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The Real Value of IT Certifications

by Richard Chang

If you happened to be browsing IT Jobs section on a major newspaper or famous career web site, you will easily come across one of these fancy terms MCSE, MCP, CCNA, CCNP, OCP, etc. These are all abbreviations for the hotly contested subject that we are about to discuss today - The Real Value of IT Certifications

Information systems today play a key role in nearly every business in this industrialized world. Certification training provides a blueprint for IT professionals to plan, implement and manage those information systems. Over the past couple years; the number of certified individuals has increased dramatically. For example, according to the latest figures the number of MCSE's is about to break the 400,000 barrier (if it hasn't already).

On the other hand, the number of vendors who have introduced certification for their various platforms and applications. Here's a fresh quote from the new rival of Cisco System - Juniper Networks site:

"Juniper Networks, Inc. (Nasdaq JNPR), a leading provider of Internet hardware and software systems, today announced the introduction of the Juniper Networks Technical Certification Program (TCP), the first such program tailor-made for Internet professionals in large-scale Internet Service Provider (ISP) environments." http://www.juniper.net/news/pressreleases/2001/pr-010130.html

Juniper is just the latest entry in the crowded fray of vendor certification, joining popular programs from Cisco, Microsoft, Oracle and Novell, among others. The list of vendors who offer certifications increase on an almost daily basis.

What come together with the rapid growth of the IT certification market are the questions for the real value of these IT certification.

Here are the most common ones:

1. How much should I be making if I have this certification?
2. Could I get this certification even if I am no experience at all?
3. What certification(s) should I choose?

We will go over these questions in the following sections.

How IT certifications can really help you?

  1. People with zero IT experience
    For people with zero IT experience, mostly new graduates and people who would like to switch from another field to IT. A common barrier that they will find is that most company would require work experience. Well, I understand that even a senior engineer would have to start from zero IT experience when he first started. However, in order to persuade the HR manager, a IT certification would be a great tool to use to knock down this no-experience barrier. As quick reality-check to the common question 1 posted above, you won't be making a fancy salary just because you get a certification. Be prepared to start from the entry-level IT positions and combine your work experience with what you learned from certifications. This would be the right way to built up your portfolio.
  2. For people with some IT experience
    If you already have some IT experience, one common problem people will face is the bottleneck in your career after you have been working in the same position for more than 2-3 years. In most cases, it makes the most sense to seek for an certification in the field that you are working on currently. Another nice thing for this approach is that you could ask the employer to sponsor you as these IT certifications tends to get more and more expensive. In this way, you have a great excuse to bring it to your employer's attention that you finally get the IT certification - translated to " I need a raise".

The right attitude to get that magical piece of paper
After you decided to start taking an IT certification, one thing you should keep in mind a good attitude to get that magical piece of paper. There are commercials saying that they can help you get a IT certification in 5 days even if you have no experience at all. That actually won't help you too much. Employers aren't just paying for a piece of paper, they are paying for what you can do. You must not only be able to do the job assigned; you must do it to meet high standards, within budget and on time. While paper certifications have made the whole thing much more confusing, your ability to perform the job well is still the bottom line. All the skills tested in certification exams (product knowledge, logical thinking, structured approach to problems) are necessary, and will be found helpful once you are in the real-world work environment.

Recommendations of the hot IT certifications

If you're interested in obtaining certification to give your career a boost or validate your IT skills, here are some hot programs worth considering:

  1. Cisco
    Cisco is the leader in the world of Networking. Therefore, Cisco certifications would be a great choice for anyone who would like to work with networks. You will find the certification to be helpful either in dealing with a big corporation's LAN(local area network) or configuring a WAN( wide area network) in an ISP environment. Another plus point for Cisco certifications is that Cisco does a job on keeping the quality of their exams so that certified professionals do get great level of respect in the industry. One good example would be their CCIE certification, which is almost an guarantee and 6-figure salary.

    Who should take it: Anyone who is interested in networking technologies

    Level: intermediate-hard
    URL: http://www.cisco.com/warp/public/10/wwtraining/

    Certifications Offered: CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate), CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional), CCDA (Cisco Certified Design Associate),CCDP (Cisco Certified Design Professional), CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)

  2. Oracle
    Similar to Cisco, Oracle is the leading company for their robust database product. DBA is just another hot position to take because of its high average salary. This can be proved by running a simple search on dice.com or monster.com.

    Who should take it: Anyone who feel comfortable with databases.

    Level: intermediate-hard


    Certifications Offered:
    OCP DBO Oracle Certified Professional -- Database Operator
    OCP DBA Oracle Certified Professional -- Database Administrator
    OCP AD Oracle Certified Professional -- Application Developer

  3. Microsoft
    Microsoft certifications are probably the most widely -known ones among all the IT certifications. Microsoft did an impressive job on the marketing of their certifications. One problem that comes together with the popularity is the control issue that Microsoft has to face. If we look at Microsoft's MCSE program, there are almost 400,000 IT professionals who currently hold it, with many thousands more in the pipeline. In fact, with this many MCSEs, you could argue that the MCSE is entirely too popular and that's where the term "paper MSCE" was coming from. However, Microsoft exams are perfect choices for new -comers in the IT industry since they are comparatively easier and cover a lot of the fundamental technologies. Also, because of the widely use of Microsoft products, people who have Microsoft certificates do have a bigger job pool to choose from.

    Who should take it: Anyone who have nothing against Microsoft.

    Level: basic-intermediate

    URL: http://www.microsoft.com/trainingandservices/default.asp?PageID=mcp&PageCall;

    Certifications Offered:
    MCP Microsoft Certified Professional
    MCP+I Microsoft Certified Professional+ Internet
    MCSE Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer
    MCSD Microsoft Certified Solution Developer

After all, once you decide to take IT certifications as your career option combined with the right attitude and hard study, you will surely be rewarded with all the effort that you put in. Good luck!

Other Helpful links for IT certifications:
http://www.boson.com - Probably the most popular simulation exams.
http://www.brainbuzz.com - Great place for technical documents and all sorts of interesting bulletin board.
http://www.bestwebbuys.com - A free service for you to compare book prices online, especially all certification-related books tends to be pretty expensive.
http://www.2test.com - Prometric's online exam registration site.
http://www.vue.com - Virtual University Enterprises, another choice for register exams online

Copyright Statement
Cisco®, Cisco Systems®, CCDATM, CCNATM , CCDPTM, CCNPTM, CCIETM , and the Cisco Systems logo and the CCIE logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Cisco Systems, Inc. in the United States and certain other countries. All other trademarks belong to their respective owners.

About the author:
Graduated from Claremont Graduate University, Richard Chang is working as a senior network engineer in an ISP envirionment and is currently preparing for his CCIE lab exam. Please feel free to contact him at richard@istudentcity.com if you happened to be around the LA metro area and are interested in setting up a Cisco study group.

Sources: www.Cisco.com, www.Microsoft.com, and www.Oracle.com

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