If you’re here at the beginning of your IT career odds are you’re already asking yourself, “What certification should I get?”  With so many vendors and certifying bodies all vying for your time and money, it is important to understand what you should, and should not prioritize.

A word on who this article is NOT for:

This article is not for anyone with years of experience in IT.  You already know what certification you need next.  If your company just dropped $400,000 to replace their aging Cisco equipment with Juniper, obviously you should get Juniper certified.  If your only Linux administrator is about to retire, Red Hat certifications are great!

For those of you still reading, I highly recommend that your first certification is an entry level vendor neutral certification.  A great example is CompTIA’s A+ certification.  CompTIA’s certifications are widely held and recognized by employers worldwide.  The certification itself consists of two tests that cost $199 each.

Why Start with Vendor-Neutral?

Consider the following, Dick is looking to enter the IT field and wants to specialize in networking.  He spends one year formally training to become a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).  However, when Dick earns his certification and start applying for jobs, he finds that most employers require 5 or more years of IT experience for network administration roles.  When Dick finds an available position, he’s often competing against people who hold the same certification he does, but have years of experience.

Jane is also looking to begin an IT career and also believes that she would like to work in networking.  Rather than starting with a CCNA, she chooses to spend a few weeks training for an A+, and invests in test preparation courses. Afterward, Jane finds several entry-level jobs available in her local job market.  While on the job, she works closely with the networking team.  Her employer’s education reimbursement program pays for her test preparation and exams for the CCNA.  Once she’s certified, Jane’s experience makes her the natural choice to promote to the next opening on the networking team.


When to Consider Vendor-Specific Certifications

Starting with vendor-neutral certifications is a fantastic way to get a leg up on other entry level candidates.  Once you have some experience, know where you want your career to go, and understand the career demand in your area, then it’s time to go for vendor-specific certifications.

When else should you consider gong vendor-specific?

  • Your employer is paying for it
  • You’ve been working with a vendor and need to become certified for warranty or support reasons
  • Compliance purposes
  • You need to build skills in a related but distinctly different field; for example, you’re already great with PC’s but need to demonstrate proficiency with Mac OS

When NOT to Consider Vendor-Specific Certifications

There are also some terrible reasons to go vendor-specific, including:

  • “All” CCNAs make a lot of money
  • Becoming Avaya certified will guarantee me a job
  • You think a certification will teach you everything you need to know about an area of specialty
  • You don’t know what else to do, so you figure you will test the waters

Is Vendor Neutral Always Best?

Unfortunately, like most of life, there aren’t any silver bullet recommendations here. There are some points in your career that you’ll want to avoid vendor-neutral certifications, including:

  • When you are expected to be a subject matter expert.
  • Your employer has standardized on a specific technology. g. your company is deploying Bluecoat web filtering.
  • You need to become certified to maintain preferred status with a vendor. Dell, for example, allows self-dispatching of replacement parts, if you hold their certification.

Final Advice

Whatever certifications & IT path you choose, here’s my biggest piece of advice: once you’ve started towards a specific certification, STICK WITH IT!  One actual certification is far better than three that you’ve started studying for.  Pace yourself and know that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

If you’d like to learn more about getting started with your future IT career, contact ONLC today!


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