Using Certifications To Pave Your Way in IT

April 2016


Only the most novice entrants into the information technology job market genuinely believe that acquiring a certification provides you with everything you need to know about the topic that certification covers. On the job training and the knowledge that comes only from experience are the most vital ingredients in workplace success.

The truth is, learning how to learn is the biggest key to getting ahead in any technology field. The fast pace of change ensures that whatever you learned about your job yesterday is probably going to be obsolete by tomorrow. The only way to get ahead is to stay current. 

Certifications play their own role in this process. The most valuable certifications aren't simply an assessment of your knowledge of the subject matter. Instead, they provide a baseline education in how to approach the subject. The knowledge is foundational; the real education is in how you learn it.

Many certification tracks have this concept built in. The progression of Microsoft and Cisco certifications, for instance, use each step of certification to build toward the next. This same sort of progression can be used by any IT professional to build their career track. Many new entrants into IT begin with basic technical certification... a CompTIA A+, MCITP (Microsoft Certified Information Technology Professional), or a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate). Each of these can help candidates get their foot in the door in a competitive market.

But what then? It's true that each of these certifications have an advancement track that you can follow. But does it really help your career to stay in the same silo for continuing education? In most cases, the answer is "no." Advancement will come with diversity and experience. The experience will develop your expertise in your field. Certifications, then, are the place to find the diversity.

The best certifications for this purpose are those that are outside your current areas of expertise. Your perceived weaknesses, seen through the eyes of hiring managers and supervisors, will tend to be the business functions you do not perform regularly.

So, for example, if you are a developer, your best option for follow-on certifications might be the PMP (Project Management Professional) or Certified Scrum series. Neither are directly related to coding. Both will provide you with credentials which are closely related to the development process. To any human resources professional looking for a well-rounded candidate, your credentials will stand out from the pack.

Or say you are a system administrator. You have your A+, a handful of Microsoft technical certifications, maybe a CCNA. What's your next step? Climb the Microsoft or Cisco certification ladder? Perhaps. But if you want to build your credentials toward a management role, what you should really be looking into are certifications such as the PMP, or Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO), or anything security related. Those are all fields where IT managers invest a lot of energy, but where subordinates will not typically accrue much experience. The certifications will help you to bridge that experience gap.

Certifications are never the whole game in technology job-hunting and promotion. But a strategic selection of the correct certifications to build your resume toward the job you desire can dramatically improve your chances in the long run.