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IT Certification: 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions

As a popular and powerful career tool, IT certification attracts a lot of interest. Interest leads to many questions. Aspiring IT professionals, experienced IT pros, and IT managers all have questions to ask.

Answers to the 5 most frequently asked questions on IT Certification should give a better understanding of what certification can and cannot do.

Which certification is the best?
Will certification get me a good job?
What is the cost of certification?
How can I get certified?
Which is better: a degree or a certification?

 

Q1. Which certification is the best?

This question assumes some certifications are better than others. Certainly some are quite popular. Popular certifications are the Oracle Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), CompTIA's A+, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Sun's Java certification. But saying a certification is the best is stretching it too far. Can you say the CCNA is better than the MCSE? Or vice versa? That would be like comparing oranges and apples. It makes no sense. Assessing the quality of a certification is best done in relation to your needs. How does the certification match your interests, your background and your career goals? How does the certification fit into your career plan (http://www.jidaw.com/careerplan.html)? A certification that is good for your career may be useless for mine. Aiming for a certification without a career plan or focus is nothing more than gambling.

Rather than focusing on popular certifications it is more profitable to attain certifications that enhance your value in line with your career ambitions. The key to IT career success is not in following the crowd but in taking charge of your career based on knowledge and your interests.

If your interest is database administration you will need to be trained and certified on a database technology, such as Oracle8i or 9i or Microsoft SQL Server. For Network Operating Systems, Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) should be considered. A+ is useful for IT newcomers and those who want to build a career in Tech Support. If your focus is in Network convergence and Network management, you should take a look at Cisco certifications.

Q2. Will certification get me a good job?

A popular variant of this question is: will certification ensure IT career success? Answering this question requires an understanding that while certification may confer advantage, it doesn't guarantee anything. It is quite unfortunate that many go into certification for the wrong reasons. Unrealistic expectations leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. Be realistic. (http://www.jidaw.com/realistic.html)

Certifications matter, but certification is only one element used in evaluating a candidate. How does the certification contribute to value? What value are you bringing to the table? Certification will be valueless if after having acquired IT certification, you cannot use it to improve on your job performance and increase an organization's productivity.

You also shouldn't equate certification with your career. Multiple certifications don't add up to a career. You don't become a network administrator simply by acquiring numerous network certifications.

Just like other education-based qualifications, IT certification is only part of the package you need. To succeed in IT you need, knowledge, attitude and experience. Certification or no certification what is your attitude towards - lifelong learning, professionalism and ethics, soft skills and career growth? What is a good job to you - fat salary or career growth?

Certification doesn't teach you ethics. But you can't get far in IT without Ethics and Professionalism.

Without some business sense and good soft skills, the usefulness of technical skills acquired through certification is of limited value. You may need to have one or more of the following soft skills: communications, teamwork, organization, leadership, sales, presentation and business. Certification is not magic! You still need to market yourself for job and career opportunities.

Q3. What is the cost of certification?

To many candidates the cost of certification is simply the cost of training, books, practice tests and exam fees. This is a common mistake. Money is only one cost of certification. How much time are you ready to commit? You need to create time for learning - to acquire knowledge, to attend class, to practice.

Nobody can learn for you. And learning is quite different from cramming. Learning enhances your career growth, cramming is for robots with no career future.

But it's not just about time and money. Even if you make out the time, how committed are you? How tight is your schedule? How will certification preparations affect your job and personal commitments? Can you make the sacrifice? Effort is a critical cost you must invest if you are to succeed. Paying for training at the best training school with world class instructors will not get you anywhere without effort.

You must make the effort. Spending time and money without effort to actually learn and practice is like trying to fill a basket with water. It makes no sense. To succeed with certification you must be self-motivated to make the effort required despite your other responsibilities and any obstacles in your path.

What you spend in terms of effort, money and time for your certification should be viewed as an investment into your career. A note of caution: your investment is for your future long term benefit. The "get-rich-quick' syndrome has no place in IT. You need to be aware of the investment required before deciding on a certification.

Q4. How can I get certified?

To get certified, many use different routes. I suggest you include these steps in your certification preparation:

  • Choose the certification based on your career needs, your resources and opportunities available to you.
  • Read and understand the objectives and requirements of the certification. You can easily get such information from the sponsor's site or IT certification sites.
  • Choose and use your learning options - training, study guides, books, hands-on experience, labs, Internet, etc. The options you choose will depend on resources and opportunities at your disposal. Instructor-led training with an organization that has a track record is usually the most effective learning option.
  • Review/practice tests. Practice makes perfect. Your exam should not be your first test. Practice well before attempting any exam. Make sure you use your practice time to get familiar with the testing format and environment. Use practice tests not for monkey-like cramming but to gauge your level of preparedness for the exam. A good practice test or lab will let you know whether you're ready for the test or not.
  • Register for the exam at a testing center.
  • Take the exam at the testing center.

Q5. Which is better: a degree or a certification?

Again the question should be: which is better for me? It all depends on your opportunities and your background - your situation. A degree is expected to develop someone intellectually and mentally and to impart the required knowledge. It also demonstrates your ability to learn diverse information.

On the other hand, certification is intended to make you proficient on a particular IT product or field. IT professionals use certification to validate their skills and knowledge in a particular area of IT. Newcomers and career changers who want to get a headstart in the IT industry often use certification. It may be enough to get you in the door, as it obviously allows you to acquire specific, valuable skills and knowledge faster than a university degree.

A lot depends upon the type of position you are seeking and the nature of the organization. At entry level, certain companies, especially small organizations, value specific experience and skills over a university degree.

However, the requirement and value of a degree goes up for high-level positions, easing the way into the top positions of computer professionals. It is usually a requirement in many top IT job openings.

The reality is that certification and solid technical experience will give you opportunities, but a lack of formal education may hinder you for certain high level jobs. This is true of most professions.

Also you should expect, that as more people get degrees and experience, there will be increased competition for jobs.

I will advise that if you don't already have a degree and you have no immediate plans for university education, you should still consider it as you grow on the job.

And most importantly, whether you choose certification or degree, this doesn't eliminate the need for lifelong learning. You can't afford to become a dinosaur (http://www.jidaw.com/dinosaur1.html). Because of the fast pace of change in IT you can't go to sleep simply because you have a degree or you've gotten certified.

I hope you have found answers to these most frequently asked questions useful. You should know there are no hard and fast rules. There is no straightjacket formula. You are in the best position to determine what works for you - it's your career!

All the best in your IT Career,

Jide Awe

Jide Awe is the Publisher of Jidaw.com.

 

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