If you’ve spent most of your tech career as a generalist but have a passion for a certain technology, or a flare for some specialty and want to move ahead you should investigate potential certification programs.
Getting certified in a specific technology, whether it’s Cisco networking or Microsoft administration, can boost your career both in your current job and future opportunities as it validates you have a solid knowledge of the technology.
The Foote Partners Hot Technical Skills and Certifications Pay Index surveys tens of thousands of technology professionals in the US and Canada. The research tracks the “tech skills pay” that techies receive as part of their overall compensation; the survey covers both certifications and noncertified skills.
For 2006, the survey found pay premiums increasing for certifications in Web development (up 3.6 percent), but declining for certifications in databases (down 4.6 percent), project management (down 2.7 percent), system administration and engineering/network operating systems (down 1.9 percent), and applications and programming languages (down 3.6 percent).
Yet some certifications that continued to have traction earned Foote Partners’ “top performers” label. These included the Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Novell Certified Linux Engineer, Microsoft Certified Solution Developer, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert and Red Hat Certified Engineer.
While becoming certified in a particular skill may not generate a premium in your pay, you may still need the certification to get the job.
“Certifications show potential employers that an individual is familiar with a particular technology or practice and provide them with extra assurance of expertise in the areas listed on a resume,” says Katherine Spencer Lee, executive director at staffing firm Robert Half Technology.
Yet Lee also echoes Foote’s thoughts on what really matters to employers. “As valuable as certifications can be in differentiating IT professionals, there is no substitute for experience,” she says. “A strong track record of consistently delivering IT projects on time and on budget, for example, is the type of attribute that hiring managers seek most.”
Supply and demand may also play a role in determining what a certification is worth on the job market. Jim Henderson, who writes a blog on certification and serves as the global manager of instructor programs at Novell, says that if too many people hold a certification, that certification may become a commodity and lose value.
“Being one of a million is a way of getting your foot in the door,” he says. “Being one in a million is a way to actually get the job.” Noting that his views are his own and do not reflect Novell’s official position, he adds, “If a certification sets a high bar, then it helps you stand out from the pack.”
Here’s a quick look at some certification programs in play:
Oracle’s certification program might entertain a new motto: "Not just for database pros anymore. The company offers certifications for a variety of job roles, matching the wide-ranging offerings of the company itself, from application software to development tools. For IT professionals working with Oracle products, the company’s multifaceted technology translates into a broad spectrum of certifications for database administrators, software developers, analysts, Web administrators and others.
Primary Oracle Certifications
Oracle Certified Associate (OCA): The associate credential is designed for IT professionals beginning to work with Oracle. Typically, OCAs will already have acquired the foundation of knowledge for their work as Web administrators, database administrators and developers. Oracle views the OCA credential as an appropriate starting point for techies early in their careers. Oracle Certified Professional (OCP): OCPs generally have achieved a degree of experience and success in their careers. For example, developers may have demonstrated their expertise by managing a large-scale Oracle database or developing applications used throughout a company. This credential is seen as a way to move on to senior-level positions.
Oracle Certified Master (OCM): The OCM credential can be summed up in a single word: Guru. OCMs, whether database pros or developers, are crucial members of IT departments who handle mission-critical projects and tasks. The OCM credential significantly raises the bar for certification with its hands-on testing, according to an article in Oracle Magazine, a company publication. The OCM is Oracle University’s response to the industry’s need to effectively test candidates on their ability to perform in a real-world, live application environment and is a test of both knowledge and experience, the article notes.
Oracle’s certifications are typically tied to specific products and releases. Deciding which certification path to choose depends largely upon what Oracle technology you will be working with, whether Oracle Database 10g, Oracle9i Forms Developer, Oracle Application Server 10g, Oracle9i Database, Oracle Forms 6i Developer or Oracle9i Application Server. An Oracle-produced guide offers advice on the steps to becoming certified by Oracle.
Among the certifications available for computer professionals, A+ is probably the one cited most often as a starting point for careers in information technology (IT). More than 260,000 people have received A+ certification, viewing it as a way to find jobs as computer service technicians or to gain enough skills to move on to further training.
Sponsored by CompTIA, an industry organization, A+ certifies skills in entry-level PC technology. It is a vendor-neutral certification, with an emphasis on the expertise needed to work as a computer service technician, troubleshooting and repairing PCs.
But the question is whether A+ certification is an appropriate starting point for all IT careers. The answer is it’s not.
The IT world is vast, with an astounding variety of jobs available, from tech support personnel to programmers. These jobs require different skills, training and experience. Will A+ help you find a job in tech support or servicing computers? It will. Will it help you find a job as a Java programmer? That’s unlikely. Before you sign up for an A+ certification course, be sure it’s an appropriate credential for your career goals.
A+ certification programs typically focus on the skills required for entry-level PC technicians. Students learn about installing, configuring, upgrading and repairing PCs. At New Horizons, the IT training company, a five-day or 10-day course includes instruction in computer architecture, memory, modems, printers, hard disk setup and operating system optimization.
No courses are needed to receive A+ certification. The A+ exam is available from Prometric and VUE. The certification exam actually consists of two tests – one focusing on core hardware technologies, the other on operating systems. For people who already have experience with PC troubleshooting, or have a lot of self-motivation, self-study with a book about A+, such as the A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide by Michael Meyers, may be the route to passing the exam.
CompTIA views the certification as a credential for technicians with six months of experience. Individuals with A+ certification may find jobs installing, repairing and configuring PCs, or working in technical support positions.
Project Management Certifications
Database pros and networking gurus who make the leap into project management may think they won’t have to cram for certification exams anymore. But project managers seek out certifications, too, such as the demanding Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). About 181,000 individuals have received PMP certification worldwide, and more than 12,000 of them work in information technology.
Earning the PMP credential is a rigorous process, requiring three to five years of industry experience plus continuing education to maintain certification. Stringent standards like these translate into widespread recognition for PMPs.
Unlike many other certifications, the PMP has tough eligibility criteria: A bachelor’s degree and 4,500 hours of project-management experience are required with at least three years of experience in the past six years. Candidates who do not hold a bachelor’s degree must have 7,500 hours of experience with five years in project management over the past eight years.
Thirty-five hours of project-management education via university programs, company-sponsored programs or distance learning.
The PMP process doesn’t end with the exam. PMPs must earn 60 professional development units-typically, 60 hours of project-management learning and professional service-every three years. PMPs who work in IT may want to distinguish themselves further with IT-related “certificates of added qualification”: IT systems exam tests knowledge of development tools, storage devices, software capabilities, security issues and other issues. IT networking exam tests knowledge of project life-cycle models, legal requirements, security issues and network types. More junior members of project teams may want to pursue the Certified Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential. Like the PMP, there are eligibility criteria: A bachelor’s degree and 1,500 hours of project-management experience with at least two years of experience in the three years. Candidates who do not hold a bachelor’s degree must have 2,500 hours of experience. Twenty-three hours of project-management education.
So what’s your take on the value of certification today? Have you traveled that educational path? If so share your experiences and insight with your peers.