IT Certifications -What’s good & what to avoid

IT industry Certifications

CertificationCertifications in the IT field have been a hot topic of debate for years as to their real value. Many without certifications argue that they have the skill and can prove it with their work, and do not need a piece of paper to say they can do it. Those who have spent the time and money to earn certifications say it separates them from everyone else. We’re going to talk a little about these ideas, and then we’re going to talk about the certifications as a whole, which ones have real value and which ones are fluff.

First, I hold many IT certifications and I believe both that they separate me from peers and that I should not need them to prove what I can do. However, the reality is that non-IT people who do the hiring of IT people cannot distinguish the fluff on a resume from something useful, so having these certifications at least helps them identify good IT people, to an extent. Just because someone has all the alphabet behind their name doesn’t mean they can do the actual “work” it just means they can test very well. Having a true skills based test for IT people, or at least asking specific scenario questions during the hiring phase by other IT folks will help weed out the fluff.

So which certifications have an real value? Well that does depend somewhat on the industry sector that you are in. Industries that have to answer to government regulations (Healthcare, Financial Services, etc) need to have IT people that understand security as it pertains to the technology they implement. CISSP, CEH, GIAC’s GSEC, CISA, HIPAA those sort of certifcations.

Of course there are the technology certifications on how you implement that tech. For instance, Cisco has their CCNA, but what if you use HP networking equipment? What if you use Sonicwall firewalls (made by Dell)? Microsoft has their multiple certifications and paths, including a security path, so if you use Windows based servers shouldn’t you focus on Windows based security? What if your company uses Linux based servers, have you looked at the RHCSA or RHCE? How about vmWare and their higly touted VCP certifications? Vendor specific certs can help your company get higher levels of support (good for emergencies) and lower pricing on resell items (good for profit) but non-vendor specific certs like Network+, security+ all have some value as well. Project management is a hot button
in the past two years and the standard is the Project Management Institute’s PMI certification. You can look at wireless generic certs like the CWNA that shows you have the understanding to implement a wireless network, but vendors like Ruckus, HP and others have their own certs. So again if you are trying to leverage a partnership, you’re probably better getting their certification to show you know how to implement wireless with their equipment.

What should you avoid these days? The CompTia A+ is only good for those entry level folks who need to validate they know what a motherboard is and how to put one in. It’s good for working in a repair facility, otherwise no major IT company will care that you have it. Microsoft application specific certs like the MOUS and similar are simply of no value these days. By now, if you don’t know how to use and figure out Office applications and you call yourself an IT person, you’ll be found out to be a fraud quickly anyway. The real bottom line here is that you need to have a mix of experience and certifications to really excel in this industry. Having a certification that is high end like a CEH or something but you’ve been in the field 3 years will scream  “paper cert” which means you study and memorize answers well, but have no real world experience implementing the  things those certifications imply. On the other hand, if you’ve been around 5 years or more and have no certifications, the supposition is that you’re either lazy or not really that good at doing things, you’re more of a “band-aid” provider and get things going “Okay”.  If that’s the case, I hope earning $25K a year is what you’re hoping to do.

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