Degree or Certs Needed for Young Techie to Be Competitive

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Dear Techie,

I’ve been studying Linux, UNIX and general network administration for two years now, a proud Linux user since Ubuntu 5.10, and have been working with Windows-based machines for almost six years. My career goal is to become a UNIX and Linux network administrator. I currently work days as a school bus driver and nights stocking at a grocery store. I have plans to attend community college in the spring. I’m 20 years old; I mention this because I’ve been turned down for some interviews simply because of my age. I’ve had sales and tech experience but most of it freelance. I want to begin a career in IT, preferably with Linux, but see no entry-level jobs. I’ve heard that pursuing a Microsoft cert such as MCDST or MCSA would be best. Many suggest the A+ and Network+ certs, too. I’m studying for my CCNA with plans for an MCSA, SCSA or RHCT cert. I’m not including the A+ or Network+ because I’ve been working with hardware for going on six years now, and the CCNA seems to carry more weight. I’m also considering administrative certs from MS, Sun or Red Hat to try and help make up for the fact that I don’t have a B.S. backing me up. With a CCNA and a SysAdmin cert, do I have any hope for landing a decent IT job?

– Andrew Hale

Wayne Anderson:

It’s great that you have a goal in mind. At 20 years old, there are a lot of folks who have not yet decided on an industry to be in, let alone a platform or product to specialize in working with. I, too, got my start in the industry young, full time right out of high school initially, so I definitely understand the challenges you face because of your age. IT managers seem to have difficulty understanding that someone in your age group can have the maturity and experience to provide a service to them. That having been said, I think that with some focused investment in certification, you can really work your way forward.

I think the strongest thing that you need to do right now is focus your investment. You probably are not in a position to throw unlimited resources at being certified, so I would start by certifying what you already have experience with. I know you overlooked the A+ and the Network+ because they are low level. However certification is specifically geared to credentialing your experience. Once you have certified your existing skill set, focus on the area that you really would like to work in. Start with the CompTIA Linux+ or the LPIC program’s LPIC-1 credential. Once you have obtained a general credential, start to think about specific Linux distributions.

Ken Wagner:

I’ve done a couple of Web searches on IT jobs, including junior or trainee UNIX- and Linux-based ones, and the majority require a degree or the equivalent years in work experience, with and without professional certifications. No matter what professional certification you do, it will not equal a degree, and the higher-end professional certifications should reflect your job role and responsibilities.

Don’t discount the CompTIA A+ or the Network+. These may be “basic” certifications, but the higher-end cert programs build upon their skills and knowledge. I have met people who have gained MCSAs and lack the underpinning knowledge they require in a real-world environment. With that in mind, and based on the career path that you want to go down, I would strongly recommend considering doing your degree either online or part time, so you can still work during the day. If the area where you live has a shortage of IT jobs, gaining your degree will increase your chances of getting selected.

Wayne Anderson is a highly certified instructional consultant and the certification lead for Avanade, a global Microsoft consultancy. Ken Wagner is an IT network manager and part-time IT lecturer in the United Kingdom. He has lived in the United States, Asia and Europe. To pose a question to Ken and Wayne, send an e-mail to

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Wayne Anderson


Wayne Anderson (@NoCo_Architect) is a Service Management Architect with Avanade, a company that helps customers realize results in a digital world through business technology solutions and managed services that combine insight, innovation and expertise focused on Microsoft® technologies. He holds the Certified IT Architect – Professional credential from IASA and has completed more than 30 Microsoft certifications in his career alongside credentials from CompTIA and other industry vendors.