one of the most widely used virtualization platforms, thus making this credential very important.

The VCP is the entry-level credential and part of the requirement is to have hands-on experience with VMware vSphere. The VCP5 exam itself only has 85 questions that need to be answered within 90 minutes.

Citrix also has similar certifications that are focused on virtualization:

    • Citrix Certified Enterprise Engineer
    • Citrix Certified Integration Architect

Microsoft has a lot of certifications for IT professionals using its products, including Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, MCSA, and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert, MCSE.  The new MCSE is no longer focused on server administration and its associated technologies, but on the different approaches to solving business and enterprise problems.  It now takes a look at business intelligence, database administration and cloud computing.  In fact, there are now three tracks that can help you get an MCSE credential:

    • MCSE for Private Cloud
    • MCSE for SQL Server 2012
    • MCSE: Business Intelligence

Cisco, on the other hand, has the Cisco Certified Network Associate Security certification.  The CCNA tests various skills that relate to designing, creating, deploying, installing and configuring, testing and maintaining Cisco appliances and security devices.  This would include testing:

    • Your understanding of the different types of attacks and threats against networks
    • Your knowledge on designing effective policies on network security as well as implementing it
    • Your knowledge of Cisco products and technologies
    • Your skills on how to provide secure access to network devices, among other

The CCNA Security credential has two possible paths. One is to pass the CCNA Composite Exam or take two separate exams: Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices 1 and 2.  As always, you would need to know the concepts as put forth by Cisco and how to apply them to real-world scenarios.  In fact, a big part of the CCNA is performing tasks with simulated switches and routers.  You would need to practice on Cisco equipment, so it would be helpful if you can rent or buy Cisco equipment if you do not work with them at your company. Either that or you can practice on simulators available online such as Cisco Academy’s Packet Tracer or Boson’s, but a good free alternative comes from GNS3, which is open source.  Trainsignal has a lot of resources to introduce you to GNS3.

How to Prepare for a Certification Test

No matter which test you want to take, you will always need to prepare.  Here are some general tips on how to prepare for your certification exam:

1. Practice makes perfect.

Practice tests will help you tremendously in passing the test.  Working on practice tests can help you know which areas you need to brush up on, as well as making you familiar with the actual test.  You will be able to simulate just what it will be like to answer the test with the time limits, instructions and other variables that are present during the actual test.

2. Make sure to keep the time.

While doing practice tests, take note of the time you need to complete it.  You will need this in order to pace yourself so that you could complete a certification exam within the allotted time.  If, for instance, you take four hours to finish an exam that has an allotted time of 1.5 hours, then you might not be ready to take at all.

3. Study groups help.

Study groups are a great way to cover examination topics and battle the boredom that comes from studying alone.  Chances are, there are colleagues in your office who are studying for the same exams.  If not, then you can probably find a study group on Craigslist or online certification forums.

4. Use different preparation methods.

Fortunately for you, there are a lot of ways to study for an exam.  You can get books, participate in an online forum, go through a formal classroom review, check out web-based training like TrainSignal offers, and talk to people who have taken the same tests.  Do not just rely on one preparation method because it might not be enough.

Whatever you do, however, please be sure to avoid braindumps.  Braindumps are online sites that help you cheat on your certification exams by  divulging the questions and answers to actual tests.  While this may sound like an easy way out, it is undoubtedly highly unethical.  Also, if you are caught, you could instantly fail the test.

But the deeper evil of braindumps is that you are getting credentials for something that you do not really know or understand. How will a CCNA certification, for example, help you if you really do not know anything about routing and switching?

5. Make sure you are ready for the test.

This probably goes without saying, but if you have prepared and you still feel that you are not ready for the test, do not go through with it.  And when you do feel that you are ready, make sure that you get enough rest and sleep on the night before the exam.

Above all, you should have a clear understanding of what skills will be covered on the specific test you’ll be taking.  Some more popular exams, CompTIA for example, work hard to measure your real-world experience and test your problem-solving skills.

As you can see, planning for a certification path can be complex. Pluralsight offers many more resources for IT certification training, including courses on the most-popular certifications.

Aim high and good luck!

Ready to test your skills for the CompTIA A+ certification exam? See how they stack up with this assessment from Smarterer. Start this CompTIA A+ certification test now

Source: Pluralsight

Certifications give your resume more credibility and can make you more marketable to recruiters and hiring managers. And at the entry-level, they’re a great way to stand out from other candidates — and even boost your pay.

As you grow in your career, you’ll want to consider more advanced certifications to continue your professional development. By then, you’ll know what specialties to focus on and what skills you need for your desired career path. But at the entry level, it’s better to stick with more generalized certifications that will help get your foot in the door.

Here are 10 IT certifications to launch your career, whether you just graduated or you’ve decided to make a career change.

10 entry-level IT certs to jump-start your career

  • Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
  • Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing & Switching
  • CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ (ITF+)
  • Comp TIA A+
  • CompTIA Network+
  • CompTIA Security+
  • Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
  • PMI Certified Associate in project Management (CAPM)

Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)

Earning a Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCNET) certification will demonstrate your ability to install, operate and troubleshoot a small enterprise branch network. It’s a great place to start if you want to land an entry-level network support position or if you already know you want a career in networking.

To earn the certification, you’ll need to complete the course Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1 (ICND1). It’s a five-day course that takes place in-person or online and you’ll cover the fundamentals of network layers involved in routing and switching. The course also covers firewalls, basic network security, wireless controllers and access points. Once you complete the course, you’ll be ready to pass the CCENT certification exam.

Exam fee: $125

Cisco Certified Technician (CCT)

The Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) certification verifies your abilities to diagnose, restore, repair and replace critical Cisco networking and system devices at customer sites. There are two different CCT paths you can choose from: data center or routing and switching.

The CCT Data Center certification covers support and maintenance of Cisco Unified Computing systems and server. It’s targeted at field support engineers working with Cisco data center system devices and software. You’ll need to take the course Supporting Cisco Data Center System Devices (DCTECH) v2.0 before you can pass the exam. The course covers data center networking fundamentals, field servicing and equipment replacement and how to identify Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) component models, accessories cabling and interfaces.

The CCT Routing and Switching certification covers on-site support and maintenance of Cisco routers, switches and operating environments. It’s designed for on-site technical support and other support staff who work with Cisco Data Center Solutions. Before you can take the exam, you’ll need to take the course Supporting Cisco Routing and Switching Network Devices (RSTECH). The online self-paced course covers networking fundamentals, Cisco outer and switch models, Cisco IOS software operating modes and the Cisco command line interface (CLI).

Exam fee: $125 per exam

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing & Switching

The CCNA Routing and Switching certification is a good option for those who want to work in networking, but also a solid choice if you’re looking for an entry-level help desk position. The exam verifies your ability to identify Cisco router and switch models, accessories, cabling and interfaces. You’ll need an understanding of the Cisco IOS Software operating modes and the Cisco CLI.

Before you can take the certification exam, you’ll need to take the course Supporting Cisco Routing and Switching Nework Devices. It’s a self-paced online course that includes up to six hours of on-demand training materials that you can access for up to one year.

Exam fee: $299

CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ (ITF+)

The CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ (ITF+) certification is designed for those interested in starting a career in IT or who want to change career paths. The exam is intended to validate your foundational knowledge in IT and to give you a better idea of what it’s like to work in IT. The certification exam covers networks, infrastructure, IT concepts and terminology, applications and software, security, database fundamentals and software development. It’s also a good starting point if you want to continue down the CompTIA certification path, but it’s not a requirement for other certifications.

Exam fee: $119

Comp TIA A+

The CompTIA A+ certification is targeted at support specialists, field service technicians, desktop support analysts and help desk support. If you’re interested in landing a job in a related field, it’s a solid entry-level certification that is well-regarded in the industry.

The certification verifies your ability to troubleshoot and solve problems with networking, operating systems, mobile devices and security. The certification focuses on nine major IT skills, including hardware, networking, mobile devices, Windows operating system, hardware and network troubleshooting, operating system technologies, software troubleshooting, security and operational procedures.

Exam fee: $211

CompTIA Network+

The CompTIA Network+ is an entry-level certification that covers networking concepts, troubleshooting, operations, tools and security as well as IT infrastructure. The certification is designed for junior network administrators, network field technicians, junior system engineers, IS consultants and network field engineers.

The exam verifies your knowledge with configuring, managing and maintaining network devices, implementing and designing functional networks, network troubleshooting and network security. If you know you want to work closely with IT networks, it’s a well-recognized and worthwhile certification that will set you apart from other entry-level candidates.

Exam fee: $302

CompTIA Security+

Security is a crucial IT skill for any technology role, so it’s a good idea to earn your CompTIA Security+ certification at the entry-level. It’s suited for network, system and security administrators, security specialists, junior IT auditors, security consultants and security engineers.

The exam covers threats, attacks and vulnerabilities, risk management, architecture and design, technology and tools, cryptography and PKI and identity and access management. Earning your Security+ certification will show employers you have the skills to install and configure systems to keep applications, networks and devices secure in accordance with compliance laws.

Exam fee: $330

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)

The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification covers IT fundamentals like infrastructure, databases and development. It was designed by Microsoft as an entry-level certification for workers just starting out in IT or for those looking to change careers. The exam is meant to help you establish your career track in IT, with a focus on databases, hardware, software or infrastructure. It covers what you’ll need to know as a Junior IT Auditor or as a systems, network or security administrator.

Exam fee: Varies by location

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification is another entry-level option from Microsoft that covers designing and creating technology solutions across Microsoft’s services and software suites. It’s a little more advanced than the MTA certification, but you don’t need to complete your MTA to earn your MCSA. However, you will need to earn your MCSA if you want to continue down the Microsoft certification path to earn your MCSE, MCSD, MCPS or MCT certifications.

Exam fee: Varies by location

PMI Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)

The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification is a widely-recognized entry-level certification for project management offered through the Project Management Institute (PMI). You don’t necessarily have to be a project manager to get your CAPM — plenty of IT jobs require project management skills to oversee technical projects.

You’ll need at least 23 hours of project management education completed before you can take the exam — but you can accomplish that through PMI’s Project Management Basics course. The course is designed by PMI to prepare you for the CAPM certification exam — it covers project management basics and skills you’ll need for an IT project management job.

Exam fee: $225 for members; $300 for non-members

Course fee: $400 for non-members; $350 for members

Source: CIO

An Introduction to CompTIA and Cisco

When looking to break into the field of networking or aspiring to obtain a networking certification, the two most popular entry-level certifications are Cisco CCENT and CompTIA Network+.

What is CISCO?

CISCO is a company based in San Jose, California in the USA involved in the manufacturing, designing, and selling of Network Equipment. It has grown from its inception in 1984 to become the most significant networking company in existence. CISCO was added to the NASDAQ stock exchange in 1990 after going public, and in by the year, 2000 became the world’s most marketable company, showing a market capitalization of over $500 billion.

Cisco Logo
Cisco Logo

The certifications attainable from CISCO include:

• CCENT
• CCT
• CCNA Routing and Switching
• CCDA
• CCNA Cloud
• CCNA Collaboration
• CCNA Data Center
• CCNA Security
• CCNA Service Provider
• CCNP Routing and Switching
• CCDP
• CCNP Collaboration
• CCNP Data Center
• CCNP Security
• CCNP Service Provider
• CCNP Wireless
• CCIE Routing and Switching
• CCDE
• CCIE Collaboration
• CCIE Data Center
• CCIE Security
• CCIE Service Provider
• CCIE Wireless
• CCIE Routing and Switching
• CCDE
• CCIE Collaboration
• CCIE Data Center
• CCIE Security
• CCIE Service Provider
• CCIE Wireless

What is CompTIA?

CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) is a non-profit trade association that was formed in 1982. The organization is vendor-neutral and provides certifications in the IT industry. It was at first known as the Association of Better Computer Dealers, but the name was later changed to better imply the company’s ever-changing role in the computer industry.

CompTIA certification
CompTIA Logo

The organization’s increase saw them eventually include subjects such as networking, imaging, mobile computing, UNIX. In 2010, CompTIA launched the “Creating IT Futures” ambition which sees them offering IT training to individuals with a lower income and veterans returning from their military duties.

Their certifications currently available from CompTIA include:

• A+
• Network+
• Security+
• CASP
• Server+
• CTT+
• Linux+
• Project+
• Cloud+

Understanding Cisco CCENT

CISCO CCENT is the first of two exams that can be passed for the student to earn their CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Associate) certification. The review relating to CISCO CCENT is called ICND1 (Interconnecting Cisco Networking Devices Part 1).

This exam will consist of the following topics:

Explain the operation of data networks:
The student will be required to identify the functions of different network devices and to select the correct components to meet the network’s specifications. Use the protocols of TCP/IP to explain the flow of network data, explain what common web applications and networking applications are.

Implement a small switched network:
Use the correct equipment to network devices, interconnect switches, network devices, and hosts and describe media access control and technology for Ethernet types. Describe what network segmentation is, describe the operation of CISCO switches and their necessary operation, perform initial switch operations and save, and verify them. Work through hardware failures on switched networks.

Implement an IP addressing scheme and IP services to meet network requirements for a small branch office:
Create and execute an addressing scheme to a network, assign and verify IP addresses for hosts, networking devices and servers on a Local Area Network. Describe what DNS operations are and validate them, configure, test and troubleshoot DHCP and DNS on a router and identify and remedy IP address problems.

Implement a small routed network:
Describe what the basic concepts of routing are, explain the basic operation of CISCO routers, interconnect routers with networking devices using the correct equipment, connect, configure, and verify device interface operational status. Verify the device configuration using commands and utilities and ascertain the state of the network and router operation.

Explain and select the appropriate administrative tasks required for a Wireless LAN (WLAN):
Define the standards of wireless media, describe the various components of a small wireless network, specify the parameters and configuration needed for devices to connect to the right areas on a wireless network and identify common issues with wireless networks.

Identify security threats to a network and describe general methods to mitigate those threats:
Describe common network security threats and how the correct security policy helps defend against them. Describe what the best security practices to follow in securing network devices.

Implement and verify WAN links:
Describe what the different methods are to connect to a Wide Area Network, configure an essential WAN serial connection and check that network.

Understanding CompTIA Network+

CompTIA Network+ has a much broader view of networking than CISCO does, but takes a lighter approach in their topics. The topics that are included in the CompTIA Network+ course include the following:

Network Technologies:
services including TCP/IP suite, Networking protocols default TCP, and UDP port numbers, addressing formats for IPv4, IPv6, and MAC addressing, discussing addressing technologies (subnetting, CIDR, supernetting, NAT, and PAT), a discussion on routing, and a reviewing wireless communication standards, authentication, and encryption.

Network Media and Topologies:
Standard cable types and their properties including transmission speeds, distances, duplexing, noise immunity, and frequencies; cable connector types and common physical network topologies (star, mesh, bus, ring). Various wiring standards, LAN and WAN technology types, and properties plus wiring distribution systems and components.

Network Devices:
Includes the range of networking equipment like hubs, network interfaces, modems and media converters, switches, wireless access points, routers, firewalls, etc. Functions of specialized networking devices. There is a broader focus on switch details such as virtual LANs and port mirroring.

Network Management:
An explanation of management at the seven layers of the OSI model, configuration management and it’s documentation, describing how to use literature to verify a network. Monitoring network performance and connectivity, methods for optimizing a system, methods of network troubleshooting and common problem-solving issues.

Network Tools:
Different types of software and diagnostic tools used to identify and troubleshoot networking issues. Essential command-line IP tools, different network scanners. Discovering different types of diagnostic hardware such as cable testers, protocol analyzers and TDRs, electrical tools like VOMs, temperature monitors, and various other devices.

Network Security:
An overview of security device functions and features then digs into firewall features and functions, Methods of network access security and user authentication. Device security problems including physical access and logical, secure vs. insecure network access methods and common security threats and security justification techniques.

Cisco CCENT vs. CompTIA Network+

The choice between CISCO CCENT and CompTIA N+ relies on how sincerely you want to delve into the world of networking. CompTIA N+ has a much broader, yet less involved scope towards the subject while CISCO takes a more in-depth approach to networking while having a smaller extent as far as topics covered is concerned.

Both the CISCO CCENT and CompTIA certifications have recognised the world over as good entry level certifications and, whichever of the two you end up choosing, it is sure to set you well on your way to a career in networking or to add that much sought-after certification to your name.

Source: Medium

IT certifications can open many doors throughout your career, especially when you’re searching for your next challenge. Recruiters and hiring managers tend to look at the Certifications section of a tech resume before anything else. Why? They want candidates with up-to-date knowledge, and IT certifications quickly show them a person’s mastery of a particular technology or practice.

These are some of the most valuable IT certifications today, according to the 2019 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide:

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM)
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect
  • Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
  • CompTIA A+
  • Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
  • ITIL
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: Cloud Platform and Infrastructure
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)

Certifications 2019

You can earn an IT certification in a wide range of practices, from help desk basics to mastery of complex cloud environments. So whether you’re a recent graduate or seasoned tech specialist, preparing for and attaining a certification is a great way to expand your skill set, impress prospective employers and stand out from the crowd. Here’s a roundup of some of the most valuable IT certifications today.

Best entry-level and intermediate IT certifications

Just starting out in the IT field? Or perhaps you’re ready to specialize? The following are some of the best introductory and mid-level certifications today:

CompTIA certifications

CompTIA issues certifications for a variety of technologies and platforms, but one stands above the rest in terms of value to IT pros:

  • CompTIA A+: Get started in IT with this foundational certificate. It’s all about hardware, technical support and troubleshooting. It also covers best practices in security, networking, operational procedures, mobile devices and various operating systems.

Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certifications

The most valuable certifications from this tech giant include:

  • Microsoft Office Specialist: The MOS, MOS Expert and MOS Master certifications show your competence level in Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, SharePoint, OneNote and Exchange. They’re not just for administrative professionals — these certifications are also helpful for IT workers in cloud computing and general tech support.
  • Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert: MCSE certifications come in several specializations and show that you have the skills to manage servers, data systems, storage, private clouds, networking and more, depending on which ones you successfully complete.
  • Microsoft Certified Solution Developer: Getting the MCSD certification shows that you have what it takes to design and create apps across a wide range of Windows products.

Cisco certifications

As Cisco is a leading provider of infrastructure products, a certificate from this company confirms that the holder is prepared for the latest developments and best practices in networking. The most essential are:

  • Cisco Certified Network Associate: A step up from Cisco’s entry-level certification, CCNAs can specialize in one of the following areas: cloud, collaboration, cyber operations, data center, industrial/IoT, routing and switching, security, service provider, and wireless.
  • Cisco Certified Network Professional: A step up from the associate level, the CCNP is a more advanced IT certificate in one of the above specialty areas.

Best IT certifications for security

Hacking and cyber attacks are hot topics today, and many jobs in security and risk management are going unfilled. The following are some of the most valuable IT certifications in this booming field.

ISACA certifications

A professional organization devoted to IT security and governance, ISACA manages five global certification programs, including:

  • Certified Information Systems Auditor: According to the ISACA, the CISA is its cornerstone certification. As the name indicates, this exam is aimed at information systems (IS) professionals who monitor, control and assess a company’s IT or business systems. This certificate requires five years of professional experience in the field.
  • Certified Information Security Manager: The leading credential for information security managers, the CISM certification is designed for people who design, build and manage information security programs. To qualify, you must have at least five years of IS experience and three years as a security manager.
  • Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control: The CRISC (pronounced SEE-risk) accredits professionals and project managers responsible for information security and its overall impact on the enterprise. It covers risk identification, risk assessment, risk response and mitigation, and risk control monitoring and reporting.
  • Certified in the Governance of Enterprise IT: The CGEIT demonstrates your understanding of enterprise IT governance principles and practices. It is one of the most sought-after certifications in IT, commanding some of the highest salaries.
  • Cybersecurity Nexus: In a time of constantly evolving cybersecurity threats, the CSX certification demonstrates that you are up-to-date on the most current security standards and risks.

Other valuable IT certifications for security include:

  • Certified Ethical Hacker: EC-Council offers several certification programs, and one of the most popular ones is the CEH. Holders of this specialize in penetration testing, which is why this IT certificate is often a prerequisite for positions like cyber forensics analyst, cybersecurity engineer and applications developer.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional: This is one of the most sought-after certifications in cybersecurity. Designed for experienced IT professionals, CISSP holders understand vulnerabilities in networked systems and create policies to safeguard systems and minimize risk.
  • Global Information Assurance Certifications: All about information security, the GIACs come in several categories: cyber defense; penetration testing; incident response and forensics; cybersecurity management, audit and legal proficiencies; developer; and industrial control systems. The highest level is the GIAC Security Expert (GSE).

Certification baseline

Best certifications for cloud computing

As cloud computing becomes the new normal in IT, more cloud credentials are available. Many of them are specific to individual vendors, including Microsoft, VMware and Amazon. There are also a few certifications that focus on more general practices across this fast-growing area. Top certifications include:

Best management certifications

Project management is indispensable to IT operations. Even if you’re tech-focused, it can be a very valuable soft skill to acquire. And because project management involves planning, scheduling, budgeting and execution, certification can be a key steppingstone to managerial positions.

  • Certified Associate in Project Management: Offered by the highly respected Project Management Institute (PMI), the CAPM is an ideal entry-level credential.
  • Project Management Professional: Also offered by PMI, the PMP credential is among the most prestigious in the profession. A number of subspecialty certifications are also available.
  • Certified Scrum Master: The entry-level CSM certification is offered by the Scrum Alliance. It is an excellent way to show your knowledge of Scrum and Agile management practices.

Best help desk certifications

Many IT professionals begin their careers in technical support and help desk roles. And to give students a leg up, schools are increasingly offering courses that specifically prepare students to gain help desk certifications.

You can gain certification in either help desk functions as a whole, or you can concentrate on a specific vendor’s platforms and products.

  • HDI certifications: Formerly called the Help Desk Institute, HDI offers certifications that range from the entry-level HDI Desktop Support Technician to the HDI Support Center Director. The HDI Technical Support Professional certification is particularly popular with hiring managers. They also offer credentials for support center analysts, team leaders and customer service representatives.
  • ITIL: The UK organization AXELOS is charged with promoting best practices for IT service management (ITSM). ITIL, formerly an acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library, is the registered name for a widely accepted framework for managing IT service delivery. There are five ITIL certifications, ranging from Foundation to Master.
  • Apple Certified Support Professional: You can demonstrate your expertise with macOS with this the ACSP certification from Apple.

Best certifications in database, analytics and other data technologies

Database technologies remain foundational to IT operations, while growth in big data and analytics initiatives is driving new career opportunities. Certifications tend to be built around a single provider’s platform, including:

  • Oracle Certified Professional: Oracle, the world’s leading database provider, offers certification in a range of database professions, from database administration and database application development to analytics, data warehousing and big data.
  • SAP Certified Technology Associate – SAP HANA 2.0: This certification demonstrates your ability to install, manage, monitor, migrate and troubleshoot SAP’s database technology.
  • Microsoft SQL Server certifications: Like Oracle, Microsoft offers a range of certifications, including database administration, business intelligence, and data management and analytics.
  • CCIE Data Center: This Cisco certification demonstrates expert-level skills required to plan, prepare, operate, monitor and troubleshoot complex data center networks.

According to the Robert Half Technology Salary Guide, employers prefer to hire certified professionals, especially those who also have college degrees and real-world experience to go along with them. Those who put in the effort to obtain credentials can expect larger salaries and quicker movement up the career ladder, not to mention a healthy shot of self-confidence.

Source: Robert Half