Selecting Certs to Match a Career Path

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Dear Techie,

I am currently working as a help desk analyst for a large company. I am A+ and MCP WIN2K certified. I plan to begin grad school for my MBA. Until then, I want to gather all the certs that I can. Would a database or Cisco path benefit me?

– Jeffrey Clark

Ken Wagner:

You’re currently doing Level 1 IT support (help desk) and you’ve attained two entry-level professional certifications, but you also state that you’re planning to do your MBA, so I’m taking it that you wish to leave the technical side of IT and go into the business side.

If this is the case, there are several options that I would recommend to you. I urge you to look at Microsoft’s new MCAS and MCAP credentials. These are Microsoft’s new range of business certifications, concentrating less on the technical side of IT and more on the business operations. As for doing a couple of Cisco and database certificates, it wouldn’t hurt to do the entry-level ones.

The CCENT is an excellent entry certificate from Cisco, and likewise, the CMA credential from MySQL is a good starting point, as you only need to pass one exam. Other certifications that may interest you, as well as be more beneficial to you than the database or Cisco ones, would be CompTIA’s Project+ or the other project management certifications from PMI.

However, if you wish to stay on the technical side of IT, then I would recommend doing a different post-graduate degree — one that is more relevant. There are several other master’s degrees to choose from, like a master’s in computer science, a master’s in networking and Internet systems or a master’s in human computer interaction.

There are some universities that accept professional certifications as part of their degree programs. But, don’t do every professional certification out there, as they can be costly, and your university may not accept them as credit on your degree program. Set your goals. If it’s the actual network you want to work with, then going down the Cisco route would benefit you. And as your studies and job roles mature, you can work your way up to the CCIE. The same thing applies if you want to work with Microsoft or Apple technology, etc.

Wayne Anderson:

Given that you have a position currently, and your long-term focus is on furthering your education, I would focus on certifications that will credential the experience and education you have and set you up to grow in your current career path. At present, you have indicated that you have obtained a couple of entry-level certifications working with computer hardware and the basics of the Microsoft Windows Server 2000 operating system.

In your situation, I would be looking to do two things through focused certification investment: update and expand. Given that you are in a help desk position, you will want to start to focus on the gap between where you are now and what you need to move to a network administrator position. To do that, you will need to add credentials in networking and server backgrounds. As your current focus is on the Microsoft space, your certification goals need to lean in that direction as well in order to be effective.

Start with the CompTIA Network+. The Network+ credential is another entry-level credential that will provide the basics of how to communicate in a modern network environment. In order to prepare for the Network+, you will need to prove your familiarity with modern communications protocols (including, specifically, the underlying TCP/IP stack) as well as common networking hardware elements. The Network+ should provide a base upon which you can start to build some of your more Microsoft-focused certification efforts, particularly when you later begin to look at network-based infrastructure services like DNS and DHCP.

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.

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