What Color Is Your Parachute? 2017: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers

Getting Certified in IT

1. How Certifications Help
2. Paper Certifications
3. Easy IT Certifications
4. Top Tier IT Certifications
5. Preparing Certification Exams

1. How Certifications Help

What's Behind Certification

Almost all IT vendors, big or small, offer certifications on their technologies, products, systems, and tools. Why do they do this? What's their intention? Do they want to test your skills? Are they really interest in you career path? Probably not. But they do have a big motivation to do this - the money! You see, certification is such an effective marketing tool and endless revenue generator.

Through certification, these vendors achieved wonderful goals. Here are some:

  • Royal User Base - After you spent all your time and money to get a certification on a product, more likely you'll use it and stick to it in the long run. That's exactly what they expect.
  • Customer Relationship - Customers who own a certification of a product or technology have improved ownership experience of the product and feel higher level of satisfaction.
  • Revenue on Training - When certification is a goal, it becomes incentive for taking training class. Go to Oracle website and check the price of online courses, you'll see how well it works.
  • Product Marketing - For their own sake, certified professionals do recommend the products and tools from the certification vendors. What such a wonderful sales team, and it's free!

Now you see what the IT certifications for, they are NOT built for you. Keep this in mind, let's see what certification cannot do for you.

What certifications cannot do

A certification is NOT your ticket to a dream job. Also, it doesn't guarantee a fatter paycheck. It is just something you MUST have.

Why You Need to Be Certified?

  • It's Industry Standard - Almost all established vendors offer certifications on their products, systems, and tools. A lot of IT organizations offer vendor-independent certifications.
  • Everyone has it! - Getting certified is a popular achievement among IT professionals. Almost every IT guy has at least one kind of certification or thinks getting one.

2. Paper Certifications

Paper certifications, meaning certifications earned without experience, are often criticized because a paper certification without real life experience only makes yourself look good but doesn't add obvious value to employers. When employers hire certified IT professionals, they expect to acquire working experience that should have been tested by the certification vendors. In fact, most of IT certification holders do offer proven experience in this industry. If employers find out that your experience is only on the "paper", they may be disappointed.

However, on the job seeker side, it's another story. To seek a job in IT, you need to beef up your resume with all possible IT contents, including experience and credentials. IT certification is just one of common credentials wildly recognized in IT. While you have to be on the job to get hands-on working experience, you can earn an IT certification anytime you want/need simply by taking the exams with on constrains attached.

As you see, certification is an easier and faster way to beef up your IT resume when you have less experience. For example, if you cannot write "Experienced Java programmer" in your resume, you can put "Oracle Certified Java Programmer" as soon as you pass one Java exam. This addition builds several advantages to your resume:

  • Demonstrating industry recognized credential status.
  • Creating stronger image as a serious IT professional.
  • Showing commitment in IT profession.
  • Imply skills and experience in Java programming.
  • Add 3 keywords to your resume (Oracle, Java, programmer)

That's a lot of help to a less experienced IT job seeker. After all, if you are competing with others who have the same level of experience but only you hold an IT certification, you'll for sure be considered first. That's the competitive advantage of paper certification.

Thus, if you don't have enough IT experience, get a paper certification. Clear enough?

3. Easy IT Certifications

The beauty of certification is, you are in control. You don't have to depend on anyone, -- your employers or your professors, to achieve the goal. You take the time to learn and pay the money to get it. It's all up to you. Then, how easy is it? It is not only easy, it is very easy.

At least, if you don't have any IT experience, it is not harder for you to get paper certification than one with experience. Whether you have experience or not, you sill have to spend time to read preparation books, get to know the type of questions, and take the exam. In fact, it's more worth the time to get paper certification. If you are already experienced in IT, it will be boring to prepare the certification exams. But if you are preparing a paper certification, it is really a wonderful learning experience.

For beginners, there are several easy but valuable certifications to take. They are industry-wide popular credentials and you only need to take one exam to get one of it:

Microsoft Certified Professional

Microsoft, the king of IT, offers certifications in many subjects. You can choice a certification path and take one exam of your interest. Once you pass the first exam, you are entitled Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP).

Almost all of Microsoft exams let you earn MCP. It depends on your interest and intention of career path to decide with exam to take. If you are familiar with Windows operating system, it should easy for you to pass "Installing, Configuring, and Administering Microsoft Windows"; if you are interested in programming, then prepare the VB exam "Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET"; if you take database as career path in mind, you should consider "Administering Microsoft SQL Server".

For updated information about Microsoft certifications, check at
http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/

Oracle Certified Java Programmer

Everyone in IT knows Java is hot. If you have Java, you have the job. Period.

The shortcut for Java to Job is Java certification. You take only one exam to become Oracle Certified Java Programmer. Java as a language is a little bit hard to learn than IDE based languages like Visual Basic. But once you start and get a clue, you'll be able to go on quickly. Plus there are a lot of resources online and in book stores.

Java was once under the Sun, and now is in the Oracle shop. Check Oracle website to learn more about Java certification.

4. Top Tier IT Certifications

For highly experienced IT professionals, entry-level certifications like MCP along don't make much sense. To make your credentials support your impressive achievements, you should present top tier IT certifications.

For IT professionals with over 5 years of experience looking for senior level positions, the following top tier certifications will be helpful.

Oracle Certificated Database Administrator

In the IT world, Oracle means database. Having an Oracle DBA certification could help secure your profession in database field. Oracle certifications used to be harder to get. When Oracle database was on 8i long time ago, you had to take 5 exams, -- PL/SQL, Administration, Performance Tuning, Network, and Backup & Recovery to become certified. Now you only need to take 4, -- the first 2 exams give you "Oracle Certified Associate" and another 2 will make you become Oracle Certified DBA. Oracle certification information can be found at:
http://www.oracle.com/education/certification/

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)

This is MCSE is not the old MCSE, - Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), but quite similar. MCSE is one of the oldest top tier certifications in IT industry. MCSE helps prove your expertise in designing and implementing the systems and network infrastructure based on the Microsoft Windows platform. Showing MCSE in resume immediately enhance your image in Windows and network. If your career path leans to Microsoft platform with focus on OS and network, then MCSE is the sure choice. Get more information of MCSE at
http://www.microsoft.com/learning/mcp/mcse/

Oracle Certified Java EE Enterprise Architect

When Sun was alive, it was the famous Sun Certified Enterprise Architect (SCEA). SCEA was one of the high-end and difficult certifications in IT. The certification requirements included a knowledge-based multiple choice exam, an assignment and essay exam. It required some working experience to complete the project assignment. Oracle Java EE Enterprise Architect certification is for enterprise architects responsible for architecting and designing Java EE Platform technology compliant applications, which are scalable, flexible and highly secure. Many IT professionals use this certification to pave the way from basic programming job to higher paid architect position.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

IT security has become ever more important in today's business world. A lot of career-concerned IT professionals notified this trend and many of them have moved to higher-paid, more secure jobs specialized in IT security. If you are interested in joining the growing force, then the Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification is very helpful. CISSP is a vendor neutral certification by International Information Systems Security Certifications Consortium - (ISC)2. As the first ANSI ISO accredited credential in the field of information security, CISSP presents very high value. The URL below provides more information about CISSP.
https://www.isc2.org/

Project Management Professional (PMP)

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from Project Management Institute (PMI) is the world's most recognized professional credential for individuals associated with project management. Earning a PMP certification helps you migrate from technical fields to IT management or practice as an independent consultant. As many IT professionals plot their career path to management as the destination, they choose PMP to demonstrate their mastery in managing complicated IT projects. For more PMP information, check at
http://www.pmi.org/

5. Preparing Certification Exams

Many experienced IT professionals use certifications to help advance their career, some just want to take a paper certification as the ticket to enter the industry. No matter what level of experience, you still need to spend time to prepare. I've seen seasoned IT experts failed an easy exam but someone who never coded a computer program passed both VB and Java exams. When you prepare for certification exams, you can't count on your experience too much; just remember practice makes perfect.

In many metropolitan areas there are classroom trainings for IT certifications, but they are expensive and you may not have time to attend classes if you have a full time job. Online training classes are available for many certifications but the quality is not guaranteed. The easiest and most economic approach is to get an exam preparation book, read it through, and work on the exam questions. The Exam Cram series published by Coriolis should meet your needs for many popular certifications.

An alternative resource is certification exam e-books. If you search Google for "actual exam for IT certifications", you'll find several websites which offer certification e-books of exam questions and answers that are almost real. Many of these websites are operated in foreign counties like India and Pakistan. Several years ago a few China-based websites sold real exam questions but many of them had been shut down due to copyright violations. As IT professionals, we all should respect intellectual properties, thus if I see a website violates copyright I'll send an email note to the site owner and may report to authority as well. On the other hand, it's your right and choice to buy an e-book for your needs. With this type of e-book, you only need to remember every question and answer and then go to take the exam, most likely you'll pass.