Eye on Certification: Foundation-Level Credentials
Many recent polls and studies on the most in-demand skills and certifications in the information technology industry have included security, storage and network and system design—all of the specialties one might expect to find. Professionals in these fields typically have a substantial amount of vocational experience, as well as one or more mid- to high-level certifications.
Entry-level certifications are seldom listed in these gauges of “hot” IT credentials. This isn’t really all that surprising. By their very nature, these certifications avoid highly technical exposure to a particular area of expertise, and instead focus only on the fundamentals of IT. This hardly diminishes the value of these programs for IT professionals, though, especially those just entering the job market. You’ve got to start somewhere, after all, and these credentials provide sound stepping-stones to the next level of your career. In addition, these certifications are ideal for employees in other industries who don’t need to be well-versed in a specific forte within IT, but simply want to have a strong foundation of computer skills.
This month, we’ll overview some of the best entry-level offerings in the certification universe.
Certiport’s IC3 credential is a logical place to start, as it is also the point of departure for the Tech Career Compass (TCC), a kind of career road map for IT professional developed by hundreds of tech firms and managed by CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association. IC3 is designed to provide basic computer literacy and Internet skills to individuals about to enter the job market, commence a higher education program or just learn IT rudiments. Participants can be as young as junior high school students or as old as retirees.
The program covers computing fundamentals (computer hardware identification and functionality, general software concepts and how to use an operating system), key applications (common program functions, word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software) and online basics (relationship between networks and the Internet, e-mail, Web browsing and research, and the impact of the Internet and computers on society).
After completing the three exams required for the certification, IC3 holders will have the core skills needed to perform basic computing tasks and possess an IT credential that will look good on any resume. Also, they’ll be better prepared to take on additional certifications, such as the next one on our list.
For more information, see www.certiport.com.
With more than a half-million certification holders, CompTIA’s A+ is by far the most popular program of the IT trade organization’s collection of credentials. This certification, which affirms skills and knowledge of computer service technicians with the equivalent of 500 hours of hands-on experience, offers candidates knowledge and skills in fundamental hardware and operating system technologies, such as installation, configuration, diagnosis of problems, troubleshooting and basic networking. There are two exams required for the credential: A+ Core Hardware and A+ OS Technologies.
Because of CompTIA’s status as an IT industry association, as well as the solid foundational content of the program, A+ is included in the certification tracks of a number of organizations, including Cisco, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, Novell and Symantec. Additionally, several companies, such as Best Buy, Compaq, Sears, Xerox and State Farm, preferentially hire or require their employees to hold a CompTIA A+ certification.
For more information, see www.comptia.org.
Linux Professional Institute
The Linux Professional Institute’s (LPI) junior-level administration certification (LPIC-1), which was released in 2000, is a distribution-neutral program that follows Linux Standard Base guidelines and other generally accepted practices involving the open-source operating system. The LPI credentialing program was based on a job-task analysis conducted internationally by LPI. Based on the findings, the organization concluded that LPIC-1 certification holders ought to be able to work at the Linux command line, support existing users, add new users, perform routine maintenance, and implement and configure a workstation.
There are no prerequisites for this certification, which has two exams. The first, Exam #101, covers hardware and architecture; Linux installation and package management; GNU and UNIX commands; devices, Linux filesystems and filesystem hierarchy standard; and the X Window system. Exam #102 focuses on the Linux kernel; boot, initialization, shutdown and runlevels; printing; documentation; shells, scripting, programming and compiling; administrative tasks; networking fundamentals and services; and security.
For more information, see www.lpi.org.
For IT professionals who are or will be working primarily with Windows or other Microsoft solutions, the company offers the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) credential. This certification is awarded to any candidate who passes any current Microsoft exam, with the lone exception of Exam #70-058: Networking Essentials, which is designed to be a complement to other tests in the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) track.
The recommended length of professional experience for any MCP candidate with at least one Microsoft operating system, set of development tools or desktop application is six to 12 months. Once finished, MCPs will have both a solid base of knowledge and an extensive benefits package that includes access to Microsoft conferences, technical training sessions and special events.
For more information, see www.microsoft.com/learning.
Many other vendor-specific programs, such as Sun, Novell and Cisco, offer a hierarchy of certifications that start with foundation-level credentials. To figure out which ones you should participate in, consider your area of interest, your strengths, the products and solutions you have the most experience with, what your employer of choice demands and so forth. The routes to the top are numerous—just make sure to grab a strong branch on your climb up the certification tree!
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Certification Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.