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Six Scary IT Certification Exams

By John Hales, Global Knowledge VMware instructor, A+, Network+, CTT+, MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, VCP, VCAP, VCI, EMCSA

With October and Halloween come thoughts of scary things, like scary movies, scary costumes, and for me, scary IT certifications. The certifications aren't scary like a movie of course. They're scary because of the difficulty of obtaining them. Never fear. Global Knowledge has the training, experts, and resources to help you get there.

Certifications are the most common way in IT to prove you have the skills to solve various technical and business challenges. In this article, I'll address a range of skill sets. For each certification listed, I've included what the certification measures, the requirements to obtain it, and how many people have it. Certifications are listed according to the number of people who hold them, from most to fewest worldwide as of October 2014.


6. Project Management Professional (PMP®)

The PMP certification is created and administered by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) and is the most recognized project management certification available. There are more than 600,000 active PMPs in more than 180 countries worldwide.

The PMP exam tests five areas relating to the lifecycle of a project: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The PMP certification is for running any kind of project, and it is not specialized into sub-types, such as manufacturing, construction, or IT. Other certifications that are more specific to IT project management, such as ITIL or SCRUM, are available.

To become PMP certified, you must have 35 hours of PMP-related training plus 7,500 hours of project management experience if you have less than a bachelor's degree. If you have a bachelor's degree or higher, you must have the 35 hours of PMP-related training plus 4,500 hours of project management experience.

Cost of the PMP exam ranges from $250 to $555, depending on whether your company is a PMI member, you take the computer- or paper-based exam, and this is your first attempt or a subsequent attempt after a failure. You get three tries to pass, and there is an extra fee for every attempt after the first.

PMP certification has been around since 1984 - it's the oldest certification on this list! Earning PMP certification can be a great way to move from a more technical track into more of a management track, and usually brings in more money as well.

Learn more about PMP certification at:


5. Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP certification is administered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2. It proves one's knowledge of 10 domains of IT security:

  • Access Control
  • Telecommunications and Network Security
  • Information Security Governance and Risk Management
  • Software Development Security
  • Cryptography
  • Security Architecture and Design
  • Operations Security
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning
  • Legal, Regulations, Investigations, and Compliance
  • Physical (Environmental) Security

To obtain CISSP certification, you must not only pass the exam (cost is $599), but also have at least five years of full-time, paid experience in at least two of the ten domains. If you have a college degree, only four years of experience is required. After passing the exam, you must also sign a form indicating that you will abide by the (ISC)2 Code of Ethics and get an endorsement from a (ISC)2 certified individual.

Once certified, you must recertify every three years. Over that three-year period, you must earn 120 Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits, with a minimum of twenty credits earned per year. Finally, there is an $85 maintenance fee required every year as well.

There are currently 94,972 CISSPs in the world. They are typically security administrators, architects, and/or auditors, and they may also be involved in other phases of network or product security.

Details on the CISSP are available at:

4. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

Created in 1993, CCIE certification is one of the oldest and most well-known top-tier IT certifications. The CCIE used to be a single certification, but now several "tracks" or areas of specialization are part of the CCIE family. The current active areas are:

To obtain CCIE certification, you must pass a written exam as well as an eight-hour, performance-based, hands-on exam. The written exam costs $400, and the hands-on practical costs $1,600.

It appears Cisco doesn't publish the number of professionals who are CCIE certified. Though estimates vary across the Web, my research indicates that there are nearly 14,500 CCIEs worldwide, including those with active, inactive, and suspended status. Less than three percent of those certified by Cisco and less than one percent of all certified networking professionals are CCIE certified.

The CCIE Data Center demonstrates expert knowledge of implementing and troubleshooting many data center technologies, including OS, virtualization, networking for cloud computing, and security. An in-depth knowledge of IP routing is not required, but deep knowledge of Layer 2 and 3 networking is. Currently, there are only 235 of these individuals.

You can find details about the CCIE at:


3. VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX)

Like the CCIE, VCDX has several specialization tracks, including Data Center Virtualization, Cloud, or Desktop. To become a VCDX, you must first earn the relevant VCP, VCAP Administration, and VCAP Design certifications. You must submit an application for the VCDX, and once it passes VMware review, you pay a fee and attend an in-person defense of your design by a panel of VCDX-certified experts. Defense meetings are offered a few times a year in only a few locations worldwide.

VMware has a flowchart [PDF] showing this process.

The cost of VCDX certification (not including the prerequisite certifications) is $300 for the application fee and $900 for the defense fee, plus any travel required to get to the location you choose for the defense.

There are currently 185 VCDX-certified professionals in the world. You can check out short bios and photos of most of them here.

You can find details on all of the VCDX certification tracks at:


2. ITIL v3 Master

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL®) was created by England's government in the 1980s to standardize IT management. It is a set of best practices for aligning the services IT provides with the needs of the organization. It is broad based, covering everything from availability and capacity management to change and incident management, in addition to application and IT operations management.

ITIL standards are owned by AXELOS, a joint venture company created by the Cabinet Office on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and Capita plc, but they have authorized partners who provide education, training, and certification. The governing body defined the certification tiers, but they leave it to the accredited partners to develop the training and certification around that framework.

ITIL Foundation is the entry-level certification and provides a broad-based understanding of the IT lifecycle and the concepts and terminology surrounding it.

The ITIL Expert certification builds on ITIL Foundation certification. To become an ITIL Expert, you must pass the ITIL Foundation exam as well as the capstone exam, Managing Across the Lifecycle. Along the way, you will earn ITIL Intermediate certifications of your choosing in any combination of the Lifecycle and Capability tracks. You must earn at least 22 credits, of which Foundation accounts for two and the Managing Across the Lifecycle exam counts for five. The other exams count for three each (in the Intermediate Lifecycle track) or four each (in the Intermediate Capability track) and can be earned in any order and combination, though the official guide suggests six recommended options. The guide is available at by clicking on the English - ITIL Qualification Scheme Brochure link.

To become an ITIL Master, you must already hold the Expert certification and have at least five years of experience in IT service management at a leadership, managerial, or higher level. You must submit your resume and a proposal for becoming an ITIL Master. If approved, you will submit a work package, and if that is accepted, you will have an interview with a panel of experts, similar to the VCDX. The fee to apply for ITIL Master certification (after earning all the prerequisite certifications) is $4,000. There are currently 36 ITIL Masters in the world.

For information on ITIL in general, please refer to Exams for certification are run by ITIL-certified exam institutes. You can find a list of them at


1. Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

The highest-level Cisco design expert is the CCAr. To become a CCAr, you must first earn the Cisco Certified Design Expert (CCDE) certification. There are currently 192 CCDEs in the world. Becoming a CCDE (after earning several lower-level certifications) requires passing a written exam (costing $400) and a practical exam (costing an additional $1,600). The practical exam is only scheduled a few times per year and at certain locations. Details on the CCDE is available at:

There is no formal training for the CCAr. A project is required. The cost of the certification process is $15,000, paid in two parts. The first part is $3,750 and covers the cost of reviewing your credentials and conducting the initial review (similar to the VCDX). If you pass this part, you must pay the remaining $11,250 to schedule your defense in front of a live board, again similar to the VCDX. There are currently 10 CCAr-certified professionals in the world. This makes it a very exclusive group to be sure!

Find more information on the CCAr certification at:



As you can see, the more exclusive the group of people, the more difficult to join and usually the more expensive to get certified. However, being in such an exclusive club almost guarantees lots of work - and high-paying work at that. While these exams may seem scary at first, they can be achieved and you can increase your job prospects (and paycheck) as you earn them. Good luck!


About the Author

John Hales, VCP, VCP-DT, VCAP-DCA, VCI, is a VMware instructor at Global Knowledge, teaching most of the vSphere classes that Global Knowledge offers, including the View classes. John is also the author of many books, including involved technical books from Sybex, exam preparation books, and many quick reference guides from BarCharts, in addition to custom courseware for individual customers. His latest book on vSphere is entitled Administering vSphere 5: Planning, Implementing and Troubleshooting. John has various certifications, including the VMware VCA-DCV, VCA-DT, VCA-Cloud, VCP, VCP-DT, VCAP-DCA, VCI, and VCI Level 2; the Microsoft MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, and MCT; the EMC Storage Administrator (EMCSA); and the CompTIA A+, Network+, and CTT+. John lives with his wife and children in Sunrise, FL.