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Top IT Certifications To Jump-Start Your Job

Working in IT infrastructure means a whole lot more than hardware these days. Boost your career with these hot certifications on virtualization, cloud, security, and more.
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IT isn't what it used to be. Gone are the days of worrying solely about your specific silo -- be it networks, storage, or servers -- and sending related issues to another team. Today's IT professionals must be masters of convergence. They need to understand and manage and virtualization, cloud computing, and the wide range of emerging technologies that feed into them.

They also need to be fluent in open source, comfortable with advanced network design, and ready to embrace software-defined everything. In other words, they need to be able to demonstrate that they know a lot, and there's no more powerful way to do so than by holding a cadre of infrastructure certifications.

To help navigate these increasingly complex waters, we've put together a list of certifications that can help infrastructure professionals deepen their skills in several areas that will make themselves especially valuable in the coming few years.

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Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
4/22/2014 | 10:29:23 PM
Top certifications
Do you agree with the certifications we've listed here? What certs or other educational programs are on your radar for providing value to today's IT professionals?
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2014 | 2:18:50 PM
Re: Top certifications
Well, the list from memory covers Virtualization, Storage, Server OS, Security and Networking. I'm not going to disagree with it, mainly because it covers a lot of topics that are relevant to the industry.

I do wonder whether we'll ever see a shift away from the vendor certs and see vendor independent certs as being the "high value" ones as they're applicable in more scenarios (assuming you can turn your hand to implementation on a given platform). 

I also wonder at what point being certified in a programming language will creep in. I've already heard some people saying that they are only hiring network engineers who have some programming abilities in addition to their other skills.
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
4/24/2014 | 3:57:30 PM
Re: Top certifications
Hi John -- Interesting question you raise about programming certifications.  The overall topic of whether network engineers need programming skills was a big one at Interop earlier this month. There seems to be a wide range of views on the issue: http://www.networkcomputing.com/networking/sdn-programming-skills-needed---or-not/d/d-id/1234728

 

 

 
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
4/24/2014 | 4:14:13 PM
Re: Top certifications
That's an interesting article; thanks for sharing, Marcia. 

I suspect we're going to go through some phases as SDN becomes more prevalent. Up front - for the next few years most likely - I think that many SDN deployments will be undertaken by precisely the kind of companies who have devops teams already, and are prepared to embrace a new frontier supported by the programming skills they have available to tweak curently available tools to their needs.

Then as the market matures, the management piece will also start to fill out, with products that mean you don't have to be able to create code to run the network because the software will be sufficiently capable to provide the level of control and reliability that companies need. I think we saw this a bit with companies like Google who were very early adopters of SDN-type capabilities, but had to create all their own custom code to do so. Relatively few companies can afford to follow that same path.
dsmiv30182
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dsmiv30182,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/24/2014 | 4:43:38 PM
Re: Top certifications
jgherbert,

 

Regarding your last comment, I am starting to see a lot references from employers wanting folks with some sort of programming skills.  It certainly makes me believe that certs for that area will soon be available.

 

dsmiv30182
AbeG
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AbeG,
User Rank: Black Belt
5/31/2014 | 1:16:41 AM
Re: Top certifications
@jgherbert

"I do wonder whether we'll ever see a shift away from the vendor certs and see vendor independent certs as being the "high value" ones as they're applicable in more scenarios"

I hope so.  I think vendor independent certifications are potentially more honest than those offered directly by system developers/manufacturers. Personally, I think that some certifications offered by vendors may benefit the vendor more than the certified individual. 

Individuals who master the content of their certification are likely to boost the reputation of a given vendors' system because he/she will know how to keep it running optimally. 

When evaluating new systems for purchasing, a vendor-certified tech is likely to recommend or favor those systems which he/she has a better familiarity of.  Software/hardware developers often create their products so that they have a common interface and are easier to integrate with their other products when compared to competitors' products.

When certifications are easy to cheat on, those who pass the exam legitimately end up having the reputation of their credential diminished, along with any advantage during job applications.  As the number of seemingly qualified job applicants go up, the salary levels offered are likely to go down.

Lastly, since certifications tend to have a short shelf-life, say 4yrs, the certified individuals finds him/herself having to start over again to re-learn the vendor's new system as opposed to being able to dedicate that time to expanding his/her skillset in other areas or perhaps achieving more work/life balance.
PMH553
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PMH553,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/30/2014 | 5:21:05 PM
Re: Top certifications
IT Certifcation is key to stand out in a crowded world. No longer is a bachelor degree the cream of the crop as it once was up till late 80's. Now even with a masters degree the job market is challenging. So how do you stand out? IT certifcation like PMP Certifcation more than likely will push your application to the front. The company has the assumption that you are trained project manager enough to at least a interview with the company. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Strategist
4/24/2014 | 10:02:11 AM
Vertical View?
With so many certifications available, these days you could become a full-time student and test-taker if you wanted (and could afford it)! One consideration I've wondered about: If you're in a vertical market such as healthcare or finance, are there specific certifications of more use than others? 
ReturnoftheMus
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ReturnoftheMus,
User Rank: Moderator
4/25/2014 | 9:48:44 AM
Some Hot, Some Not!
I think it's fair to say the VMware's VCDX probably sets the new gold standard in vendor certs, so if you are intent on travelling up a specific vendor cert track then this is probably your best option.

As an alternative to Citrix, I'd go with Microsoft's MCSE Private Cloud cert, which combines there Windows Server & Systems Center products, like the VMware VCP DC track it covers network, server & storage virtualization, as well as infrastructure management and orchestration.

You certainly want a foundation in storage though I'm not sure travelling up the SNIA track is the best way to go. Here the SNIA have outsourced their foundation cert to CompTIA, personally I would look to a leading vendor cert in this space, either EMC, Hitachi, IBM, NetApp etc, baring in mind that that the virtualization vendors are heavily encroaching on this space.

Red hat almost definitely, if not only for their Linux leadership, but more interestingly their contributions to OpenStack, here I would look at obtaining a certificate of expertise and more specifically the Red Hat Certified Administrator in Red Hat OpenStack.

In the Wireless LAN space vendor neutral is definitely the way to go, but if you're going start you're probably going to have to go the whole hog CWNA is not going to cut it alone.

Personally, I think the CISSP has probably past it's sell-by-date, there were rumours that ISC2 were getting together with the Cloud Security Alliance some time ago to work on a new certification/s, though nothing to my knowledge has materialised. Here I'd look at a leading vendor certs, one that springs to mind is the IBM Certified Deployment Professional – QRadar SIEM Implementation.

From Cisco I'd look no further than their CCNP DataCenter cert and compliment it with one of their upcoming Network Programmability specializations.

Other than that I'd investigate The Open Group Certified IT Specialist – Infrastructure Design stream, as a way of having my knowledge validated.

As far as I'm concerned everyone working in IT should be able to code, this shouldn't require a cert.
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 11:13:12 AM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
Returnof the Mus, thanks for all of the really detailed feedback -- it's great to hear your thoughts. I'd agree that the MCSE Private Cloud is anotehr certification that's very valuable. I think the author included the Citix certs here because they turned up on several lists at the end of 2013 for certifications making the most money, so those folks are differentiating themselves somehow.

A couple of you have brought up the need for programming skills. What type of code do you need to know? Python? Anything else?
Susan Fogarty
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Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 12:10:19 PM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
Also, ReturnoftheMus, I am anticipating the upload of your profile picture -- your username is quite intriguing :)
MarciaNWC
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MarciaNWC,
User Rank: Strategist
4/25/2014 | 12:42:41 PM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
While some security pros see the CISSP as essential -- they said employers look for it -- it seems a growing number dismiss it and say practical experience is much more valuable. I think the Cloud Securty Alliance does offer a certification: https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/education/ccsk/

 

 
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
4/26/2014 | 8:07:00 PM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
@ReturnoftheMus:

"As far as I'm concerned everyone working in IT should be able to code, this shouldn't require a cert."

And everybody in a current network engineering role should be able to configure the network equipment put in front of them, so why do we need certs there either? Saying "I program in <insert_language_here>" can mean many different things depending on who is saying it, and who is hearing it.

As a side note though, being able to point to github (or similar) and show what you've been involved in, perhaps your own project, and the pull requests you've had accepted into bigger projects - that's a kind of online resumé for your coding skills that would perhaps work almost as well as a certification, and it also avoids concerns that somebody is just a paper cert based off a braindump.

ReturnoftheMus
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ReturnoftheMus,
User Rank: Moderator
4/28/2014 | 6:00:58 AM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
'And everybody in a current network engineering role should be able to configure the network equipment put in front of them, so why do we need certs there either?

Other than I wouldn't expect it to be beyond the realms of the most competent, I don't have an answer to this question, vendor certs tend to be vendor product specific I gather for many this is part of the appeal.

Saying "I program in <insert_language_here>" can mean many different things depending on who is saying it, and who is hearing it'.

Here it's more bemusement than anything else, it's as though programming is only coming into vogue when it actually pre-dates the computer and some people appear to be waiting for the equivalent of the CCIE Programmer, when they can get started very easily today!
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
4/28/2014 | 7:33:27 AM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
@Returnofthemus:

"Here it's more bemusement than anything else, it's as though programming is only coming into vogue when it actually pre-dates the computer and some people appear to be waiting for the equivalent of the CCIE Programmer, when they can get started very easily today!"

 

So when somebody says "I program in Python", your reaction is bemusement?

I don't think it's that programming itself is coming into vogue, which seems to be what you're suggesting; rather, network engineers have been able to survive for years without having to do much, if any, programming. The idea that their job role may start requiring a skill that not all of them have acquired is, understandably, causing concern. It's very nice to say everybody should be able to program, but in my experience that just isn't the case, and while it doesn't make them a worse network engineer, being able to program would certainly expand thair capabilties in certain areas.

I understand their concern, and I suspect many are now wondering how - regardless of their current level of programming - that skill will be evaluated by employers, and how to demonstrate it on a resumé.

ReturnoftheMus
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ReturnoftheMus,
User Rank: Moderator
4/29/2014 | 12:22:14 PM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
'I understand their concern, and I suspect many are now wondering how - regardless of their current level of programming - that skill will be evaluated by employers, and how to demonstrate it on a resumé'.

I suspect it would be evaluated the same way all prospective employers evaluate skills, as in where it was used and to what it was applied.

I do emphasize with your wider point, but programming really should come as second nature to Network Pros, as command-line interpreters support scripting, which are generally interpreters of an interpreted programming language.
jgherbert
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jgherbert,
User Rank: Ninja
4/29/2014 | 1:24:42 PM
Re: Some Hot, Some Not!
I suspect it would be evaluated the same way all prospective employers evaluate skills, as in where it was used and to what it was applied.

...and by the presence of a certification. That at least improves your chance of getting to interview in the first place, and given the limited nature of an interview, I believe that certs do get taken to imply a certain level of credibility.


I do emphasize with your wider point, but programming really should come as second nature to Network Pros, as command-line interpreters support scripting, which are generally interpreters of an interpreted programming language.

Probably they should. But can they? I'd say it's about 50/50 as to whether or not a network engineer can also script (well enough to be useful) in my extremely subjective experience.
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Strategist
4/27/2014 | 6:50:25 PM
Certs or no Certs?

This has always been a controversial subject in the IT world. Yes, they are helpful but they are also expensive. If you are trying to do this on your own you need to be able to afford it. I see virtualization and storage as two major categories. If you can get your company to pay then great. But cost is a concern.

kenley22
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kenley22,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/27/2014 | 3:16:14 AM
PMP certification for IT Professionals
I would say that a PMP Certification is highly respected within both IT & non-IT communities where strong project management skills are required. If you plan on a long term career as a project manager, then yes, even with your level of experience, I would suggest getting your PMP. You can prepare yourself for the exam in one of the PMP trainingproviders like http://www.pmstudy.com/. You can do minimal prep-work to get 40 PMI® Contact Hours and apply to PMI for PMP Exam before the class begins.
Dono.steph
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Dono.steph,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/27/2014 | 7:58:16 AM
Re: PMP certification for IT Professionals
Having a scrum certification will also help you a lot in your career. The value of a Scrum certification, like any other type of certification, depends on
1. how it actually adds value to your work,
2. where you did it from (linked to the first point – good training institutes make sure they add value, the not so good ones focus on the exam. Of course, you can study by yourself as well, but if it is a difficult exam, then most of the times, you drop out simply due to lack of focus)
3. the acceptability by the industry and
4. the difficulty level (kinda linked with industry acceptability)
Scrum is definitely picking up in terms of popularity (though there are instances where it is not applied correctly) and I have personally seen it work extremely well. So a certification from a reputed certifying authority should definitely help.

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