If it’s not readily apparent, this blog and CertManiacs as a whole will deal solely with IT certifications. I have no experience with industrial, medical, or other types of certifications and I won’t pretend to. I’m not worried about running out of content for this blog because the world of technical certifications is (almost absurdly) vast. OSes, networking, server administration, database administration, PC and Mac repair, virtualization, security…you name it, chances are there are certifications for that topic. One thing that’s clear is that no matter who you are and what path you have followed that has led you to the IT world, there is a certification out there that can help you verify your knowledge on a subject to satisfy the requirements of any potential employer. The stock put into any particular certification by any particular employer varies wildly, but you’ll never be in a worse position having a certification than you would be not having it.
Here’s a quick look at some of the major certification vendors and what they offer:
CompTIA: Just to reiterate a point I’ve made before, I recommend using a CompTIA cert (A+ specifically) as your entry point into the certification world. You’ll notice that many topics are covered in their cert catalog, but the most commonly recognized certs they offer are: A+, Network+, and Security+. These three certs were previously the only linked certs, meaning that obtaining the next, or “higher level” certification would renew those below it, but that has recently changed. You can view more information about their Continuing Education program on their site, but in my experience it has been a lot easier to simply write the exam for one of your existing certs, or even better, take advantage of their recently extended set of interlinked certifications that will renew certifications that are set below them. CompTIA is well known in IT, but because they are vendor-neutral they seem to lack the cache of some of the companies mentioned next. Be sure to check their current ladder of certs to see what you would need to take next to recertify all “lower” certs.
Microsoft: Well, of course the biggest name in computing has certifications! In fact, they have a LOT of them. Presently their certification tree is split into 5 major branches: Server, Desktop, Applications, Database, and Developer, so their certification programs cover a massive set of topics. Microsoft certs generally don’t have a set expiration date and are converted to a “legacy” status when the technology the cert is based starts to get phased out or replaced. When there is a replacement cert offered, MS will generally offer a “bridge” exam for those with the expiring cert to recertify with the new version. Any personal opinions aside about the company, they are a force in the enterprise world and their certifications DO get noticed.
Cisco: I’m sure that my perspective is clouded, perhaps more than a little, because I happen to work for an ISP, but in my experience Cisco certs are the most widely recognized and desired. Is that because my company is a Cisco partner that benefits from employing many highly certified individuals? Well, yes. If your potential career doesn’t have any meaningful tie-in with networking, than the relative value of Cisco certs will naturally diminish. In terms of networking certifications, they don’t get any bigger than Cisco.
VMWare: Currently the biggest name virtualization certs, though Citrix isn’t far behind them. They have a fairly unique approach to most of the training offered for their certs in that in-classroom is required for reaching VCP level and from their you complete bridge exams to expand your pool of certifications, their expert level certifications go so far as for you to defend a VMWare solution to a panel of experts. Sounds a little vigorous to me. On the flip side, their entry-level VCA certs are probably too easy to obtain. Viewing a couple hour long presentation and then sitting a gimme exam won’t do much to endear the cert to hiring managers, if they’re even aware it exists.
ITIL: A little bit different from the other vendors mentioned here, as ITIL is an approach to IT service management as opposed to a certification for a specific technology or product. Their best practice approach is employed by many technology companies across the globe. There are multiple levels of certification, the entry-level certification, ITIL Foundations, simply requires passing an exam, but the requirements to achieve the higher levels become more complex involving things like accredited training courses and submission of project reports. I’ll leave my opinions about such management systems out of this blog for the time being and simply say that if you have achieved some level of ITIL certification, management ears will often perk up.
I’m leaving some large vendors off of this list, Citrix, Juniper, and Red Hat all jump out at me, but this post gives a quick look at some of the big cert players. So, if you’re a first timer in the certification world you have a decision to make. What vendor can best help you reach your education or career goals? It’s a question only you can answer, but I hope this helps you start down the path to making an informed decision!