Mention certifications in the IT world and you find three camps. There are those who are all for them, which generally includes those who create, administer, and grant certified status. There are many who say that certification is a fools game because it rests on rote memorization and doesnt really prove ability.
And then there those who dont care about the debate—they just want to remain employable. This article is for you. As the computing world shifts and moves ever faster toward greater virtualization, cloud computing, and software-defined everything, you need new skills and knowledge to stay ahead and remain competitive. So heres an overview of infrastructure-related certifications and the specific areas that you should consider.
Not everyone likes the idea of certification. Many say certifications show that someone passed a series of tests, not that he or she is good at actually doing the work of an IT infrastructure professional. The post-nominal letters literally spelling out a certification also dont address someones work ethic, compatibility with a given corporate culture, inventiveness, or other characteristics that are critical in hiring.
Among the arguments for gaining certifications, the biggest is the HR department angle. The dynamics of hiring employees are difficult at many companies. Hiring managers tell HR professionals the characteristics they want in candidates for a given position. The HR staff looks for all the specific requirements the hiring managers mentioned, including certifications, for two reasons.
Another reason is the ability to reject candidates. This isnt a game or hard-heartedness so much as an action of self-preservation. An ad could bring in hundreds of résumés, and someone has to go through them. If they make certifications a requirement, then they can eliminate anyone who doesnt meet the profile. Of course, there will be some highly experienced people who could perform the job without having the certification, but the HR staff wont have the expertise to tell, and they dont want to pass along unknown quantities and turn the interview stage into a wild goose chase.
New approaches to computing dont eradicate all the investment in hardware and software that has taken place over the years. Theres still a need for data centers at many companies, whether its because of particularly strong security or regulatory requirements. Companies need networks, otherwise theres no way to connect to a cloud, or anything else.
But now there are multiple cloud services in use. Increasingly, aspects of infrastructure are falling into the “software-defined” camp, so much of the work is now done through scripting and not necessarily changing cabling among sets of equipment. Automation is decreasing the time it takes to deploy and reconfigure resources while also reducing the number of infrastructure professionals that may be needed by a company, which means that greater job safety comes with knowing how to create automation, not performing manual steps.
“In these new areas, certifications are becoming more and more important,” said Bhaskar Ghosh, group chief executive of Accenture Technology Services. “We believe people need to change their skill sets and stay relevant.” For example, his company has spent $841 million on skill development for people across different skill areas, including certification and training.
And then there is the issue of being able to migrate among different career options. “You dont want to box in,” said P.K. Agarwal, regional dean and CEO of Northeastern University-Silicon Valley. “Everything is moving fast. What if this brand X is the darling tomorrow? I like the idea of certifications that also say you understand this industry and the subject of cloud.”
“Every vendor is going to find a way to keep you as a captive customer so you cannot leave them,” Agarwal said. Ones with greater market share—Cisco in networking is a great example—want to keep professionals close at hand because those are the people who have a lot of influence in what equipment and software companies will purchase going forward.
But the certifications continue to expand, making decisions difficult. “There are nine CCNA exams [now],” said Kimberley Parsons Trommler, now a product evangelist but formerly a senior systems engineer also involved in certification and training for Paessler, a provider of network and IT monitoring products. “It makes it very difficult for someone just starting out to know what they should do. And it makes it complicated for the employer. They probably need routing and switching and security, but people applying will probably have only one of those. Which is more relevant to the position theyre trying to fill?”
What if you want to keep your options open and be able to work for a company that uses networking equipment from a different vendor—for example, Jupiter or Brocade? Trying to cover all possibilities is wildly impractical. There are also entirely new types of certifications coming out that you may need to consider, even though they initially dont seem to be about infrastructure.
“As we move toward software-defined everything, the capabilities that companies require are more aligned with dev practices and less aligned with operational practices,” said Chris Ciborowski, CEO of Nebulaworks. And yet developers dont understand all the needs of deployment at scale. “If youre going to be a scripting or tool developer, you have to understand those things and translate the tools and monitoring solutions the developers need to use,” he said.
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Why is an IT infrastructure certification important?
An IT infrastructure certification is important to pursue because it may improve your employment prospects. In the view of many employers in the IT sector, candidates who hold certifications possess a larger breadth of knowledge and a stronger skill set. The act of learning under a certification program validates these qualities. Between an individual who has an infrastructure and one who doesnt, an employer may be likelier to hire the certified candidate because a certifying body has already tested them and confirmed their value as an IT infrastructure professional. They present lower risk and higher potential rewards.
Certified individuals may also enjoy several benefits themselves. Higher salaries are one such benefit. Holding certification can qualify you for positions with larger, more prestigious organizations, which often pay more. Even with smaller employers, being certified can lead to higher salaries since these employers may deem you more valuable. Moreover, the knowledge you gain undergoing a certification program can lead to further monetary benefits. The more you know, the likelier you are to perform well at your job, which can lead to recognition, bonuses and raises throughout your career.
11 IT infrastructure certifications
The following are 11 IT infrastructure or infrastructure certifications you may want to consider, with a comprehensive description of each:
1. Certified OpenStack Administrator
Aimed at OpenStack professionals, the Certified OpenStack Administrator certification (COA) validates that you have the skills required to manage the day-to-day operations of an OpenStack cloud infrastructure. The exam assesses you in knowledge domains such as OpenStack APIs, identity and image management, object and block storage and networking.
The performance-based online exam lasts three hours and requires candidates to use the Horizon user interface and the command line to demonstrate their proficiency in the above-mentioned knowledge domains. Government-issued photo identification is necessary to launch the exam. Once you earn this credential, the COA certification is valid for three years.
2. Cisco Certified Design Expert
If youre looking to obtain an expert-level role in the specialty of network architecture or design, the Cisco Certified Design Expert certification (CCDE) may be right for you. Being one of the top certifications in the IT industry, the CCDE validates that you have the skills necessary to design a network architecture thats both sustainable and scalable.
The CCDE consists of two exams. The first is a qualifying exam called the CCDE Written, a two-hour test that consists of 90 to 110 questions and assesses your comprehension of concepts in areas such as network design, business strategies and technologies. Upon passing the CCDE Written, you earn the Cisco Specialist certification and qualify to take the second exam, the CCDE v3.0 Practical, an eight-hour assessment that involves the completion of network design tasks based on specified scenarios. There are no prerequisites for the CCDE. Its valid for three years and renewable through assessment or continuing education.
3. Cisco Certified Network Associate
The Cisco Certified Network Associate certification (CCNA) is a credential offered by the technology company Cisco. The CCNA program and exam focuses on areas such as IP services, IP connectivity, automation, programmability, network access and the fundamentals of networking and security. Holding this certification validates that you possess the qualities and competencies necessary to work with advanced computer networks, qualifying you for employment in roles such as:
Though there are no prerequisites for eligibility, Cisco recommends that candidates have at least one year of experience in a role that involves using and applying Cisco products. The CCNA training program is available in instructor-led training, virtual training and e-learning models, each amounting to eight course days. The certification exam consists of 100 to 120 questions and lasts two hours. A passing score is 800 to 850 out of a possible 1,000. The certification is valid for three years, and you may recertify by passing another exam or earning 30 continuing education credits.
4. CompTIA ITF+
The CompTIA ITF+, also known as CompTIA IT Fundamentals, is a pre-career certification offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association, a nonprofit professional organization and certifying body in the IT industry. The certifications target audience consists of:
The focus of the program is to broaden your understanding of IT and to help you determine whether an IT career is suitable for you. One of the appeals of CompTIA ITF+ is that its a single certification that relates to every foundational aspect of IT, including concepts, terminology, infrastructure, software, software development, databases and cybersecurity.
No previous IT experience is necessary to be eligible for the CompTIA ITF+. You obtain the certification by passing a multiple-choice exam, which lasts an hour and consists of no more than 75 questions. The maximum attainable score is 900, and the minimum passing score is 650.
5. CompTIA A+
Another certification offered by the Computing Technology Industry Association is the CompTIA A+, aimed at those looking to establish their careers in the IT sector. Commonly mentioned in job listings by IT employers, this certification may be particularly useful if youre pursuing work in any of the following roles:
By earning this certification, you can expect to master skills in a variety of areas, such as:
The Computing Technology Industry Association recommends that candidates have nine to 12 months of experience before pursuing the CompTIA A+. There are two exams that, together, cover the topics listed above. Each test has a maximum of 90 questions of various types, such as multiple-choice, drag-and-drop and performance-based. The minimum passing score is 675 on the first test and 700 on the second, out of a possible 900.
6. CompTIA Network+
If you already hold A+ certification and have nine to 12 months of networking experience, youre eligible for the CompTIA Network+. This designation, aimed at those looking to develop their careers in the field of IT infrastructure, validates competencies associated with the establishment, maintenance or troubleshooting of computer networks on any platform. These competencies relate to network fundamentals, implementations, operations, security and troubleshooting. Thus, the Network+ may qualify you for positions in areas such as:
Obtaining the Network+ certification requires earning a passing score on a 90-question exam consisting of multiple-choice and performance-based questions. You have 90 minutes to complete the exam. A passing score is 720 out of a possible 900.
7. CompTIA Security+
Suitable for those pursuing careers in IT infrastructure security, the Security+ certification is a globally recognized credential that validates skills associated with the fundamentals of IT security. Its focus is on hands-on skills relating to areas such as:
After earning the Security+, you may qualify for any of the following positions:
A CompTIA Network+ certification plus two years of security-focused IT administration experience are prerequisites for the Security+. The exam consists of a maximum of 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions, which you have 90 minutes to complete. The minimum passing score is 750 out of a possible 900.
8. Data Center Design Consultant
The Data Center Design Consultant certification, offered by BICSI, is for IT professionals who wish to improve their skills in data center design, planning and implementation. By earning the DCDC, you can expect to gain a more comprehensive understanding of electrical, mechanical and telecommunications systems, plus of the concepts related to reliability, security and facility requirements.
The DCDC exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions, which you have two hours to complete. Once you earn the designation, it remains valid for three years. During that time, you can work toward recertification by earning continuing education credits.
9. ITCA Networks and Infrastructure Fundamentals
Offered by the professional association ISACA, the ITCA Networks and Infrastructure Fundamentals certification can help you strengthen your understanding of key internet- and network-related terms and concepts. This certification validates the skills required for the following areas:
There are no formal prerequisites to be eligible for ITCA Networks and Infrastructure Fundamentals certification. You can prepare for the exam by taking an online course, a lab package or a study guide, available in digital or print format. All of these preparation materials are available through ISACA. It exam itself is a two-hour online assessment consisting of both multiple-choice and performance-based questions. The minimum passing score is 65%.
10. MCSE: Core Infrastructure
The MCSE: Core Infrastructure certification is one of the four Microsoft Certified Solution Expert credentials. The Core Infrastructure designation validates skills associated with identity management, systems management, storage, networking, virtualization and the operation of a modern data center. Its necessary to earn either the MCSA: Windows Server 2012 or MCSA: Windows Server 2016 certification before youre eligible for the MCSE: Core Infrastructure. To complete your certification, earn a passing score on one of the following elective exams:
11. Microsoft Technology Associate IT
The Microsoft Technology Associate, or MTA, is a set of certifications in specific areas of IT. There are multiple MTA certifications available, each relating to a particular IT specialty—infrastructure, databases and development. The certifications that relate to IT infrastructure are:
You earn the specific certifications by passing exams 349, 365, 366 and 367, respectively. Together, these exams cover a broad range of topics, including but not limited to:
For each exam, you can expect 45 to 60 questions and a 45-minute time limit. What qualifies as a passing score depends on the exam you take, but its generally around 70%.
Please note that none of the companies or certifications mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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