Your Mr. Fix-IT career begins with one of these five hardware tech certs
Hardware repair certifications focus on installing and troubleshooting computer and networking equipment. While critical for repair technicians, having basic hardware knowledge can serve any IT pro well, as being able to resolve your own issues (and potentially those of your boss) comes in very handy.
Troubleshooting PCs and servers also requires the ability to understand and manipulate their connections to other machines and to the Internet; hence the certifications in this article primarily focus on computers, but many incorporate knowledge of networking hardware such as routers, hubs, and switches.
There are both vendor-specific and vendor-neutral hardware certifications, though there really aren't as many vendor-specific credentials as you might expect. IBM, for example, doesn't have a hardware technician certification. Dell doesn't have a certification program for individual technicians, but does have a training program for companies that have 100 or more Dell computers installed, and who want to train their own IT techs to service them.
With this in mind, if you're interested in installing and servicing computer equipment, a solid vendor-neutral certification is probably your best starting point. You can stack vendor-specific credentials on top as needed. The following certifications can help pave the way:
This is the go-to certification for launching a career as a hardware technician. It's also worthwhile for anyone who performs technical support or administers a network. More than 900,000 of these certifications have been earned. To get one yourself, you'll need to pass two exams, one that covers the fundamentals of computer technology (such as hardware components, interrupts, and such), and a second which focuses installing and configuring PC operating systems and network connectivity. Both of these exams are vendor-neutral. The A+ credential also enjoys broad name recognition — you won't have to explain this credential to potential employers.
This credential, also from CompTIA, targets system hardware and software, storage technologies, and topics such as disaster recovery and troubleshooting, among other subjects. Although there are no required prerequisites, this works very well when stacked on top of A+. This credential is most useful for service technicians, systems administrators, and computer salespeople. Although it doesn't have quite the same recognition that A+ does, you will still encounter it in service technician job postings. To earn this, you'll have to pass one multiple-choice exam.
The ACMT is for IT pros who service, troubleshoot, and repair Apple Macintosh systems. This certification is most beneficial for individuals who work for an Apple partner — to be officially authorized to work on Apple products you have to be part of Apple's authorized technician program, which has additional requirements beyond this certification. However, whether you work for an Apple partner or not, if you're responsible for installing and repairing Macintosh systems, you can't go wrong with this two-exam credential.
If you perform (or want to) on-site installation, support, and maintenance of Cisco networking devices, this is an excellent certification to have on your resume. It comes in three flavors: Routing and Switching (the core), as well as Data Center and TelePresence (i.e. unified computing) tracks. Each track requires passing on associated exam. This credential is particularly recommended for individuals who work with the Cisco Technical Assistance Center.
The RCDD is an intermediate to advanced credential for individuals who design and implement data centers. Building Industry Consulting Services International (BICSI) has run this certification program since 1984, and while you may not have heard of it before, it's well-respected in the industry and a definite plus on your resume. To earn it you'll need substantial experience and must pass the 2-1/2 hour RCDD exam.
More Hardware Certifications
The above credentials come closest to being pure hardware certifications, but many other credentials, particularly network administrator designations, incorporate hardware skills. For example, CompTIA's Network+ covers lots of hardware and software concepts; so does Cisco's CCNA and most other networking-related certifications. In addition, both iNARTE and the CWNP (Certified Wireless Networking Professional) program offer certifications for wireless installers.
HP offers a full portfolio of server certifications, with HP ASE Server Solutions Integrator being one of the most hardware oriented. There are also hardware technician certification programs that aren't available to the general public, but are offered only through authorized partner programs. Earning one of the above vendor-neutral designations can be your ticket into such a partner's workforce, and from there into more specific training. Before you know it, you'll become an expert in the computer obscurities that leave an uncertified technician banging his or her head against a tower.