Specializations in Networking

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Networking remains one of the most popular job functions within information technology: According to CertMag’s 2004 Salary Survey, the highest percentage of respondents worked as network administrators, network engineers and systems administrators. This popularity is reflected in industry needs: In Robert Half Technology’s most recent IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, 81 percent of CIOs said that expertise in Microsoft Windows was the most-needed technical skill in their organization. But with so many networking professionals to compete with in the job market (and within your own organization for advancement), how can you get ahead?


Finding specialized niches within the networking function could be your ticket to a more responsibility, greater knowledge and skills, and a fatter paycheck. Security and wireless technologies, for example, call for specific expertise that might not be found in just any IT professional. Another option is to specialize within different industries that have a high need for IT experts with particular knowledge.


Networking Niches
The IT Hiring Index and Skills Report ranked wireless skills as third-most-needed, with nearly half of CIOs naming it as a need in their organizations. Growth in wireless technologies calls for IT network professionals with skills in the wired and the wireless world.


Training for and earning wireless certifications, such as those from Planet3 Wireless and Cisco, can help you prove your expertise in this area. The Cisco Qualified Specialist program offers a couple of options: Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist and Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist. (For more information, see www.cisco.com/go/certification.) Planet3 Wireless’ Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program includes several well-respected certifications as well, including the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA), Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP), Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP) and Certified Wireless Networking Expert (CWNE). (For more information, see www.cwnp.com.)


With threats from outside and inside the organization still on the rise, security remains an important discipline within the networking function. Many organizations offer security training, as well as certifications to help you refine and then prove your skills and knowledge. To get started in this area, try CompTIA’s Security+ certification. (For more information, see www.comptia.org.)


Another option, particularly for those of you who are working toward your Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) certifications, is to add the Security designation to that credential—MCSE: Security. To do this, you’ll need to pass five core exams plus three specialized security exams. (For more information, see www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/mcse/security/windowsserver2003.asp.)


Cisco also offers security designations. Its Cisco Certified Security Professional (CCSP) emphasizes perimeter security, virtual private networks and intrusion protection to prove you can secure and manage the network infrastructure. If you want to prove that you’re at the absolute top of the heap when it comes to network security, you can take this one step further and earn the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) in Security. There are also several credentials within the Cisco Qualified Specialist program, including Cisco Firewall Specialist, Cisco IDS Specialist and Cisco VPN Specialist. (For more information, see www.cisco.com/go/certification.)


Vendor-independent certifications are a good option in the security realm, particularly for professionals whose organizations rely on a variety of vendors’ products to run their networks and secure their information. The SANS Institute’s Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) program offers quite a few specialized credentials. (For more information, see www.giac.org.) Also, check out the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2, which offers highly respected certifications for security specialists. (For more information, see www.isc2.org.) Finally, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) provides certifications for those who want to audit or manage information security. (For more information, see www.isaca.org.)


Other niches within networking, such as messaging and voice, also are supported by specialized certifications from various organizations, including Cisco, Microsoft and more.


Another way to ensure you’re needed is to build your expertise around the systems and practices used within a specific industry. The finance, insurance and real estate sector was tops in the IT Hiring Index and Skills Report, with 39 percent of CIOs in that industry planning to add IT staff, and only 3 percent planning cutbacks. According to Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director of Robert Half Technology, much of the growth in this industry sector is driven by recent corporate governance regulations that place a heavy importance on the internal control of information. Security and data management knowledge are of particular importance in this industry, with Sarbanes-Oxley hanging over these organizations’ heads, requiring them to keep impeccable records of the data that flows in and out, as well as ensuring that data’s security.


Similarly, the health care field calls for specialized knowledge due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Health care organizations also employ unique technologies, so getting on board early and working your way up the IT ladder will provide you with opportunities within this industry for years to come.


If you have a different love—whether it’s education, manufacturing or something else entirely—make yourself an expert in the various technologies, best practices, policies, rules and regulations that make IT work in that sector.


By finding your niche—through specialized skills within networking or through industry-specific knowledge and expertise—you only increase your value to your existing or potential employer.


Emily Hollis is managing editor of Certification Magazine. She can be reached at ehollis@certmag.com.

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