When it comes to IT, continuing education is the name of the game. It doesn’t matter whether you are just starting out or are determined to advance your existing career as strategically as possible. One of the most common avenues of continuing education for IT professionals is certifications.
Why certifications? They are a streamlined and cost-effective way to learn in-demand technical skills. Certification programs typically only take a few weeks to a couple of months to complete. Plus, they can be done as your schedule allows, through flexible online resources. Price tags tend to run from $150 on up to $1,250, depending on the complexity of the certification.
For potential employers and supervisors alike, certifications instantly convey a level of technical competency, so they carry a lot of weight and are widely accepted throughout the IT community.
Keep in mind, your certifications of choice will depend on which aspects of IT you choose to focus on and whether you are new to the field or looking to advance an already established career.
For those who are just entering the field, here are some great starting points:
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) is geared toward network engineers, network administrators and systems administrators.
- CompTIA A+ Technician is more maintenance focused and is typically designed for desktop support technicians, in-home support specialists and help desk technicians.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) has been created with security analysts, information technology auditors and information security analysts in mind.
- Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) addresses core technical skills across multiple technologies, making it ideally suited for systems engineers, field systems technicians and systems administrators.
- Network+ deals with wired and wireless networks and comes in handy for information technology technicians, help desk technicians and information technology specialists.
If you already have professional IT experience, be sure to seek out the most appropriate and most respected certifications in your preferred area of expertise. Some of your options can range from system administration, security, programming and hardware, to networking, wireless networking, VoIP, cloud IT and big data.
But when it comes to getting the attention of employers or supervisors, here are 15 ideas for more advanced certifications based on key areas of expertise:
IT Management – The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certifications start at a Foundation level and work up progressively to more demanding Practitioner and Manager levels.
IT Security – The SANS Software Security Institute offers a series of certifications ranging from Essentials, Intrusion Analyst and Incident Handler on up to GIAC Security Expert (GSE). The ISC also offers highly respected security certifications, which include Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SSCP) and the more rigorous Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP).
Vendor-Specific – In this category, three of the most in-demand offerings include Microsoft (featuring the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert); Cisco (featuring the Cisco Certified Security Professional and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert); and Linux (with two of the most prominent being the Red Hat Certified Engineer and the Red Hat Certified Architect).
It’s important to note that many of the more advanced certifications require ongoing education and recertification every few years to maintain these sought after credentials. And some have extremely stringent criteria. In fact, in the case of the recently retired Microsoft Certified Architect, there are fewer than 100 individuals worldwide who have earned this status. But they also command the salary appropriate for such a prestigious certification.
To make the most of your opportunities, choose your certifications carefully. After all, each requires time and money to complete. And with the right mix of certifications, any IT professional can significantly improve their appeal and value.