As the economy tightens, more organizations demand IT certifications in addition to industry sector experience. In terms of hiring and promotions, managers view candidate accreditations as a significant factor in their decisions. The information technology field is extremely competitive: qualifications change constantly, new standards and tools are revised, and products continually evolve. In today’s job market, certain certifications are critical for advancement, but they come at a price. ‘Demanding,’ ‘intimidating,’ even ‘scary’ are just some of the descriptors commonly attributed to more challenging certification exams.
Since it’s hard to decide which candidates are the best qualified without third-party validation (i.e., certification exams), IT workers view these titles as essential for moving ahead and gaining skill competency. Historically, it’s always been commonplace for individuals in IT to earn additional certifications in order to move up the IT ladder and obtain pay increases. Of course, the more technically knowledgeable and experienced one is, the harder the exams are. It comes down to not only knowing the content but also setting aside the time and preparation involved to successfully pass the test. With that in mind, we look at a range of IT exams that are considered the most demanding and downright scary:
The Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE) exam is legendary for intimidating test-takers the most. The CCIE is Cisco’s highest level of certification and well-known in the IT field for being one of the hardest certifications to achieve. The test includes both a written exam (one hundred questions completed in two hours) as well as an 8-hour hands-on lab practicum. To say that the lab exam is a kind of torture test might be considered hyperbole. Yet many administrators can attest to its reputation as the ultimate brain challenge and skills assessment. Test-takers must be competent enough to configure a series of networks as well as diagnose and troubleshoot a range of simple and complex problems. The CCNA exam, Cisco’s associate-level certification, is a little less daunting yet equally challenging because it represents the next level of expertise after entry-level. Divided into a number of separate technologies, the CCNA Routing and Switching exam is a particularly tough nut to crack with problems that test installation, configuration, operation, and troubleshooting of switched networks. The test has been described as more of a marathon than a sprint. It presents a thorough assessment of networking knowledge: VLANs and Trunks? Subnetting? Frame Relays? Be prepared. Be very prepared.
Continued enterprise investment in virtualization emphasizes the importance of knowledge and experience in this area. VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, and Microsoft represent the key industry virtualization players. That said, the Citrix Certified Integration Architect (CCIA) exam may be the most daunting assessment and represents the highest level of technical proficiency that Citrix offers. The exam consists of three separate written tests, a Microsoft design exam, and a 6-hour hands-on lab. Focus on the Citrix test is not meant to downplay the rigor of the VCP-510 (vSphere5) exam offered by VMware. Few actual testing details are available due to exam rules. However, the consensus on the VCP5 test is that active skill in setup and upgrades is essential in addition to administration ability, and past vSphere exams are legendary for their level of difficulty.
The important area of security has equally challenging certifications to make sure that responsible administrators truly have expertise. The Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP) exam places strong emphasis on knowing a wide array of security information and has a prerequisite of four years of security experience. It has similarities to a college entrance exam in its rigid testing protocol: registration at an authorized test site that doesn’t allow books, notes, or Internet access. Certification is automatically renewed after three years as long as you stay on top of the minimum Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits and Annual Maintenance Fee (AMF). This is recommended because anything you can do to stay away from this chilling exam is advised.
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library® (ITIL) exam offers great visibility and transparency into IT service capabilities on the part of the applicant. There are four levels of certification, and the Service Manager, or master’s certification, level is the highest and most difficult. This exam assesses how well an individual can analyze and apply ITIL management concepts to new areas. The test analyzes not only theory, practice, and experience in ITIL but also communication, negotiation and presentation skills.
The Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) is not only frightfully difficult, it’s also quite expensive. Passing this exam offers entry into an elite circle of fellow architects and, as part of the testing, it requires an in-person defense of a real-world solution predesigned by the person qualifying for the certificate. The MCA is divided into two primary paths, and, in addition to extensive pre-qualifications, the testing involves a combination of lab exams and rigorous, solution-focused interviews before a review panel of MCA-certified architects.
The importance of Unified Communications and converged IP networks as it relates to increased workforce mobility and communications is represented by the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Voice certification exam. How hard is this test? Part of the difficulty lies in understanding the number of related exams (CUCM, CCNA, Voice) that are required to simply take the CCNP Voice exam. Certification recognizes the skill of engineers to design and implement Cisco-based Unified Communications (UC) infrastructures. To that end, the exam covers everything from gateways and IP phones/applications to router utilities and switches as well as running the Cisco UC Manager. It tests advanced UC knowledge and skills required to integrate the system into underlying network architectures to create scalable, collaborative solutions.
Finally, the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam has required intense preparation over the years and continues to intimidate even the most experienced project managers. Although the test is made up of random multiple-choice questions, no method exists for guesswork — eliminating wrong answers is not the way to pass this established exam. Thorough and absolute knowledge of project management processes is essential. On the positive side, entertaining test-preparation apps and games exist to help you fine tune your knowledge and test-taking abilities. The relatively high failure rate on first attempts confirms its status as an exam not to be taken lightly.