Which Certs Are Best for Getting Started Down the IT Trail?

The right entry-level cert can get you on the fast track to a career in IT.

I'm riffing on a nice blog post from Greg Stuart at ClearanceJobs.com here. He wrote a July 12 item titled Top 5 Entry-Level IT Certifications to Help You Build Your IT Skills, Improve Your Career.


Because I regularly survey the whole IT cert landscape from stem to stern, it got me to thinking about where to start, depending on what you want to learn. And that, dear readers, is the nature of the riff here.


Greg's Picks Are Rock Solid!


As I completely expected, CompTIA's "Big Three" start off his list, namely A+, Network+, and Security+. He goes on with the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) and finishes up with a surprising choice (to me, at least): the VMware Certified Associate 6 – Data Center Virtualization (VCA6-DCV).


I won't quibble with any of these choices, because all of them are solid, entry-level certifications. It is interesting, however, to see a couple of vendor specific items show up in Greg's Top 5.


For the record, these five cover (or contribute to) entry-level skills and knowledge development in the areas of computer hardware/bench technician, networking, information security (aka cybersecurity), and virtualization. But gosh, there are lots of other areas to consider, so here goes ...


Ed Goes Bonkers Picking Other Entry-Level Certs, Mostly By Technical Focus at Work


For a truly entry-level item, consider the CompTIA IT Fundamentals cert (ITF) as a good place to start figuring out what IT is all about, and whether or not there's a potential fit for a career in the field.


Those interested in data science have lots of options to choose from, but they could do worse than the Microsoft Professional Program's course lineup for data science and/or Big Data.


In the field of disaster recovery and business continuity, DRI International's Associate Business Continuity Professional (ABCP) is a great place to start. Disaster recover and business continuity is an increasingly important and interesting IT specialty area.


For people who'd like to get their heads into cloud computing, CompTIA's Cloud+ is one nice place to start. For some other ideas, see Tripwire's April, 2017 story The Top 5 Vendor-Neutral Cloud Security Certifications.


If you're interested in datacenter stuff, you may (or may not) be surprised to learn that Schneider Electric's Data Center Certified Associate (DCCA) is a terrific, vendor-neutral, entry-level cert for people interested in learning how to design, construct, and manage data centers.


The right entry-level cert can get you on the fast track to a career in IT.

Considering healthcare IT? Check out the Certified Associate in Healthcare Information and Management Systems (CAHIMS). This remains a stellar growth niche in IT, and good place for aspiring systems administrators and analysts to focus their learning and energies.


If there's an archetypal point of entry into IT, it HAS to be the Help Desk (and that's why I was amazed that Stuart didn't pick one of these for his top 5). Mine is the Help Desk Institute's Desktop Support Technician (HDI-DST). HDI has been around forever, and offers a rich full, slate of certifications up to executive levels for those who want to make a career, rather than a foot in the door of IT, for help desk stuff.


IT Governance and best practices is a growing, and important area for aspiring IT pros to ponder. The ITIL Foundation certification is a great way to start down this particular IT road.


Those who wish to labor in the Linux space should definitely look into the Linux Professional Institute's LPIC-1 credential. It's a stepping stone to all kinds of more senior Linux certs, and a great way to rack up basic Linux skills and knowledge for workplace use.


Project management is part and parcel of most of the activities that IT does for a living. Project management skills, therefore, can be both useful and valuable for IT pros. Get a good start on the coveted PMP certification by tackling the Project Management Institute's (PMI's) Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential, or check out CompTIA's Project+.


People who want to work with storage technologies in an IT setting should dig into the SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) Certified Storage Professional (SCSP) credential. It replaces the now-retired CompTIA Storage+ (developed in tandem with SNIA).


Those who aspire to an old faithful, favorite IT avocation — namely, system administration — might want to rethink things from a cloud computing or datacenter perspective. But if you're still dead set on feeding and caring for "Big Iron," look no further than CompTIA's Server+ to get going.


What Every Good Entry-Level Cert Needs Is ...


If one of the preceding selections doesn't get your motor racing, or doesn't travel in a direction you wish your IT career to take, don't worry. You can apply some criteria to pick out a decent or better certification in an area of your interest and choosing. I recommend starting with something vendor-neutral, because you never know where the job is going to take you until you take it.


Presumably, if you want to learn something before that job is yours, then learning something broadly applicable will help you move your career where you'd like it to go. There are two other important things to look for: name recognition is crucial. All other things being equal, a cert that people know and value beats one they've never heard of, hands down.


Also, be sure the cert you're chasing is from an established sponsoring organization: one that's been around for a while, has at least 5,000 current certified professionals in its population, and offers solid certification infrastructure — training materials, books, practice tests, online communities, and so forth — to boot.


Oh, and a solid, up-to-date, and interesting curriculum/body of knowledge is probably worth looking for, too. Enjoy!


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

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.