Top 10 Certifications with Staying Power
By John Hales, Global Knowledge VMware instructor, A+, Network+, CTT+, MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, MCT, VCP, VCAP, VCI, EMCSA
IT is a very fast changing industry – what is hot today may be a tiny niche market in only a few years and lesser known things may turn out to be huge trends. That having been said, there are many certifications that will be around for a long time. However, this does not imply that recertification and/or continuing education credits are not required to maintain certification. Predicting the future is always challenging, including in IT, but these certifications are good bets.
The top 10 certifications that meet this criterion (in no particular order) include the following. Note that the certifications are broad in terms of topics covered and are not all strictly IT administrator-based.
1. CompTIA A+
One of the most well-known certifications in the computer industry is the A+ credential from CompTIA, a computer IT industry association that is vendor neutral. As the entry-level certification for anyone working on computers, it covers both hardware such as desktop, laptop and mobile devices and software such as Linux, Mac OS X, Windows, iOS and Android. Originally appearing in 1993, CompTIA A+ is one of the oldest IT certifications and has been updated as the IT industry has changed. As there will always be a need for people to fix computers, provide help desk services, etc. there will always be a need for people who are A+ certified. Many vendors such as Dell and HP require their technicians to have this certification to work with them. Over 1 million people have earned this certification since it was introduced.
2. CompTIA Security+ / CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner
CompTIA has two security-related certifications: Security + and CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP). Security+ is the entry-level certification covering the basics such as system infrastructure (hosts, applications and data) and network security issues like basic cryptography, identity management, access control, and the role of assessments and audits.
The CASP exam builds on Security+, though it does not require Security+ certification. This certification extends to security issues throughout the enterprise, and adds risk management and security integration into the intersection of computing, business communications and business needs.
Security is already one of the biggest needs in IT today and with greater integration between organizations and the Internet, security is becoming an even greater concern.
With the addition of cloud computing, most organizations are even more concerned with security. Even if a business outsources most of its IT functions to a cloud service provider, most will still be concerned with security. Thus, this field is only expected to grow over time. In the Global Knowledge top paying jobs survey, security jobs have been on the list every year for many years, often with several entries. Security jobs are one of the few in IT that will continue to keep pace with cloud computing growth, while most others will probably diminish or change substantially over time. CompTIA has certified more than 45,000 people in Security+ since its inception. Many organizations use and recognize this certification including the U.S. military, Dell and Apple.
The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is also security-related and is probably the most widely known and coveted security-related certification. It is created by the nonprofit, vendor-neutral International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2. The group was founded in 1988 and released the CISSP in 1994. Many organizations and governments require staff to have this certification, making it even more sought after and valuable. Unlike many other certifications, it requires a minimum of five years of direct, full-time professional security experience that must be validated by an existing (ISC)2 certified professional. Experience must be validated in at least two of the eight areas covered by the exam. Agreement to a specific code of ethics, completing an associated criminal and related history background questionnaire and passing an exam are also required. The eight exam areas are:
• Identity and Access Management
• Communications and Network Security
• Security and Risk Management
• Software Development Security
• Security Assessment and Testing
• Security Engineering
• Security Operations
• Asset Security
For those without the requisite experience, it is possible to earn an Associate of (ISC)2 certification that can be converted to the CISSP within six years after earning the required experience.
By far, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the largest cloud provider with what is arguably the broadest set of offerings for the widest set of use cases. They have solutions for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that fill a wide range of needs including basic servers, long-term data storage, mobile application development and storing and analyzing large volumes of data. They have certifications at both the entry and professional levels and offer them on a wide variety of job tasks, from solution architects to system operation administrators, to DevOp professionals. Cloud computing is still growing at a very fast rate. The Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) is expected to grow anywhere from 30 percent to 70 percent in the next three to five years, according to various surveys. This marks a huge opportunity to learn cloud now and begin to plan for the future, whether for a public or hybrid cloud scenario. This certification made the list as it is AWS’s most popular and is an entry point to more advanced certifications.
Networking in general, and Cisco networking in particular, is something that will be around for a very long time. It’s become even more important as more and more data is moving to the cloud and more devices require connectivity, whether in wired or wireless forms. With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the proliferation of mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, networking expertise has never been more widely used and important to an organization. This is one skill that will not be replaced by the move to the cloud and every company will need at least one person with some networking skills. Larger organizations, especially those with hybrid cloud deployments, will have an even greater need for network engineers and architects.
To meet this demand, Cisco has always offered the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) as an entry-level networking certification, designed as a certification for network administrators in a small business or as a junior administrator in a larger one. Because more people need a basic level of network knowledge, Cisco has introduced the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) certification to provide entry-level proficiency on networking concepts, routing and switching, security and wireless connectivity. It is designed as a stepping stone to become a CCNA. The CCNA has been redesigned as well, providing certification in various areas of networking including routing and switching (the previous CCNA topic), security, cloud, industrial and wireless, as well as more advanced areas such as data center and service provider operations.
For those looking for more advanced certifications, Cisco offers the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) in many of the same areas as the new CCNA, and some of those same areas are available in their premiere certification the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE).
For as long as humans have been on earth, projects have existed in one form or another. Project management as a distinct discipline came into being in the 1950s. The need to manage projects effectively, spot issues, determine resource constraints, and find other problems early on created the need for project managers, and thus a need for certification around project management. While project management is not necessarily related to IT projects, it can be and thus is included here.
ITIL®, discussed next, is often closely related to project management in the IT arena. Current estimates project that over 1 million project management jobs in the U.S. alone will need to be filled each year and that this area will tend to grow even as other areas in a company are being reduced. Global Knowledge’s 2016 salary survey showed, as in years past, that project managers are paid well, as evidenced in their inclusion in the highest paying jobs list year after year.
As with CompTIA’s other certifications, Project+ is a vendor-neutral, entry-level certification that validates that an individual can create and manage a project from inception to closure, including completing projects on time and on budget. It also covers both the business and interpersonal skills that are needed to successfully managing projects. No specific work experience or other prerequisites apply.
PMI®’s Project Management Professional (PMP), on the other hand is a much more demanding and recognized certification. PMI was founded in 1969 and they created the PMP certification in 1984. Almost 700,000 people hold this certification today in 204 countries. Similarly to the CISSP, to get this certification you must have 35 hours of project management education and documented proof of either a high school diploma (or equivalent) with a minimum of 7,500 hours running projects or a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 4,500 hours running projects. After you pass a certification exam, you become PMP certified; to maintain the certification, you must earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every three years as well.
ITIL, trademarked by England’s government, was created in the 1980s to standardize IT management. It is a set of best practices for aligning IT services 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. It was formerly known as the IT Infrastructure Library because it is composed of a set of books (the number of which has varied from five to 30 over the years) but today it just goes by the acronym. Over the last 30 years, it has become the most widely used framework for IT management in the world.
Axelos, a joint venture between Capita, a business process outsourcing company, and the U.K. government’s HM Cabinet Office, now owns the standards and licenses used by authorized partners for education and training as well as certification. They define the certification tiers but leave it to the accredited partners to develop the training and certification around that framework.
From a job perspective, one could argue that Windows should be listed over Linux as an operating system to know. Windows does have a long history, but it changes every few years – and Microsoft has sped up the pace even more doing a major update roughly once a year with minor updates and new features every few weeks. There is great career potential in earning the Microsoft MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) or higher-level certifications, but they change frequently and thus need a lot of maintenance to keep current. In addition, organizations often have many versions deployed, making the process and needed certifications even more complex. In addition, as Microsoft continues to transform into a services company with an emphasis on cloud computing, knowing which certifications will be valuable in the coming years is difficult. For these reasons, the slower changing Linux certifications are discussed here.
Linux comes in many flavors, known as distributions, and is often updated as well, but the basics that the certifications mentioned here discuss evolve more slowly and are more generally applicable across distributions and versions within a distribution. The basic syntax is often used in other operating systems as well, such as the console for vSphere, so having at least some knowledge of Linux commands will provide an advantage when working in those other environments.
CompTIA offers Linux+ in association with the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) and in fact, passing the Linux+ exams (there are two, covering different Linux topics) can gain the candidate LPIC-1, the entry-level LPI certification, as well and the SUSE Certified Linux Administrator (CLA). It is vendor neutral and covers the basics that any junior level Linux administrator should have.
Red Hat® offers the RHCE certification for more senior Linux administrators; earning this requires that the candidate already possess the RHCSA (Red Hat Certified System Administrator) credential and recertify every three years. Red Hat exams are performance based, meaning that a candidate is given a live system and graded on the ability to accomplish the tasks in the exam rather than simply answer multiple-choice questions. Red Hat offers many other certifications on specific capabilities or configurations of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well. Other Linux vendors have similar certification programs as well; Red Hat is listed on this list as it is the largest Linux vendor in the corporate arena.
9. Oracle Java
Java is a very popular programming language – one of the most popular in the world in fact. It is cross platform and runs on everything from mobile phones, to car and airplane entertainment systems to PCs and Macs. It is used in writing many applications often used on websites and is the foundation of Android device applications. It has been around since 1995. There are 1 billion downloads of the platform every year and over 3 billion mobile phones alone run Java. Oracle (who has the rights to Java) has training and certification paths to help you prove your skills with Java. There are many other good programming languages and standards to learn as well, but this particular list is oriented more towards administrators than developers.
Big Data, the gathering and analysis of vast quantities of information, is a huge growth area. As an example, according to the Wikipedia article on big data, the world’s total storage capacity has doubled every 40 months or so since the 1980s. Big data’s challenges include not only how to store that much information, but how to analyze, visualize, and search it. Sample use cases of big data producers and the associated needs to use it are for live traffic information, science projects, and search engine use. It is a huge growth area – it is estimated that the worldwide demand is around 4.5 million jobs, but only about a third of them are actually filled due to the lack of people with the necessary skills and qualifications.
EMC has created technologies to store vast quantities of data for decades; they are now looking to analyze the information and provide the tools and skills to do so. The have created the EMC Data Scientist Associate (EMCDSA) certification as a way to prove that you have the skills and mindset to do this kind of work.
While the nature of IT is rapidly changing, the products, technologies and certifications listed here, however, have a long track record of value in the industry and appear to have a long life ahead. It is worth pondering what you do in IT today, where the industry is heading, and where you will be in five or 10 years. It is also worth watching the industry as a whole, and not just your particular specialty, so that you can spot changing trends early and adapt early to those changes while your particular skill set is in demand rather than trying to quickly play catch up later.
The lines between administrators, developers, security administrators, and business needs are blurring more and more, and having skills in more than one of these areas will further increase your skills and employability. As such, consider adding one or more of the certifications in areas you are not currently certified in to prepare you for the future.
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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 vSphere and View classes as well as cloud computing classes for both IBM SoftLayer and Amazon Web Services (AWS). John is also the author of many books, from involved technical books from Sybex to exam preparation books, to 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-DCV, VCP-DTM, VCAP-DCA, VCI, and VCI Level 2, AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate and Certified SysOps Administrator – Associate, the EMC EMCSA (EMC Storage Administrator), and the CompTIA A+, Network+, and CTT+. John lives with his wife and children in Sunrise, Florida.