Staying relevant in the IT industry is a constant struggle. New buzzwords appear every other week, new ways to breach systems are unraveled every other month, and new standards get defined every other year. Keeping up with new developments feels like a burden, but is also a fundamental aspect of your career. In such a fast-paced world, it’s especially hard for newcomers to find a place to start. How will they compete with people who have decades of IT experience and formidable academic backgrounds? How will they choose the best tools and technologies when they are spoilt for choice? How will they know which courses to take, and which to avoid? Bemused by all these questions, new-entrants often give up; but they don’t have to. There’s actually an easy way for them to get their foot in the door. A way for them to follow a carefully stipulated learning path on their journey to become an IT professional. Certifications.
Believe it or not, getting certified is the easiest way to convince hiring managers of your competence. If you don’t have any experience, then you can use certifications to establish some semblance of a competitive advantage over your counterparts. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the best entry level IT certifications:
CompTIA IT Fundamentals (ITF+)
The ITF+ certification is recommended for new-entrants and career changers alike. It should be attempted at the very beginning, as it allows you to test the waters, before diving deep into the ocean of information technology. You get to familiarize yourself with the fundamental topics and concepts of IT and can judge whether you really have a knack for it. Some of the skills you will learn are as follows:
- IT terminology, best practices, troubleshooting, and the value of data.
- Basic wireless security.
- Operating system fundamentals.
- Basic overview of the different programming languages, and how to choose one depending on your needs.
- Fundamentals of database design and development.
- Understand basic security, confidentiality, integrity, and availability etc.
Even though it’s not a prerequisite for more advanced CompTIA certifications, it’s a good starting point for them. The exam fee is $119.
The A+ is the logical next step in the CompTIA group of IT certifications. It helps you further your knowledge about the various fundamentals of the IT industry. After doing A+, you will be able to offer entry-level technical support, troubleshooting, and maintenance. Some of the skills you will learn are as follows:
- Basics of installing, connecting, and troubleshooting hardware devices.
- Install, configure, and understand different operating systems.
- Troubleshoot issues in PC and smartphone applications.
- Understand different networking concepts like TCP/IP, SOHO, WIFI, SSL etc.
- Identify security vulnerabilities in systems.
- Follow best practices and industry standards for safety, communication, and professionalism.
The exam fee is $219.
To succeed in the world of IT, you need to have a thorough understanding of the way computer networks function. The Network+ certification helps you do just that. If you get Network+ certified, you can even land an entry level networking job. Here are some of the skills you will pick up:
- Understanding and implementation of various networking concepts.
- Determining network infrastructure needs pertaining to storage, cabling, and devices.
- Learn the best practices regarding network monitoring and maintenance.
- Troubleshooting small-to-medium scale networks.
The exam fee is $319.
System Security Administrator Certification (SSCP)
The System Security Administrator Certification introduces candidates to the best practices, policies, tools, technologies, and procedures standardized by cybersecurity experts from around the world. Since cybersecurity has become an increasingly relevant concept in the realms of IT, it’s of paramount importance for all new-entrants to know how to secure enterprise networks. Some of the skills you can pick up via this certification are:
- Access controls: Learning the importance of controlling access via access control lists, and firewalls etc.
- Identification of potential risks and vulnerabilities, and their mitigation.
- Incident detection, response, and recovery.
- Various cryptographic techniques, tools, and frameworks; e.g. HMACs, encryption.
- Security of data and nodes within a network.
- Day-to-day security operations and maintenance.
The exam fee is $250.
Cisco CCENT and CCNA
The Cisco Certified Entry Network Technician or CCENT certification will help you expand your networking knowledge. It focuses on Cisco’s proprietary hardware, and covers everything regarding the installation, configuration, and maintenance of network devices in small enterprise networks. It even touches network security to an extent. Here are some of the skills you are likely to develop:
- Troubleshooting networks.
- Connecting to a WAN, along with different WAN technologies, connections, and encapsulation.
- Static and dynamic routing with RIPv2
- Routing and Switching fundamentals
- OSI and TCP/IP models
- IP Addressing
- Configuring and operating Cisco routers and switches.
- Basic Security principles and best practices
- Basic Wireless Concepts
- Network Address Translation (NAT) and DHCP fundamentals.
The exam fee is $125.
Even though CCENT is not a prerequisite for CCNA, it’s recommended to attain the former before the latter. It takes your network analysis and management experience to the next level. You are now able to troubleshoot even the large enterprise networks. Here is a non-exhaustive list of skills CCNA can help you gain:
- What variable length subnet mask are.
- Extending switched networks using virtual LANs (VLANs)
- Configuring, securing, and troubleshooting VLANs.
- IPv6 addressing.
- Dynamic Routing Protocols- Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol (EIGRP) and Open Shortest Path First (OSPF).
- Implementing, verifying, and troubleshooting network address translation.
- Layer 2 Protocols- VLAN Trunking Protocol (VTP) and Rapid Spinning Tree Protocol (RSTP).
- Basics of VPN protocol.
- Establishing point-to-point and Frame Relay WAN connections.
- Best practices regarding secure design of networks.
The exam fee is $250.
Note: If you think you have a basic level understanding of Cisco networking and network design/administration in general, you can skip the CCENT certification and go straight for CCNA.
When you have no demonstrable experience of working in the IT industry, certifications can be your best (and only) advocates. If you are just getting started, the five certifications mentioned above will help you direct your efforts in the right direction.