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Certification Roundup: What to Watch For in 2011

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The pursuit of an IT certification often entails a considerable investment of both money and time. But it also requires information so that you can make educated choices on the right certifications to pursue. This article will provide some insights into the developments and trends to expect in certifications in 2011.
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The pursuit of an IT certification often entails a considerable investment. That investment—or cost—comes in two primary forms: money and time. Money has to be spent not only for the certification exam, but for training materials as well, whether in the form of books, CBT, or classroom instruction. Time, however, often represents the biggest cost as the time spent studying one topic prevents you from studying another, honing other skills, taking other assignments, or even earning walking-around money on side projects.

To complicate matters further, choosing which certification to acquire next is often like choosing which of the thirty-six squares to place your roulette bet on. You want to pick a winner that will be recognized, increase your value in the marketplace, and hold its worth for some time; one of the worst things to do is find out that the certification you just earned is being phased out in favor of a newer one.

Given these conditions, it is helpful to look at some of the developments and trends to expect in the next year. These represent only a generalized opinion and should never weigh into your consideration any more than other variables. For example, if your employer values XYZ skills and offers to pay for your training and increase your salary $5000 more a year for obtaining said skills, you should not choose to walk away from it just because three people tell you that XYZ is dating quickly and few use it anymore. It is of value to you, to your employer, and should be pursued as long as there isn’t a better offer attached to another technology. Specific circumstances should always outweigh generalizations.

Without further caveat, here are five trends and topics to watch in 2011:

1. Security will stay hot.

For the past few years, security certifications have been consistently popular and there is no sign of that slowing down anytime soon. In addition to CompTIA’s updating their Security+ entry-level certification, they are also adding an advanced security certification, intended for administrators with a minimum of 10 years’ IT experience (five of which are hands-on with security). The one exam certification will focus on four domains: Enterprise Security; Risk Management, Policy/Procedure and Legal; Research and Analysis; and Integration of Computing, Communications and Business Disciplines.

While CompTIA is good at the entry-level, and is hoping to have something of value at the higher level, a number of other higher-level security certifications are already there and worth watching. The two main certifications are CISSP and CEH. CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional, from (ISC) 2) requires extensive experience in the field and is viewed as a premier certification for professionals concentrating on information security as a career path. CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker, from EC-Council) focuses on the growing area of penetration testing and requires two years’ work experience in the field. Both of these are respected certifications in the marketplace.

2. Virtualization is all the rage.

When even vendor-neutral certification entities like LPI (Linux Professional Institute) start offering exams on topics, it draws attention to the growth in popularity of that technology. Virtualization makes economic sense and as such is winning the pocketbooks of managers in almost every industry. Those managers then need qualified administrators to implement and manage it.

What is changing is the size of organizations implementing virtualization. For years, virtualization has been a mainstay at large corporations. As the cost of implementing the technology have come down, it has moved into a good number of medium-sized businesses now and will soon be in all that can identify the savings associated with it.

3. Project Management continues to grow.

In the area of “soft skills,” project management continues to win favor. It is difficult to find many IT positions above entry-level where project management skills can’t be utilized, and thus holding a certification is a positive on the resume. Within this area, PMI (Project Management Institute) continues to be the desired certification with few contenders on its level.

4. Cisco CCIE will remain prominent.

One of the most respected IT certifications is that of CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert). It requires substantial knowledge of IOS and Cisco products, and has been obtained globally by less than 1% of networking professionals. One of the reasons it is so respected is that it tests networking knowledge and abilities through both written (two hours) and hands-on (eight hours) exams. There are seven tracks to choose from, each focusing on a different area of network expertise, with the most popular being routing and switching. CCIE certifications must be renewed every two years.

5. Storage will increase in importance.

As the size of files and storage needs increase, the necessity to have administrators that are qualified to handle issues specific to this matter will expand. Representative of this, CompTIA—in conjunction with SNIA—is crafting a storage networking certification intended to complement Network+, Server+, and Security+. The proposed name for the certification will be “CompTIA Storage+ Powered by SNIA” and it is only one of several storage certifications that should be arriving in the next year or so.

Other Notes

Certifications that test on operating system issues will continue to incorporate the latest operating systems—for example, CompTIA’s A+ is doing a rolling update to include Windows 7 questions in the exams without doing a complete update. While the new operating systems work their way into general exam questions, certifications specifically on them are not as popular as they once were. An example of this is the Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST) certification, which was started with the release of Windows XP and is being phased out with the required exams retiring on March 31, 2011.

Microsoft has announced that the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification is now available through Certiport—the company overseeing the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams. Intended as an entry-level certification, MTA is a first step toward a higher certification. Currently, seven exams have been announced, each leading to the MTA credential and there may be more in the future:

  • 98-361: Sofware Development Fundamentals
  • 98-362: Windows Development Fundamentals
  • 98-363: Web Development Fundamentals
  • 98-364: Database Administration Fundamentals
  • 98-365: Windows Server Administration Fundamentals
  • 98-366: Networking Fundamentals
  • 98-367: Security Fundamentals
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