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Career Column: Top 10 Certifications with Staying Power

John Hales, Global Knowledge VMware instructor, A+, Network+, CTT+, MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, MCT, VCP, VCAP, VCI, EMCSA

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Introduction
IT is a very fast changing industry - what is hot today maybe a tiny niche market in only a few years and things that few have heard of may be huge trends in the same timeframe. That having been said, there are many certifications that have a long life span, by which we don't mean that the certification is good for many years before it expires, but rather that the certification has been around and will be around (as best as the future is predictable) for a long time. This does not imply that recertification on new versions and/or continuing education credits are not required to maintain certification however. Predicting the future is always challenging, not the least a future in IT, but these certifications are good bets.

The top 10 certifications that meet this criterion (in no particular order) include the following. Note that the certifications are broad in terms of topics covered and are not all strictly IT administrator-based.

1. CompTIA A+
One of the most well-known certifications in the computer industry is the A+ certification from CompTIA, a computer IT industry association that is vendor neutral. This certification is the entry-level certification for anyone working on computers; it covers both hardware and software. This certification is one of the oldest IT certifications, originally appearing in 1993, and has been updated 4 times since then as the IT industry has changed. As there will always be a need for people to fix computers, there will always be people who are A+ certified. Many vendors (such as Dell and Lenovo) require their technicians to have this certification to work with them.
For information on this certification, please refer to http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/a.aspx.

2. CompTIA Security+ / CASP (CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner)
CompTIA has 2 security-related certifications. The entry level one is Security+, and covers the basics, including system (host, application, and data) and network security issues, basic cryptography, and the role of assessments and audits. The CASP exam builds on Security+ (though it does not require Security+ certification), extending security issues throughout the enterprise, and adding risk management and the integration of security into the intersection of computing, business communications, and business needs. Security is one of the biggest needs in IT today and with greater integration between organizations and with the Internet, security is becoming an even greater concern. When cloud computing is added to a company, most organizations are even more concerned with security. Even if a business outsources most of its IT functions to a cloud service provider, most will still be concerned with security, and thus this field is only expected to grow over time.
For information on the Security+ certification, please refer to http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/security.aspx, while information on the CASP is available at: http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/casp.aspx.

3. (ISC)2 CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
The CISSP certification is also security related, and is probably the most widely known and coveted security-related certification. It is created by the non-profit, vendor-neutral International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2 organization. The group was founded in 1988 and released the CISSP in 1994. Many organizations and governments require staff with this certification, making it all the more sought after and valuable. Unlike many other certifications, it requires a minimum of five years of direct, full-time professional security experience that can be proven and must be attested to by an existing (ISC)2 certified professional in at least two of the ten areas covered by the exam, agreement to a specific code of ethics, and passing an exam. The ten areas are: Access Control
Telecommunications and Network Security
Information Security Governance and Risk Management
Software Development Security
Cryptography
Security Architecture and Design
Operations Security
Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Planning
Legal, Regulations, Investigations and Compliance
Physical (Environmental) Security
For information on this certification, please refer to https://www.isc2.org/CISSP/Default.aspx.

4. CompTIA Project+ / PMI (Project Management Institute) PMP (Project Management Professional)
Projects have existed for as long as humankind has been on earth in one form or another. Project management as a distinct discipline came into being in the 1950s. The need to manage projects effectively, spotting issues, resource constraints, and other problems early on created the need for project managers, and thus a certification around project management. While project management is not necessarily related to IT projects, it can be (as well as any other type of project) and thus is included here; ITIL (discussed next) is often closely related in the IT arena. As with CompTIA's other certifications, Project+ is a vendor-neutral, entry level certification that certifies that an individual can create and manage a project, from inception to closure, including completing projects on time and on budget. No specific work experience or other prerequisites apply. PMI's PMP, on the other hand is much more demanding and recognized. PMI was founded in 1969 and they created the PMP certification in 1984. More than 350,000 people have the certification today. Similarly to the CISSP, to get this certification you must have 35 hours of project management education and documented proof of either a high school diploma (or equivalent) with five years of experience including a minimum of 7,500 hours running projects or a bachelor's degree with three years of experience including a minimum of 4,500 hours running projects. After you pass a certification exam, you become PMP certified; to maintain the certification, you must earn 60 professional development credits every three years as well.
For information on Project+ certification, please refer to http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/project.aspx, while PMP information is available at http://www.pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx.

5. ITIL® (Information Technology Infrastructure Library)
ITIL was created by a United Kingdom government agency in the 1980s to standardize IT management. It is a set of best practices for aligning the services IT provides with the needs of the organization. It is broad-based, covering everything from availability and capacity management to change and incident management, in addition to application and IT operations management. It is known as the IT Infrastructure Library, because it is composed of a set of books (the number of which has varied from 5 to 30 over the years). Over the last 30 years, it has become the most widely used framework for IT management in the world. While the UK government owns the standards, they have authorized partners that provide training and certification. They have defined the certification tiers, but they leave it to the accredited partners to develop the training and certification around that framework.

For information on ITIL in general, please refer to http://www.itil-officialsite.com/. Exams for certification are run by ITIL-certified examination institutes as previously mentioned; for a list of them, please refer to http://www.itil-officialsite.com/ExaminationInstitutes/ExamInstitutes.aspx.

6. Six Sigma
Six Sigma was created by Motorola in 1985 (and is a registered trademark by them) to create a structured approach to process improvement by reducing the defect rate and minimizing variability in manufactured products. It encompasses a range of techniques for quality management and defines various levels of experts in the processes to implement them. These experts are named similar to karate (green belt, black belt, etc.). It was named six sigma because it was based on a desired manufacturing defect rate of 0.00034, or 3.4 defects per million items produced, and though the concept has spread to many areas far from manufacturing over the years, the name has remained the same. There is no standard certification body (similar to ITIL) that defines exactly what is required to be certified at any specific level, and thus training and certification can vary widely, from for profit organizations to non-profit organizations to universities. It is very important to find a well-known provider for the certification to carry much weight in the job market. Motorola, as the founder of the concept, has training and certification available; see http://www.motorolasolutions.com/US-EN/Training+Home/Lean+Six+Sigma for information on the training they offer and http://www.motorolasolutions.com/US-EN/Training+Home/Certification+Program/How+to+Get+Certified for information on their certification process.

Another widely accepted program is run by the non-profit group ASQ (the American Society for Quality, now known by the acronym only as they are a worldwide organization). They offer certifications in many areas related to various aspects of quality, including six sigma. Their certification program is CSSBB (Certified Six Sigma Black Belt) for the black belt level; they also offer a green belt level (the CSSGB). They require documentation of completing at least one six sigma project in addition to passing an exam and then maintaining the certification by either getting at least 18 credits over a three year period (attainable via activities such as attending conferences, taking classes, teaching the skills to others) or by retaking the exam if the credits were not earned in the mandated time frame. For information on ASQ's CSSBB certification, please refer to http://prdweb.asq.org/certification/control/index.

7. CompTIA Linux+ / RHCE (Red Hat Certified Engineer)
One could argue, and probably properly, that Windows should be listed over Linux as an operating system to know from a job perspective. It does have a long history, but it changes every few years - and Microsoft is trying to speed the pace up even more to roughly an annual update. There is great potential in earning the Microsoft MCP (Microsoft Certified Professional) or higher-level certifications, but they change frequently and thus need a lot of maintenance to keep current. In addition, organizations often have many versions deployed, making the process and needed certifications even more complex. In addition, as Microsoft changes to a services company with an emphasis on cloud computing, knowing which certifications will be valuable in the coming years is difficult.

Linux comes in many flavors (known as distributions) and is often updated as well, but the basics that the certifications mentioned here discuss evolve more slowly and are more generally applicable across distributions and versions within a distribution. The basic syntax is often used in other operating systems as well, such as VMware, so having at least some knowledge of Linux commands will provide an advantage when working in those other environments.

CompTIA offers Linux+ in association with LPI (the Linux Professional Institute) and in fact, passing the Linux+ exams (there are two, covering different Linux topics) can gain the candidate LPIC-1 (entry level LPI certification) as well. It is vendor neutral and covers the basics that any junior level Linux administrator should have.

Red Hat offers the RHCE certification for more senior Linux administrators; earning this requires that the candidate already possess the RHCSA (Red Hat Certified System Administrator) credential and recertify every three years. Red Hat exams are performance based, meaning that a candidate is given a live system and graded on the ability to accomplish the tasks in the exam rather than simply answer multiple-choice questions. Red Hat offers many other certifications on specific capabilities or configurations of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as well. Information on the RHCE is available at http://www.redhat.com/training/certifications/rhce/. Other Linux vendors have similar certification programs as well, Red Hat is listed here as the largest Linux vendor in the corporate arena.

8. CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
Networking in general, and Cisco in particular, is something that will be around forever and become even more important as more and more data is moved into the cloud and more and more devices require connectivity, whether in wired or wireless forms. This is one skill that will not be replaced by the move to the cloud and every company will need someone with some networking skills. To meet this demand, Cisco has always offered the CCNA as an entry-level networking certification, designed as a network admin in a small business or as a junior admin in a larger one. As more people need an ever more basic level of network knowledge, Cisco has introduced the CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) to provide entry level knowledge on networking concepts, routing and switching, security, and wireless connectivity. It is designed as a stepping-stone to CCNA. The CCNA has been redesigned as well, providing certification in various areas of networking, including routing and switching (the previous CCNA topic), security, video, voice, and wireless, as well as more advanced areas such as data center and service provider operations. For those looking for more advanced certifications, Cisco offers the CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) in the same areas as the new CCNA, and many of the same areas in their premiere certification the CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert). For information on the CCENT, please refer to http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/entry/ccent/index.html; information on the CCNA for routing and switching (as well as links to other CCNA certifications) is available at http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna/index.html.

9. Oracle Java
Java is a very popular programming language - one of the most popular in the world in fact. It is cross platform and runs on everything from mobile phones, to car and airplane entertainment systems to PCs and Macs. It is used in writing many applications we often use and on websites and is the foundation of applications on Android devices. It has been around since 1995. There are almost 1 billion downloads of the platform every year and over 3 billion mobile phones alone run Java. To prove your skills with Java, Oracle (which got the rights to Java when it purchased Sun Microsystems, the original creator of the language) has a training and certification organization. For information on this certification, please refer to http://education.oracle.com/pls/web_prod-plq-dad/db_pages.getpage?page_id=458&get_params=p_track_id:JSE7Prog.

10. IBM Cognos
You may be wondering, "What is Cognos? I've never heard of it before." Cognos is set of Business Intelligence (BI) and Performance Management (PM) tools from IBM. IBM purchased Cognos, Inc. and their products in 2008, but Cognos has been around since the late 1960s. As businesses generate more and more data, the need to analyze that data becomes ever more important. Cognos is not the only tool available; Microsoft, Oracle (Hyperion line), and SAP are also big vendors, as is SAS. If you're interested in analysis of all of this information, look into the offerings of each company and specialize in one or more. Cognos is listed here as it has been around a very long time and is owned and promoted by IBM. Certification in the BI arena alone involves four exams, three core exams and an elective depending on a specific area of interest, such as an administrator or one of several types of developers. For information on this certification, please refer to http://www-03.ibm.com/certify/certs/47000802.shtml.

11. Bonus: EMCDSA (EMC Data Scientist Associate)
As just discussed in the Cognos certification, "Big Data",, the gathering and analysis of vast quantities of information, is a huge growth area. As an example, according to the Wikipedia article on big data, the world's total storage capacity has doubled every 40 months or so since the 1980s, to the point that by 2012, every single day, 2.5 quintillion (2.5 x 1018) bytes of data are generated. Big data's challenges include not only how to store that much information, but how to analyze, visualize, and search it. Sample use cases of big data producers and the associated needs to use it are for live traffic information, since projects, and search engine use.

EMC has created technologies to store vast quantities of data for decades; they are now looking to analyze the information and provide the tools and skills to do so. The have created the EMCDSA certification as a way to prove that you have the skills and mindset to do this kind of work. For information on this certification, please refer to https://education.emc.com/guest/campaign/data_science.aspx

Conclusion

As we mentioned at the outset, this is a somewhat subjective list and due to the rapidly change nature of IT, is always subject to change. The products, technologies, and certifications listed here, however, have a long track record of value in the industry and as far as the future can be predicted, appears to have a long life ahead. It is worth pondering what you do in IT today, where the industry is heading, and where you will be in five or ten years. It is also worth watching the industry as a whole, and not just your particular specialty, so that you can spot changing trends early and adapt early to those changes while your particular skill set is in demand rather than trying to quickly play catch up later.

About the Author
John Hales, VCP, VCP-DT, VCAP-DCA, VCI, is a VMware instructor at Global Knowledge, teaching most of the vSphere classes that Global Knowledge offers, including the View classes. John is also the author of many books, from involved technical books from Sybex to exam preparation books, to many quick reference guides from BarCharts, in addition to custom courseware for individual customers. His latest book on vSphere is entitled Administering vSphere 5: Planning, Implementing and Troubleshooting. John has various certifications, including the VMware VCP, VCP-DT, VCAP-DCA, and VCI, the Microsoft MCSE, MCDBA, MOUS, and MCT, the EMC EMCSA (EMC Storage Administrator), and the CompTIA A+, Network+, and CTT+. John lives with his wife and children in Sunrise, Florida.

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