10 Top Certs That Can Be Your Calling Card to a Better Career

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A degree in information technology (IT) enables a student to develop a broad understanding of different disciplines and the role IT plays in business and daily life, but certification is evidence of up-to-date, hands-on skills in a specific discipline, technology, and product. Valid certifications also demonstrate to a potential employer that you are committed to continuous learning and are adaptable, qualities highly valued in a rapidly evolving industry.


A carefully chosen certification is a career investment. It's important to decide on the right certification based on your interests, career goals, circumstances, and the market. This article covers 10 certifications that have broad application across several disciplines. Any IT professional will have a leg up with any of these certs, and as an added benefit, all in high demand by employers.


CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network A+, CompTIA Security +


These vendor-neutral foundation-level certifications validate a strong basic understanding of how IT systems and networks function in an organization, and of computer and network security.


The globally recognized entry-level CompTIA A+ is the first certification that many IT professionals earn before going on to specialize in a specific discipline — A+ has more than 1 million holders worldwide. An A+ certification demonstrates a solid knowledge base of software and hardware technologies commonly deployed in industry as well as of computer service skills. This certification validates computer service and Windows desktop operating system support skills.


CompTIA's Network+ certification validates a holder's expertise in designing, configuring, installing, managing, maintaining, and troubleshooting IT systems and network infrastructure.


The Security+ credential demonstrates fundamental knowledge of IT security and an ability to secure network devices, services, and traffic from threats. This qualification proves that the holder has hands-on experience in securing information and IT infrastructure. Security+ is a useful validation not just for IT security professionals but for anyone whose job entails managing networks, systems, and providing IT services.


EC-Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)


Cybercrime today is a reality no organization can afford to ignore. Offered by the International Council of E-Commerce Consultants (EC-Council), CEH validates the holder's ability to stop hackers from corrupting, stealing, or compromising data. The course exposes students to the technology and methodology employed by hackers to break into a system, trains them to detect vulnerabilities, and to patch gaps in the system.


Given the pace at which hackers are moving and the implications of a security breach, it's imperative that organizations are technologically advanced enough to stay ahead of them. CEH is a comprehensive course covering detection of weaknesses, threats, and intrusions, OS attacks, and the latest viruses.


Data security is a round-the-clock concern for organizations everywhere and there is an ever-increasing need for professionals who can thwart cyberattacks by identifying system weaknesses and fixing them before a breach occurs.


Professional Scrum Master


Originally a software development qualification, the Scrum Master certification now applies to project management as well. Adaptability is at the core of this certification. As the business landscape continuously changes, organizations increasingly value Scrum Master certified software developers and project managers for the ability to factor in unpredictability and optimizing of outcomes despite changes in clients' specifications during the development process.


The Professional Scrum Master course trains software developers and program managers to work as a team with a view to fulfilling a customer's objective despite frequent changes in their business requirements. Scrum Masters are prepared for unpredictability and are trained to adapt to changes during the project development process without compromising efficiency, thereby producing the best possible result within the specified timeline and budget.


Offered by the Scrum Alliance, this is an all-around useful certification. A candidate is certified a Scrum Master once he passes an associate exam, which he is eligible to take only after attending a Certified Scrum Trainer's class.


Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)


This broad-based certification is administered by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, more commonly known as (ISC)2. This is a comprehensive computer security certification for people with at least four-to-five years of full-time work experience in a minimum of two of 10 specified areas of information security.


Earning this certification isn't easy. Candidates must pass a single six-hour exam covering eight computer security domains. Among the topics addressed are risk assessment and management, access management, planning for business continuity and disaster recovery, security of applications and systems during the development stage, cryptography, legalities, ethics, and investigation, operations security, security of physical assets, telecommunication and network security, and security engineering.


Clearly, achieving CISSP isn't for the faint-of-heart. With the high-demand for IT security professionals, however, the return for your effort is significant in salary and career opportunities. In order to keep their certification valid, candidates are required to earn a specified number of Continuous Professional Education (CPE) credits annually.


Project Management Professional (PMP)


Managed by the Project Management Institute (PMI), PMP certification commands higher international recognition than any other project management qualification. Across the world, the number of PMPs exceeds 600,000.


To certify as a PMP, a candidate needs to complete 35 hours of PMP-specific training and have at least 4,500 hours of experience in project management, if he holds a bachelor's degree, or at least 7,500 hours of experience without a bachelor's degree.


This course covers the entire project management cycle from starting and planning to executing, overseeing, and concluding a project. PMPs are trained to plan and manage all kinds of projects and not just a specific type.


ITIL v3 Foundation and ITIL Practitioner


IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an internationally recognized standard for IT service management. It comprises what is known to be the most comprehensive and dependable set of guidelines for managing IT services in line with organizational goals. The focus is on training IT service professionals to implement the ITIL IT management framework in the work environment and to keep improving IT service delivery.


The entry-level ITIL v3 Foundation certification has a broad scope, covering IT management concepts and their application in any organization beginning with assessment and allocation of available resources, applications and operations management, capacity building, and managing unpredictability. This is a useful qualification for IT professionals across disciplines.


The new ITIL Practitioner certification is an advanced qualification offered as a follow-up to the Foundation certification. While Foundation validates knowledge of the different aspects and stages of the IT management lifecycle, Practitioner certification trains candidates to apply ITIL concepts in an organizational environment. This certification proves the holder has developed the expertise to achieve Continual Service Improvement (CSI), one of the core fundamentals of ITIL, in an organizational environment.


Originally created by the British government, ITIL certifications are now managed by AXELOS, a joint venture between the British government and Capita, plc.


Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Routing and Switching


Networks are a crucial part of an organization's IT infrastructure. To ensure operational efficiency, organizations rely on network engineers or technicians to plan, create, and maintain both local area networks (LAN) as well as wide area networks (WAN). Cisco being the biggest player in the routing and switching segment is ubiquitous in the organizational environment worldwide.


Though a vendor-specific qualification, CCNP demonstrates in-depth network management expertise. CCNP proves that the holder can not only plan and implement networks, but monitor the performance of and troubleshoot enterprise networks as well as work together with experts to deliver voice, video, wireless, and superior security solutions.


CCNP is a level above the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) qualification. Network engineers earn this certification in order to demonstrate superior networking knowledge and skills so as to move on to more challenging and better-paying positions. Candidates are required to take different exams on routing, switching, and diagnosis and repair.


Microsoft Specialist: Windows 10


Windows is the most widely used desktop and laptop operating system across the world and Windows 10 is the latest iteration. Since many organizations are upgrading to Windows 10, in-depth proficiency in the Enterprise version is in increasing demand.


There are two Microsoft Specialist credentials for Windows 10 : Configuring Windows Devices, and Planning for and Managing Devices in the Enterprise. These certifications validate technical expertise in device and network security management, desktop, mobile, and application management and maintenance, and remote access specific to Windows 10.


This is an important certification for helpdesk staff and service technicians, systems administrators, and architects.


Microsoft Certified Professional


This is the foundation for all other Microsoft certifications. This certification, available across a wide range of Microsoft products, technologies, and solutions, demonstrates professional-level knowledge of at least one Microsoft product. Since Microsoft is everywhere, the demand for developers and technicians who can install, deploy, and troubleshoot Microsoft products in industry as well as in any other organizational environment is high.


Since this is a base certification for all other Microsoft qualifications, IT professionals seeking accreditation of in-depth knowledge of Microsoft products and technologies, need to earn this certification first.


VMware Certified Professional � Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV)


The growth in cloud and virtualization means organizations can store and process more data and serve a greater number of end-users with less hardware and other physical resources. However, to optimize resource utilization, realize significant cost-efficiency, and ensure optimum data center performance in line with user needs and organizational goals, businesses need data center administrators with advanced virtualization skills.


The internationally recognized VCP-DCV certification validates in-depth knowledge of Domain Name System (DNS), and technical expertise in installing, deploying, managing, and scaling VMware and vSphere environments.


To certify, candidates without previous VMware experience are required to complete a VMware-authorised course, have worked with VMware infrastructure technologies for at least six-months, and pass two exams. Someone who has earned VCP certification that is no longer valid is required to complete an authorised course and two exams. Candidates with valid VCP certifications need to complete just one exam.


VMware certifications are now valid for two years. Holders must recertify every two years in order to keep their certifications valid.


Go get certified!


There are hundreds of IT certifications out there. Any of these 10 credentials, however, will provide a rock-solid stepping stone to better jobs and more specialized career paths. Whether you are a student looking to launch a career in the industry, or an experienced professional seeking a more stimulating and lucrative assignment, there's help for you here.


Which certification you opt for depends on which IT pathway interests you most, your career goals, and your circumstances. A realistic assessment of your interests and aptitude, of where you want to go in your career, and of your situation can help you decide on the most valuable certification.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Reena Ghosh

Reena Ghosh is an independent ghostwriter who writes promotional, developmental and explanatory content for individuals and businesses. She came to professional writing with work experience in financial services operations and corporate communication. Reena speaks three languages and hopes to learn Sanskrit.