Selecting an IT certification for your career can be like trying to pick out a new pair of shoes from the many options available in a shoe warehouse. Where do you start? How do you narrow down the range of acceptable choices?
In the case of the shoe-shopper, he or she would concentrate on a specific size and maybe a type - e.g., boots or sneakers - to find the right fit. With IT certifications, a tech worker would be best directed by considering which specializations would provide the biggest advantages in term of résumé enhancement, salary and professional development.
The "right" certifications to have will inevitably shift as the industry evolves. For now, there are a few questions to answer as you decide which IT career certification to pursue:
1. Does the certification cover an actively supported product?
Many of today's most prominent software applications are now cloud-based, meaning that they run on remotely-hosted infrastructures. Moreover, they also receive ongoing updates that the service provider pushes directly to end users, without the need to manually upgrade to a different version.
"Many of today's most prominent software applications are cloud-based."
Microsoft Office 365 is a prime example of how this setup works in practice. Subscribers get access to the latest versions of essential programs such as Word, Access and Skype for Business. New applications - such as the chat client Teams, which came out in late 2016 - are added all the time, ensuring that the platform stays current.
2. Does the certification train me in skills that will become more relevant in the future?
It is important to be certified in skills and technologies that are expected to be in demand in the coming years. A survey from Computerworld about IT skills in 2016 found that the following proficiencies were most in demand for 2017:
- Programming/application development
- Help desk/technical support
- Business intelligence/analytics
- Web development
- Database administration
- Project management
- Big data
- Mobile applications and device management
Accordingly, it may pay off to become certified in one or more of these areas. For example, training in Visual Studio can help with programming and application development, while studying Office 365 and Azure can hone your skills with cloud computing and SaaS.
3. Is the certification specific to a certain vendor(s)?
IT certifications are unique in that so many of them are designed to build expertise with specific products and vendors. Microsoft and Cisco in particular stand out from the pack, as Alan Brawn noted in an article for Commercial Integrator.
As the dominant productivity software and networking vendors, respectively, Microsoft and Cisco offer many certifications in their products. For example, an IT worker can become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator or a Cisco Certified Network Associate. These distinctions may require passing an exam and/or proving certain skills in the field, such as demonstrating proficiency in setting up a connection between a remote site and a wide area network (in the case of the CCNA).
However, there are also plenty of general IT certifications, including the CompTIA family of certifications. CompTIA offers a wide range of certifications covering cybersecurity (Security+), mobile devices (Mobility+), Linux (Linux+), cloud computing (Cloud Essentials and Cloud+) and much more.
4. How long will it take me to obtain and maintain this certification?
An IT career certification can usually be obtained on your own timeline, meaning that the number of months of study and work will depend heavily on your schedule. Also, bear in mind that some certifications require periodic renewal while others are good for life. CompTIA certifications vary on these requirements: For instance, CompTIA A+ certifications from 2011 and later are valid for 3 years, but Linux+ certifications never have to be renewed.
At NH Phoenix, we can offer you a wide range of IT certifications suitable for the current state of your career, whether you are looking for broad expertise or something more narrowly focused. Learn more about our Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and other training & certifications to get started with your training.