Which are the most important and useful certifications in IT? Here's my list of the top seven.
In a blog I posted here last month, I discussed how IT certifications generally fall short of the EIT and PE used in other engineering disciplines. In the message board discussion that followed, one reader pointed out TechRepublic's list of the 10 most practical, in-demand certifications. That's just one of many such lists out there, most of which have the same shortcomings: They're not of much help for those going for their first certifications because they don't discuss specific pros and cons.
Given the fact that my ideal certification is not going to happen anytime soon, here's my own list of today's top IT certifications, and where I think they are most appropriate.
Entry Level: When hiring someone just starting out, I'd choose a technician with an IT-related college degree over someone with only a certification. However, for those without a college degree, the CompTIA A+/Network+ certifications do show a level of understanding that can set an individual apart from others.
Systems Administration/Infrastructure: For the most part, the certifications that most companies like to see in this area are vendor-specific. Many companies will specify the MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional) or, for Linux-based environments, the RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer). While either of these can be worthwhile, the certification that currently sets one apart is the VMware Certified Professional (VCP). Virtualization is a strong requirement in nearly all enterprise IT departments, right now, and VMware's products are a leading choice.
Network Administration/Engineering: Here, too, certifications tend to be vendor-specific. In my experience, however, the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) provides the most flexibility. The CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) no longer sets you apart from the competition, and given its prevalence in the industry, enterprise IT managers tend to accept the CCNP regardless of the vendor used in an enterprise's network environment. I also like how the CCNP has evolved to include a troubleshooting component, somewhat realistic simulators, and specializations for voice, routing/switching, and wireless.
Security: The CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) is becoming an industry standard. Not being vendor-specific, it translates better across environments than others like the CSSA (Certified SonicWALL Security Administrator) or the CCNP Security.
Service Management: There are a number of frameworks and certifications available for service management, but ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) has the largest acceptance. Government agencies like the UK's Office of Government Commerce, the originator of ITIL, are not known for efficiency, and my concern with ITIL is that it can become burdensome and push processes to the point of negative returns. Still, most organizations will benefit from using the ITIL model as a foundation and implementing the majority of this framework.
IT Managers: All IT managers from team leads to the CIO can benefit from Lean Six Sigma. It focuses on removing waste, and that translates into process improvement, efficiency, and reduced costs. Admittedly, employers are more likely to favor this certification at the director level or higher, but it can certainly help all managers to stand out from the crowd.
IT Professionals: The PMP (Project Management Professional) is gaining a wide acceptance in many industries, including IT, and for good reason. Projects have a tendency to go over schedule and over budget without delivering expected results. While the PMP is not specific to IT, it follows a model that I'd like to see many more certifications use: Not only does the PMP "teach" correct project management principles, but it also requires experience and continuing education. Regardless of their areas of expertise, nearly all IT professionals end up managing projects at some point in their careers.
What are your thoughts? How does my list of certifications compare to yours? Any others you think should be added to the list?