Charting a Credentialing Path

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Some IT pros — not all, but some — take great pride in the number of credentials they’ve earned. You know the type: They include a long string of acronyms in their signatures in e-mail messages to show that, yeah, they know a lot about technology, probably more than you. Don’t get me wrong — that’s great. If you’ve earned a dozen certifications, you should be proud. But looking over the corpus of credentials you’ve held, can you say they were part of concerted career development plan?

To be sure, certs can be a nice status symbol among the tech set. They exist first and foremost, however, as a means to enhance your employment opportunities. To maximize the advantage IT credentialing programs provide, you should devise a certification track that more or less aligns to the progression of your career.

Fortunately, most certification suites are arranged in just such an occupation-focused sequence. Many credentialing programs have made it a point to have their offerings support specific career paths in the industry. Yet you still have to plan carefully as to how you’ll proceed through the certification universe, particularly as new programs come into being and old ones change so frequently.

First, you’ll have to build a solid foundation of credentials, which means kicking off with the very basic stuff. (If you’re just getting started in certification, please also take a look at last week’s Study Guide article if you haven’t already.) Regardless of what you intend to do in IT, it’s definitely beneficial to start out certifications that will familiarize you with software and hardware fundamentals and a good amount of networking concepts.

Next, think about where your interests in technologies lie, and whether those are practical. Obviously, you’ll want to pursue certifications in areas that not only appeal to you but also are sought in the market. You might find certain IT sectors don’t have a wealth certifications available (such as applications development) or that a premium isn’t always placed on credentials (in open source, for example).

Also, you might not want to limit yourself to a particular niche of technology. There are many advantages to building up knowledge and experience in different areas of the industry such as pursuing high-level roles, including IT architect and even chief information officer. Such a career path probably will require some certification, but a candidate’s immersion into a credentialing track within a single sector might not be as deep as it would be for a specialist.

In addition, if you’re going into a space that has a great deal of vendor competition, do some research on potential employers to find out what they use in their IT environments. For instance, if you’re interested in being a database administrator, check whether the kinds of organizations for which you want to work use databases and ancillary products from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, MySQL, PostgreSQL, etc. You might even want to specialize in more than one vendor’s suite of technology.

Finally, as you proceed up the certification ladder, be sure to examine factors outside of sheer content. Obviously, depth and relevancy of a certification’s subject matter are very important, but there are other aspects to consider, as well. Some questions include: How much does this certification cost? Does it have a good amount of training materials to support it? What are the prerequisites? What are the recertification requirements? Does the credential have a good reputation among employers? How does it hold up in salary surveys? (By the way, be sure to check out our annual Salary Survey in the December issue of Certification Magazine.)

In short, do your homework and make sure you’ve plotted a good course on your certification journey. If you do, they’ll serve you well throughout your career.

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