Getting Started in Certification

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So you’ve decided to embark on the path to IT riches via certification. Good for you! While work experience and academic programs are undeniably beneficial for your career, credentialing programs serve a function that those other components usually can’t fulfill — namely, to be a reliable indicator of an individual’s comprehension of the latest and greatest iteration of a product, technology or job role. Whether you’re looking to get a raise, a promotion, respect, all these or something else altogether, it’s a good move.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of certification newbies: There are the “fresh out of high school/ community college/four-year university/other” kids who are kicking off their careers in technology. Then there are the IT veterans who have years of experience and no certification but want to further demonstrate their skills to employers and colleagues via a credential.

For those in the first group, before you can delve in-depth into a certification that deals with a particular specialization, you have to start with the basics. The IT certification industry offers several options for inexperienced to novice professionals who are embarking on a certification path. For those who are starting from the very beginning, there’s Certiport’s IC3 credential, which 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.

IC3 candidates 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). For more information, see http://www.certiport.com.

Also, the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) offers an array of foundation-level certifications that assesses skill in a variety of IT niches. All the CompTIA credentials are aimed at candidates who have a year or two of work experience under their belts. The exams are in multiple-choice format, and none of the credentials have any recertification requirements.

While CompTIA certifications cover technology topics ranging from project management to radio frequency identification (RFID), the most popular credential by far is its A+. The latest version (and at the start of next year, the only version) of CompTIA A+ requires that candidates pass two exams: CompTIA A+ Essentials, which deals with hardware and software basics, and CompTIA A+ #220-602, which covers the on-the-job application of soft skills, IT security, safety and environmental issues and other topics. For more information, see www.comptia.org.

Also, IT vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco and specialized technology associations such as the Linux Professional Institute offer foundation-level credentials that aren’t necessarily intended for downright neophytes, but they aren’t targeted at experts or even intermediates either. If you intend to become an expert in the technologies and products promoted by these organizations, the bottom rung of their credentialing programs might be a good place to start after picking up one of the CompTIA certs and/or a couple years’ worth of experience.

It’s a little different for the veterans in the second group. You know who you are — you have the knowledge and can prove it, and you probably view a low-level certification as a waste of your time. Fortunately, many high-level credentials out there don’t have any certification prerequisites, so if you can demonstrate you have the experience, you might be able to bypass the “101” certs and skip right ahead to the hard stuff.

Of course, other credentialing programs will insist that you go through the lower-level certifications before tackling the more challenging ones, just to make sure you really know the essentials. (But hey, at least those basic certs will be a piece of cake for an IT genius like you, right?) Be sure to check with the certifying body to find out exactly what the prerequisite policies for credentials at all levels are before taking on any of them.

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