In the early days of IT, there were no certifications. The IT person was the geek in the basement who used to work in accounting and volunteered to maintain the mainframe because he didn’t like talking to people.
As time moved on companies such as Microsoft and Novell created certifications. You could pass a certificate such as the MCSE and make a career out of it or even not bother at all and just rely on your experience.
Fast forward 22 years and things have changed dramatically. You have about as much chance of getting a role in IT without certifications as you do becoming a pilot without passing the flying exams. Experience or not, you need that piece of paper. Many vendors will not offer a warranty if the people installing and configuring their equipment aren’t qualified to do so.
IT has moved from the basement to a critical business function. While the old guard is still complaining to anyone who will listen that experience is what counts and certifications are meaningless; everyone else has moved on and embraced change. We can no longer rely on solely on our experience or avoid integrating with the rest of the company. The IT person is involved in every aspect of the business and so needs to have technical, people and project skills (or be shown the door).
Your IT career requires careful thought and planning if you are to get the most out of it. You need to have a strategy of where you want to be and how to get there. You need to have some way to stand out from your peers, and one of the best ways to do this demonstrates your ambition and commitment by regularly passing IT certifications.
Doing this keeps you sharp, relevant as well as increasing your knowledge, skills, and marketability. I experienced this first hand when I started my first IT role on a helpdesk. Most of my colleagues didn’t bother with exams or maybe took one a year. I was desperate to get into networking so passed an exam roughly every 6 to 8 weeks. I passed MCSE modules, CCNA, CompTIA Network+ and so on.
Sure, I failed a few along the way, but I didn’t tell anybody, so it was only me who knew. After a few exams the bosses started making comments, and after I had got my CCNA, I was taken off the helpdesk 6 months early and put onto the networking team.
I recommend you aim to pass an IT certification exam every 12 weeks roughly. That’s over 90 days per exam which is plenty of time for most. Some, such as the CCNP consist of three exams, but in order to attain the CCDP, you only need to pass one more. Others, such as the MTA exams by Microsoft you can pass with a few hours worth of study, so it all balances out.
Depending on your career goals you might want to mix technical with IT business or project skills such as ITIL or Project Management. A good network engineer understands TCP/IP (including IPv6), routing, Cloud, Virtualization and security as a minimum. This would mean you are taking exams such as the Cisco CCNA, Amazon AWS, CompTIA Security+ and VMware (for example). Passing the basic certs in all of these is around 9-12 months work depending upon your current level.
If you were armed with these certifications, you would be a big asset to any network team or have the skills to go freelancing for sure. Many of the freelancers I worked with barely had one certificate.
So, I strongly recommend you choose four exams to pass this year. If you have already started, then you are ahead of the curve. If you haven’t then chosen a really easy one for the first because we are already well into the year. Choose the Microsoft MTA OS or Server. Put 1-2 hours in per day and put the exam date into your diary.
Doing all this requires a bit of sacrifice but since the average person spends 5 hours per day watching TV, surfing the web, posting on Facebook, etc. It’s fair to say that with a bit of searching, we can all make the time if we really see the value in the activity.