Don’t groan but we are coming into the last few weeks of 2015, and the savvy IT professionals will already be planning their certification and career journey for next year. In 2016, IT certifications will be more important than ever as many companies struggle to hire qualified employees to plan, install and support new technologies. For those willing to put the effort in, this represents the best opportunity in IT since the late 1990s when there was a massive growth in demand for IT engineers and managers.
If any IT professional or aspiring IT professional were to ask me for advice I’d say ‘finish off any exams you are studying and then plan for 3 or 4 exams for next year.’ Work out what is interesting to you i.e. management, technical, project management and, of course, each of those can be broken down into many subcategories and areas of speciality. Then, plan out which certifications you will enjoy and be relevant for your career (i.e. marketable).
My opinion is that diversification is not a recipe for success. Knowing a bit about Microsoft Server, Cisco, NetApp etc is useful if you work for a small company but in my experience that is where you are doomed to stay if you don’t get really good at something.
If you have been reading the IT press and keeping up-to-date with current events and industry trends, then none of my hot recommendations will come as a surprise to you. Have a read and then start your planning. This list is not in order of importance.
I’ve been saying this for a long time now, but I know many people are trying to avoid it like the band playing on the Titanic as the ship sinks. Sooner than you think, your IPv4 knowledge will have gone the same way as IPX. If you leave it too late, then you will serve no useful purpose to any technical IT department.
IPv6 certification is surprisingly patchy to say the least. Most are theory only and server based and somewhat light on information. You need to understanding addressing, planning, designing, configuring and troubleshooting. This includes all IPv6 routing protocols. If you want to be in project management, compliance or sales then you just need a basic understanding.
Consider the Certified IPv6 Network Associate course that is industry leading.
2. Amazon AWS
I wrote a recent blog post about the massive success of Amazons cloud computing model. It has also spawned an entirely new career path for which there is currently a massive shortfall.
Moving to Amazons cloud-based model offers huge savings to most companies and well as eliminating all the headaches associated with physical security, power supplies, redundancy, compliance, and backups.
Even world class hosting companies such as Page.ly have moved their entire infrastructure to Amazon because of the massive performance benefits they offer.
Start with the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate that covers all the basics and it's a very rewarding course to take.
3. Network Designer
Nothing much will happen without the network designer, and yet this is an often forgotten role. Network designers are typically paid 20-30% more than the support and installation engineers. They are required even for small business networks. Network designers must understand IPv6, security, routing, voice, wireless, VPN, E-commerce as well as the future needs of the company.
Network design is one of the most exciting, challenging and rewarding careers open and roles include junior designer up to senior network architect.
This month, Cisco updated the syllabus for the Cisco CCDA and CCDP exams. You have until December to pass the current versions of the exams. Otherwise you need to take the new exams that have added 15% new content and removed around 15% of the out-of-date material.
Our new CCDA and CCDP exam videos will be live on the website next week.
4. IT Service Management/Delivery
There is still the image of the IT team consisting of a couple of geeks working out of the company basement. I’m not sure if that myth will ever die in fact.
Service management allows a company to align its organizational strategy with its IT infrastructure. It covers service delivery, change, and problem management and is a crucial part of any reasonable sized companies IT department.
Service management is what links the business needs with the technology available and how the IT department carries out its role.
Most IT departments expect engineers to have at least a basic understanding of Service Management/Delivery so that all departments understand the processes and how they fit in. The best course to start is the internationally recognized ITIL Foundation.
5. Network Security
There are many specialized areas you can consider in IT such as voice and wireless and up until fairly recently even cloud and security were considered the same way. As you know, things have changed dramatically and now not only is security a core IT function but every company employee is expected to know how to avoid downloading Trojans and other threats.
6. Cloud Engineer
I’ve mentioned Amazon already and although they are the biggest there are several other big hitters out there offering valuable and marketable cloud based certifications.
If you are new to cloud computing and want to understand the terminology, technology as well as the business benefits, consider the CompTIA Cloud Essentials. If you want to look at vendor specific, then consider the NetApp Certified Storage Associate (NCSA) or the brand new Cisco CCNA Cloud.
All of this is my opinion, of course, but it is based upon 15 years in the IT industry working at all levels from helpdesk up to CEO. Take stock of where you want to be in 2016 with your IT career, make an informed choice and then put in some hard work. A career in IT means being dedicated to always learning new things.