[Posted 18 Apr 2013 by Kathy Yale]
The Role of Certifications in the IT Industry
While education is of primary importance to IT professionals, certifications also play an important role for both employees and employers. Employers prefer to see prospective employees with certifications because this validates that they have the skills necessary to do the job, and they know how to use these skills. For employees, it allows them to test themselves on industry standards and to compare themselves with other professionals in the business. Many jobs on the market today require specific certifications to even be considered. Government and military jobs specifically put a high premium on these certifications, with one of the most notably being the A+ Certification.
The CompTIA A+ Certification
This CompTIA certification is geared to the maintenance of desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, and printers. This means that the A+ certification is valuable for anyone who is interested in the user-support aspect of computer technology. Many large corporations require that their technicians have A+ certification for precisely this reason. While the CompTIA A+ certification focuses on general technology, the emphasis is more on PC computers running Windows systems than Apple operating systems or Linux operating systems.
The CompTIA A+ certification is an entry-level certification for IT professionals with about a year of experience in the field. However, that does not mean it’s not a valuable certification for those with more experience. Because many government jobs require it as a prerequisite, it can be absolutely necessary for someone, even with years of experience, to get this certification simply to qualify. Because the certification is geared toward entry-level technicians, it should be easy for a more experienced technician to pass.
While CompTIA certifications used to be lifetime certifications, this has changed in recent years. CompTIA certifications now expire within three years, which means that professionals that wish to keep these certifications need to re-certify every few years. This re-certification costs only a fraction of the original exam and can still be highly beneficial.
The Difference between CompTIA and Other Certifications
CompTIA, Microsoft, and Cisco form the three main certificate vendors in the IT industry. CompTIA is different from the other certificate agencies because it is vendor neutral. Microsoft certifications only test the IT professional in Microsoft products, and Cisco only tests the IT professional in Cisco products. While Microsoft and Cisco products do make up the majority of the infrastructure for many companies, prospective employers want to see that employees have a diverse skill set and an understanding of the basics.
Because CompTIA is such a general certification it has become the certification of choice for military and government contracts. However, for networking in private industries, Cisco certifications are still considered more important. Because Cisco certification is more in depth than CompTIA certification, many IT professionals get their CompTIA certification first and then later move on to the Cisco certification path.
After the CompTIA A+ Certification
After taking the CompTIA A+ certification, many IT professionals progress to either Network+ or Server+ certifications. These certifications are more advanced than the A+ certification and can demand higher salaries. Those who have successfully completed A+ certification may also advance to Microsoft’s MCSA certification or Cisco’s CCNA certification paths. Because CompTIA only offers entry-level certifications, professionals that are more experienced may find it necessary to continue with other vendors.
Which certifications an IT professional chooses depends on the trajectory they want their career to take. Those who are interested in server administration can move from A+ to Server+ or from A+ to MCSA. For those who are interested in desktop support and troubleshooting, an A+ will usually be enough. IT professionals who want to focus on networking can move from A+ to Network+, and finally to their CCNA, though Network+ alone is often enough to secure a solid entry-level position.