Certification Can Help You Transition to IT
As businesses evolve to adapt to technological advances and industry disruption, demand for current technical and digital skills is increasing apace. Many organizations are facing a skills gap. Finding professionals who have the expertise to handle new technologies and platforms is not easy. What is a challenge for enterprises, however, is an opportunity for individuals looking to embark on careers in technology or shift from one technical field to another.
All IT occupations don't require people with college degrees in STEM subjects or prior tech experience. Many enterprises have begun their own reskilling programs that enable employees to develop a new set of skills to assume a different role in the same company. For example, Amazon has trained erstwhile warehouse staff to take on IT technician roles, and junior programmers to work as data scientists.
A recent article published by tech industry association CompTIA points out that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 26 percent of tech workers in the United States did not have a bachelor's degree or higher. Take a look at job listings on Indeed and other popular job sites and you'll see that many tech roles, such as help desk technical support, web and mobile app development, and programming, don't necessarily require college degrees.
According to CompTIA, a degree is not needed even for some cybersecurity roles. CompTIA reports that 69 percent of their certification candidates are not four-year college degree holders.
If you are open to learning new skills, have good communication and interpersonal flair, and have an eye for detail, then you can explore tech roles that offer the opportunity to combine your intrinsic strengths, interests, and expertise with new skills. Certification is one way to acquire new knowledge and hands-on experience.
Certification Can Help
Employers primarily want to know whether you are capable of doing the job they're hiring for. Relevant certifications are one of the parameters that recruiters may use to assess whether you have the ability to perform the functions required for a specific role. Professional experience, a portfolio of relevant work, apprenticeships, leading certifications, training programs, and self-education can help you demonstrate that you have the skills required for the role.
The right certification can give candidates looking to transition into IT from another profession — or those already in IT who are keen on moving to another field in the tech industry — an advantage over non-certified candidates for certain tech roles.
Some employers view relevant certifications as a validation of current knowledge of a specific technology, product, or practice. And certifications can also be an indication of the certified individual's commitment to continuous learning (which is important in the tech profession), as well as their persistence.
Once you register for a certification program and begin studying for the exam, you can connect with others training for the same certification, as well as those who've already earned the credential. Joining a community of certification holders and candidates offers the benefit of networking with certified professionals who can offer support, feedback, and advice. Having a solid professional network is also an advantage when it comes to career advancement.
According to an IDC survey in 2019, certification holders among the 1,000 IT professionals surveyed said they won promotion more often than their non-certified colleagues. A relevant certification from a globally-recognized certifying body can also be useful for individuals looking to become subject-matter experts and take on specialist roles.
For example, the Certified Information Privacy Professional/United States (CIPP/US) is designed for those who intend developing deep knowledge of U.S. privacy laws and regulations. The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) program prepares candidates to perform legitimate hacking of target systems in order to test whether those systems are sufficiently secure. The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from PMI is a well-recognized credential for project managers.
Get Certified and Learn New Skills
If you don't have the skills needed to transition to a new role, then getting a certification can help in that regard as well. Certifications can further learning of new skills in a number of ways, such as:
Enabling development of current knowledge and skills — Given the rapid pace of technological development, it's crucial for tech professionals to stay abreast of the latest developments in their specialization, or to gain the skills needed to move to another area of IT. Not all companies use the latest technologies, or use a wide range of products and services, so employees don't always have the opportunity to learn about new products and technologies at work.
For example, cybersecurity is one of the fastest evolving areas in IT. A reliable cybersecurity certification can be helpful for candidates looking to develop expertise in the latest tools, technologies, methods, and security best practices.
For entry-level roles, CompTIA's Security+ covers baseline security skills. Another entry-level credential for individuals who have cybersecurity aspirations is SANS GIAC Security Essentials. CompTIA CySA+, by contrast, is designed for experienced tech professionals who seek validation of their expertise. Many enterprises sponsor their staff for certification programs with a view to advancing the organization's technological capabilities.
Providing a body of knowledge for a specific role — An aspiring IT worker, or a tech professional looking to change to a different IT discipline, may not know precisely what to learn for his intended role. Leading certification providers, such as CompTIA, PMI, Cisco, Microsoft, and Google, provide a curriculum that covers the skills needed for specific roles or products.
Making it possible to develop hands-on experience in a non-production environment — Some certification exams have a lab component, and training programs for these credentials typically include practical work in a simulated lab or a virtual environment. This enables candidates to experiment with tools and technologies and learn by trial and error. This facilitates development of applicable knowledge and skills.
Get Certified and Get a Job
A relevant certification can make some recruiters take another look at your r�sum� and grant you an interview, thereby giving you a competitive edge over equally-qualified candidates who don't have certifications.
CompTIA's A+ certification covers skills required for many entry-level technician roles. The CompTIA Network+ credential is designed for entry-level networking jobs. While these certifications may not impress potential employers looking for mid-level tech professionals, recruiters do take them into consideration for entry-level jobs.
For example, Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) and the Cisco Certified Technician (CCT) are designed for entry-level roles in network operations, maintenance, and support. Cisco's CCNA and CCNP, by contrast, are suitable for IT professionals with some experience, and interested in working as network administrators or network engineers.
At the top of the Cisco pyramid, as you'll find with many certification programs, are the credentials needed to step into top jobs. The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) is an advanced certification designed for professionals with substantial networking experience who aspire to hold leadership roles in enterprise network infrastructure.
Your First (or Next) Certification
A certification is an investment on which you want to maximize returns. Before you sign on for a certification program, it's prudent to think seriously about your aptitude, interests, and career goals, and do some careful evaluation of your options.
It's crucial to select the right certification, one that aligns with your strengths, interests, and abilities, and that has industry recognition. There's a wealth of information online that you can tap into. Also, it's well worth discussing the options available with professionals who are already in the role you aspire to.
Most industry-recognized certification programs offer multiple exam preparation options and materials. Study kits and training programs are also available from third-party vendors. If you opt for a third party, make sure they're authorized by the certification provider. Your choice of prep options and study materials will also depend on your schedule and finances.
Instructor-led, in-person training programs can be expensive. If you're on a budget and need to study at your own pace, then you might want to explore self-study options and self-paced online training programs. There are also free resources available online for some certifications.
If you work full-time, then you will need to manage your time well. It's best to draw up a suitable study schedule and stick to it. Try to fit in at least an hour of study time on week days at the beginning of your training period and put in more time over weekends. As you approach the exam date, you'll need to devote more time.
Employers are aware that working toward a certification can be demanding for full-time employees. Many view a solid credential as proof of the holder's commitment to career growth, determination, and ability to invest time, effort, and hard work.
Employers also give importance to the technical work individuals do voluntarily in their free time on online forums, such as GitHub and bug bounty reward programs. If you aren't already a member of GitHub or another online platform that aligns with your professional interests, then it's advisable to join at least one and spend some time getting to know the platform before you start contributing.