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IT Certifications: What's Right for Me?

  • February 28, 2003
  • By Steve Rowe
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The IT certification market is an ever-growing industry. It may seem to you that every time you turn around another vendor or organization has another certification that is available. The "alphabet soup" one can put behind their name is undoubtedly a growing phenomenon that can pose a confusing, time consuming, and expensive trail of decisions and hard work. You may be reading this article as a seasoned veteran of information technology or a person interested in joining this dynamic career field. Yet, people from both spectrums of the IT field may well have the same questions and concerns when it comes to the different certification tracks available and which direction they should take. Questions can range from whether or not to certify at all to if you do decide to certify yourself, which way should you go? Also, you must decide how will you fund this venture, choose between multiple resources that are available for study, and assess what kind of time commitments are you looking at in order to achieve your certification goals.

Why do certifications exist? One might think that they exist solely for vendors and organizations to get more money out of those who are interested in their products. Even though the training and certification market is a very profitable venture for many companies, certifications also exist as a measurement of learning and understanding of a product or technology. This bodes well for groups like Microsoft, Cisco, or Novell in that as they offer education and certifications for their products and technologies, they are guaranteeing themselves an educated work force that can implement and support their products and, quite possibly, a loyal following of their products. As people study and pass difficult exams, a sense of accomplishment and well being toward a group's technologies and products often develops. Ask anyone who has accomplished an MCSD, CCNA, or even passed their first MCP exam on a Microsoft operating system. Often you will find a knowledgeable person who is excited about the technologies they just spent many hours studying in preparation for tense examination periods.

Motivations for Pursuing Certifications

Now that you have seen some reasons for the existence of certification programs, why would anyone want to spend those many study hours and experience those tense examination periods? I touched on one reason above, and that is the sense of accomplishment one gets after successfully passing an exam or completing a full certification course. But, what was it that excited the person to start the course toward certification in the first place? Let's take a look at some of the motivations that lead people into IT certification tracks. Quite possibly some of these reasons match what you are experiencing as well.

Let's first look at some motivations and questions that may rise from someone new to the IT field who wants to successfully pass some certifications in order to build an IT career. Some come to the IT field because of a natural curiosity for computers and technology. Maybe you are a person who is working in an entirely different field, but you have an affection for computing and technology, and you have decided to pursue this as a career. Quite possibly you are a person who is working in a low-paying or unsatisfactory job, who wants more for yourself, and the IT field is the route you are considering. If you are a person in a situation similar to these, what avenues of certification should you follow?

First, honestly assess what areas of IT that may interest you. Talk to some people in the field and find out what their jobs entail. Would the responsibilities they take on each day be of interest to you? Would you see yourself in a programmer's position, Web development, computer repair and support, or maybe networking technologies? Answering these questions honestly and with thought will help you choose the correct path of certification. If you look to work in computer support and/or networking, you will be a good candidate for the CompTIA A+ and Network+ exams, as well as Microsoft's MCSE, MCSA, and MCP tracks. If this is the IT area you are most interested in, you may also someday look to pursue certifications in Novell, Linux, Security, and Cisco technologies. If Web development is an area you might be interested in, take a look at the Macromedia and Java certification lines. Finally, if programming is your favorite area, you might consider looking into the Microsoft MCSD and MCAD certifications or the Java lines of certification as well. We will take a look at some of these certifications more specifically in later articles, but maybe this can help you gather some direction and develop some questions that you can ask yourself before choosing the path you take.

Possibly you are reading this article as a person who is currently working in the IT field. What are some possible motivations that may drive you to pursue certifications? Not everyone in the IT field is certified in an area, while others have many certifications, but certifying yourself is a means of professional growth. This is a strong motivator for those who are committed IT professionals. You may be a computer support specialist, but you are pursuing Microsoft MCSE or Novell CNE status to grow into a network engineer or administrator position. A second reason you may pursue a certification track is to move into another field of IT different from the one you are currently in. For example, maybe you are a network administrator who has found that you really want to study programming and move into software development. Others may pursue certifications required by a consulting contract possibility. A contract that requires a certified MCDBA to be on the contract staff will certainly have the contracting person or company getting someone MCDBA certified quickly. Finally, you possibly do not want to leave the IT field you are in, but you notice that your peers who are certified make more money than you do. As cited in the Exam Cram 2 book IT Certification Success" by Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros, on average certified individuals can earn from 10 to 25% more in salary than their peers. In the end, staying current with new technologies and skills and passing certifications that test on these technologies and skills will keep you more marketable for open positions and advancement opportunities, especially in harder economic times like now.





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