Dear Certmag: Using Certifications to Chart a Career Path

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Question: 

I am a .NET developer with over five years experience, and I am looking to move from programming into networking. I have knowledge of how networks work and of the OSI model. I started looking into the Brainbench Network Technical Support, Windows 2003 Server Administration and Cisco Network Design certifications as a starting point. I do plan to get CompTIA Network+, Security+, MCSA and eventually the CEH. Should I spend time working towards the Brainbench stuff or start now preparing for the Network+ exam?

-Cornell D. Hunter

Answer 1:

While Brainbench is great at what it does, a lot of people and companies do not view Brainbench certifications as actual qualifications. They are seen more as assessments because the online exams are available without any checks on the person taking the exam. I am not saying that this is a good or bad thing, but look at testing centers such as Certiport, Pearson Vue and Prometric: They not only proctor the exams, but also ask for two forms of ID to ensure candidate identity. You can see why exams taken at those centers are looked upon more favorably.
If you want to bulk up your resume (or just want some study aids) then go for the Brainbench certifications. If you’re expecting guarantees of a job with them, then no certification or qualification can do that. If you’re expecting universal acceptance of Brainbench certifications as recognized qualifications, then I would say continue the CompTIA route.
For the MCSA, Microsoft states: “An MCSA candidate should have one to twelve months of experience in working with a desktop operating system, a network operating system and an existing network infrastructure.”
While it is not set in stone, it is expected that the candidate have some experience at that level.
As for the CEH route, I would double-check its site. The CEH and related certifications are more geared up toward IT security personnel in the role already. I’m not saying don’t go for it. What I am strongly recommending is to concentrate on the job role you’re going for before you start to look around for another role.

Answer 2:

While the Brainbench certification exams offer a candidate a wide variety of cross-vendor technologies and subject areas on which to certify, the adoption of the certifications in the industry and the related recognition of these credentials face challenges.
At this point in your career, I would focus on building the fundamental networking skills and experience that would more closely align to your career path. If you indeed intend to focus on networking itself, there are also several credentials you mentioned that may not assist in that focus. The credentials you mentioned seem to pepper a number of areas including basic networking and security, as well as a platform credential in the MCSA.
My strongest advice for you would be to take a week to think on your career. Not just thinking about it once or twice, but revisit the issue daily. What do you want to be doing in 10 years? Where do you want to specialize within the industry? Only by answering that question can you start to work on a certification career path.
For a networking-specific path, I would recommend starting with the CompTIA Network+, obtaining your Cisco Certified Network Associate from Cisco Systems and then building your experience in a junior network engineering role. Later career credentials may include advanced credentials from Cisco, as well other vendor offerings based on what your employer is using in the environment.

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