Dear Certmag: Build Experience to Enter the IT Space

Question:

I have a bachelor’s degree in multiple subjects and I want to get into the IT world. What type of certificates will land me a job as an entry-level network security administrator? What will increase my chances, as I have zero experience?

-Mike

Answer 1:

To get into network security administration or any higher-level IT job, you’ve got to work up from the bottom for two good reasons: first, because you build up your IT experience and knowledge; second, this is one of the best ways to gain respect from your co-workers. For the same reason a hospital would not employ a doctor without experience, a company would not employ someone without experience to look after its servers and network infrastructures; a rookie mistake can be very costly.
With that in mind, I would strongly recommend doing the following technical certifications: CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST). Those three are, more or less, entry-level/Level 1 support certifications.
For nontechnical certifications, I would recommend looking at the following: ITIL Version 3 Foundation and HDI Helpdesk Analyst. These help you develop some of the soft skills required for IT professionals.
What about the higher professional certifications such as Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)? Unless you have the experience to back up these certifications, a lot of IT managers will disregard them. A lot of people are trying to use them as shortcuts or experience substitutes, but remember that work-based professional certifications are there to validate and reflect your job role and responsibilities.
Another recommendation would be to join a professional IT association. Membership shows that you follow a professional code of conduct and provides various networking and development opportunities. The two most popular professional IT associations in the U.K. are the British Computer Society (BCS) and The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). In the U.S., the most well-known are the CompTIA IT Professional Membership Program and the Network Professional Association (NPA). Canada’s main IT association is the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS).

Answer 2:

Ideally, you will want to focus on building a mix of certifications and a portfolio of increasingly complex project experience.
Start small. You will want to start building your experience any way you can. If you have financial flexibility and are having trouble getting that first job, don’t be afraid to start with an internship. Internships provide valuable experience that can be the basis for a full-time professional position later.
If you don’t have the flexibility to pursue an internship, try to obtain help-desk or contract work. Working on a company help desk might not be the type of glamorous hands-on job you want, but it will provide experience working in high-stress situations.
Contract work, on the other hand, often is more varied, and in a difficult economy and job market, it is sometimes easier to compete for than more stable full-time professional roles. The benefits and stability of contract work often are very low, but each position provides you with an opportunity to gain invaluable exposure, as well as a resume listing.
Once you’ve begun to build your experience, you can add certifications to buttress it. You immediately should consider obtaining a cross-vendor credential from CompTIA on either the A+ or similar support technologies. A basic Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) credential on Windows Vista or your choice of Linux vendor also would go a long way toward getting that first position.
If you choose to concentrate in the Linux space, over the long term, target a more advanced credential such as the Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP): Server Administrator or the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE).

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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