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The 10 best IT certifications: 2010

The certification landscape changes as rapidly as the technologies you support. Here's an updated list of certs that currently offer the most value and validity for IT pros.

Just as with many popular arguments -- Red Sox v. Yankees, Chelsea v. Manchester United, Ford v. Chevy -- IT certifications are popular fodder for debate. Except that certifications, in an IT professional's microcosm of a world, have a bigger impact on the future. Just which certifications hold the most value today? Here's my list of the 10 accreditations with the greatest potential for technology support professionals, administrators, and managers seeking employment within consulting firms or small and midsize organizations.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: MCITP

This best certification list could be built using 10 Microsoft certifications, many of which would be MCITP accreditations. The world runs on Microsoft. Those professionals earning Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification give employers and clients confidence that they've developed the knowledge and skills necessary to plan, deploy, support, maintain, and optimize Windows technologies. Specifically, the Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 and Server Administrator tracks hold great appeal, as will Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010, as older Exchange servers are retired in favor of the newer platform.

2: MCTS

With operating systems (Windows 2000, 2003, 2008, etc.) cycling through every several years, many IT professionals simply aren't going to invest the effort to earn MCITP or MCSE accreditation on every version. That's understandable. But mastering a single exam, especially when available examinations help IT pros demonstrate expertise with such popular platforms as Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, and Microsoft SQL Server 2008, is more than reasonable. That's why the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) accreditation earns a spot on the list; it provides the opportunity for IT pros to demonstrate expertise on a specific technology that an organization may require right here, right now.

3: Network+

There's simply no denying that IT professionals must know and understand the network principles and concepts that power everything within an organization's IT infrastructure, whether running Windows, Linux, Apple, or other technologies. Instead of dismissing CompTIA's Network+ as a baseline accreditation, every IT professional should add it to their resume.

4: A+

Just as with CompTIA's Network+ certification, the A+ accreditation is another cert that all IT professionals should have on their resume. Proving baseline knowledge and expertise with the hardware components that power today's computers should be required of all technicians. I'm amazed at the number of smart, intelligent, and seasoned IT pros who aren't sure how to crack the case of a Sony Vaio or diagnose failed capacitors with a simple glance. The more industry staff can learn about the fundamental hardware components, the better.

5: CSSA

SonicWALLs power countless SMB VPNs. The company's network devices also provide firewall and routing services, while extending gateway and perimeter security protections to organizations of all sizes. By gaining Certified SonicWALL Security Administrator (CSSA) certification, engineers can demonstrate their mastery of network security essentials, secure remote access, or secure wireless administration. There's an immediate need for engineers with the knowledge and expertise required to configure and troubleshoot SonicWALL devices providing security services.

6: CCNA

Although SonicWALL has eaten some of Cisco's lunch, the demand for Cisco skills remains strong. Adding Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) expertise to your resume does no harm and helps convince larger organizations, in particular, that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to deploy and troubleshoot Cisco routing and switching hardware.

7: ACTC

Here's where the debate really begins. Increasingly, my office is being asked to deploy and administer Mac OS X networks. In the real world, divorced from IT-industry rhetoric, we're being asked to replace older Windows networks with Mac OS X client-server environments. We're particularly seeing Apple traction within nonprofit environments. We've found the best bet is to get up to speed on the technologies clients are requesting, so it stands to reason that earning Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) 10.6 accreditation won't hurt. In fact, developing mastery over Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server will help provide confidence needed to actually begin pursuing Apple projects, instead of reactively responding to client requests to deploy and maintain Apple infrastructure.

8: ACSP

Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) 10.6 accreditation helps IT professionals demonstrate expertise supporting Mac OS X client workstations. If you work for a single organization, and that firm doesn't use Macs, you won't need this certification. But larger organizations adding Macs due to demand within different departments or consultants working with a wide client base will do well to ensure they have Snow Leopard client skills. The ACSP is the perfect way to prove mastery.

9: CISSP

Unchanged from the last 10 best certifications list, ISC2's security accreditation for industry professionals with at least five years of full-time experience is internationally recognized for its value and validity. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) title demonstrates expertise with operations and network security, subjects that will only increase in importance as legal compliance, privacy, and risk mitigation continue commanding larger organizations' attention.

10: PMP

I fear organizations begin cutting project managers first when times get tough. Management roles and responsibilities often get passed to technical staff when layoffs occur. Even in challenging economic times, though, IT departments require staff familiar with planning, scheduling, budgeting, and project management. That's why the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation makes the list. The cert measures candidates' expertise in managing and planning projects, budgeting expenses, and keeping initiatives on track. While there's an argument to place CompTIA's Project+ certification in this slot, PMI is a respected organization that exists solely to further professional project management and, as such, deserves the nod.

Honorable mentions: MCSE, ITIL, RHCP, Linux+, VCP, ACE, QuickBooks, Security+

In the previous version of this article, readers asked where NetWare certification stands. It's not on the list. That's not a mistake. It's gone the way of BNC connectors, in my opinion. Microsoft owns the market. MCSEs have more value.

ITIL has its place, particularly in larger environments. RHCP (or Linux+) and VCP have roles within enterprises dependent upon Red Hat/Linux and VMware virtualization technologies certainly, but those organizations remain hit or miss.

Acronis' ACE deserves a look. With some 3 million systems being backed up now by Acronis image software, it would behoove technology professionals to learn how to properly use the software. I think it's fair to say there's still some confusion as to the software's tremendous potential.

SMBs are also demonstrating a surge of interest in QuickBooks technologies. From QuickBooks Point-of-Sale to QuickBooks Enterprise platforms, there's strong, growing demand for QuickBooks expertise in the field. The company's growth is impressive. There's no other way to describe it. In a crappy economy, Intuit's growing.

Security+, really, is a no brainer, but I'll get lit up if I include nothing but CompTIA certifications in the top 10 list. However, my advice for anyone entering the industry or even veterans seeking their first accreditations would be to load up on CompTIA certs. How can you go wrong with the manufacturer-independent certifications that demonstrate mastery of fundamentals across a range of topics, including project management, hardware, networking, security, and voice networks? You could do much worse.

A word on the methodology

There's no double-blind statistically valid data analysis run through a Bayesian probability calculus formula here. I've worked in IT long enough, however, and with enough different SMBs, to know what skills we need when the firm I co-own hires engineers and sends technicians onsite to deploy new systems or troubleshoot issues.

Sure, I could have thrown in ITIL to satisfy enterprise professionals, included RHCP to sate the rabid open source crowd, and added VCP to look hip modernizing the list with a virtualization element. But I'm just not seeing the demand for those skills in companies with up to several hundred employees. My firm's been asked to deploy exactly one Linux server in almost seven years. And we've virtualized maybe a dozen systems. Therefore, I feel it would be a disservice to readers to include such accreditations when I see, on a daily basis, vastly greater demand for these other skill sets.

For more details on how the IT certification landscape is changing, see this Career Management blog post.


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About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

90 comments
calvinbrock7351
calvinbrock7351

You can alert them -- or decide not to. Whisper allows you to provide advice, tips, and information to your employees while they are on the phone with a client without the client being aware.

girlsdoporn

uberlist
uberlist

I would also add in support center certifications. Support centers have traditionally been a good place to get into IT. I've also seen where some good money can be made for individuals with good experience. Couple of good places are Globalbench (www.globalbench.com) and HDI (thinkhdi.com).

mistercrowley
mistercrowley

What I don't get is that people don't understand that there are different A+ certs and that they don't care to make a distinction between any of them.

tommy96
tommy96

An efficient data center addresses cooling, air flow management, power distribution, load shedding, monitoring, reliability, policies and procedures, and maintenance. It also must include looking at strategies to position the company to a+ certification take advantage of rebates and incentives which I have seen add up to 50% of the cost of a project.

dmarsh26
dmarsh26

No call for VCP ? No call for the hundreds of other certs not mentioned ? Are you on crack ? This is nothing more than your opinion presumably based on rather limited exposure to certain aspects of the indistry.

pankaj.nikam
pankaj.nikam

What about in software? What are the top certifications in software please provide an update...

Nimmo
Nimmo

I'm surprised that more security certifications didn't make the list, where is the CompTIA security+ and EC Council CEH?

Jadams76
Jadams76

Suprised no CCIE or VCP on the list @ciscopress / @jamieadams76

crcgraphix
crcgraphix

And, if you are going for MCTS or equivalent right now, then you are taking the test of one of the nineteen different style tests. Plus, there are roughly 1200 different exams covering all of the material of every technical subject. Some test centers alone offer about 800 tests in their arsenal, mainly focusing on Microsoft CompTia, CCNA, and MCSE/MCTS ... That means that out of the total average of tests, there are almost three or more new exams per 1200 allotment every few weeks or so. That would mean 1200 / 3 * 2 per month = 800 + the existing 1200 in the hole. These places that offer 700 to 800 tests are basically responsible for almost two-thirds of test production processes and that's not to say they do it alone, but that on a bi-weekly or tri-weekly basis, they're expected to make good with some valuable test data and procedural layouts. So , as you can see the test providers kind of support the beast, the beast which is the licensed Testing and Assessment Center, those who create the tests. Now, if there are 3000 Prometric Licensed Testing Center world-wide, then how many students are taking each test at-a-time in any given part of the world? You do the math...

ray
ray

That disclaimer about "no statistical basis" for this list should have been the very first sentence. Idiotic.

jjenkins
jjenkins

...then why should I, who has only 2 years of field experience and an associates degree, keep getting asked if I have Security+, CISSP, CCNA/CCNP, etc. when I go for job interviews? Say what you will, but this article is for people who don't have a job trying to get a job in the industry. I've found that ALL U.S. government or contract positions require Security+ now. Depending on what your specialization is (if you have one), A+ always seems to garner interest in my resume too. Then they start asking for specific certs for whatever position I'm applying, be it CCNA for Network Admin or MSITP for Windows Server Admin. If you're a web design or database specialist, these would obviously be the worst choice, but having A+ would still help because everyone seems to be looking for that person who can do what he specializes in and help with everything else. Not to mention I've met quite a few web people and programmers who can't seem to identify what kind of memory their MAC needs in order to make their program run more efficiently. I usually don't ask them anything professionally after that because it shows a distinct lack of interest in the whole purview of their chosen field.

cbader
cbader

If you are hiring someone for the Geek Squad you may want an A+ certified technician, but to put that on a 10 best list is a joke. Replace that with VCP, and replace N+ with Security+ and your getting a little closer.

BradTD
BradTD

I was hoping to hear more about what people thought of the list, but of course it had to degenerate into the usual debate about whether certs are useful or not. (Yawn.) Hello people, this certification thing is NOT exclusive to IT!! I have friends who are teachers or in trades, and many of them have had to get certified or found value in doing so. Can you imagine if teachers bitched about "having to" get certified the way IT people do? I myself have fallen on both sides of this debate. I have been in the IT field for over 18 years and didn't get my first certification until last year. Now I have a few and will keep on going for now. I do see some value in getting them based on experience of both me and the people I manage. It doesn't guarantee you'll be an effective technician(nor does it mean that those who don't have them aren't effective technicians), but it can help if you have some skills and common sense to begin with. No, it is not a foolproof way to ensure you've hired a quality candidate. But to say that certified technicians are worse employees on average than non-certified technicians is absolutely ascinine. As far as the list itself, of course it's open to debate; but to me it's not a bad starting point. Based on others I have seen in the field, I certainly promote CISSP if you're involved in security and hope to obtain it myself someday. Like it or not naysayers, it does open up some doors as I have witnessed for others. I also promote ITIL and hope to obtain that one in the future. I have an employee who obtained ITIL while at a previous job. While he is a Microsoft network administrator, he also provides extra value by applying some best practices with process items such as software and hardware deployments (among other things). Considering how disorganized much of IT management is (in my nearly two decades of experience), process improvement items such as learned through ITIL are important.

jk2001
jk2001

What's the value of a cert compared to other ways to get proof of competency? - Recommendations - Publications - Weblogs - Participation in Open Source projects - Volunteer projects - Membership in organizations - College degrees I ask because I have no certifications.

Matthew.Rasins
Matthew.Rasins

Many of thses seem to be more accreditations than certifications. Maybe I'm wrong.

Englebert
Englebert

I am convinced that the future hiring process will be vetted by a computer that will go out seeking certs And this does not apply just to IT. Tell the juniors, your children, granchildren to accumulate their certs. Even one may not suffice, but many, viz Jane Doe, BA, PEng, MBA Networking and Certs...the only way to open doors

tsabbe2001
tsabbe2001

VM, VOIP/UC, OCS, and video Telepresence are the hottest technologies. I've been involved in >20 projects at Global 1000 companies and leading LA/SD firms in the past 3yrs. The list above lacks in the skill sets associated with these technologies. Guessing you're company has very limited exposure to larger enterprises.

TGGIII
TGGIII

All of the comments above about not having real skill are true; if you can't dance your will go home without your date. As a manger that has done a fair bit of hiring, I will tell you that certs can get your resume in the right stack, especially in a tough job market. Not a deal maker but perhaps a tie breaker. Certs do need to match level of aspiration. If you are at the beginning of your career looking for entry level work - entry level certs are great, but don't come looking for a senior level security job with a Network +. Finally, there was one comment about PMI being useless theory. Deming said, "Experience without theory, teaches nothing." There are many people applying theoretical principles as if they were scripture. As with all frameworks, rigor equals risk and it is possible to overdo such things. On the other hand, I have seen some projects where some of the more agile or informal methods would have melted...in the end there is no substitute for thinking and if you think hard enough, you usually wind up at the frameworks that have already been developed; ergo get the cert as a short cut to knowledge and then work to develop the skill.

juanuby
juanuby

Last time I checked (which wasn't that long ago by the way) job descriptions still require of an applicant to have certain certifications especially, specialties such as IT, Audit/Assurance and Project Management. If someone is presented with two candidates, both with experience and one with accompanying certification the later will be chosen, unless the former has some sort of an inside track advantage. Same thing can be said about education, high school graduate vs college grad with the same experience, its just the way it is. If you think you can get along without continuing education which certifications mandate by the way (and it shows you are ?up to date? with new technologies and methodologies) then by all means go ahead, but your career outlook, your desirability, will suffer. In tough economic times you need to prove your worth and experience with certifications show you are more then just a PC grease monkey.

Sir Breezy
Sir Breezy

Is this a joke? A+ still on the list. Why not speak about how hiring managers regard certifications as meaningless these days. Managers want skilled workers that have experience in the field, not on paper.

Kelseyvh
Kelseyvh

I think CBAP is also missing.

duncanrack
duncanrack

A high demand for MCSEs does not equate to high salaries, which basically means the more MCSE's the lower the price the market will pay. That makes it the worst qualification cz at the end of the day its about the benjamins baby .. ching..ching. So i say, taking the MS route will get you the job but not the rewards due to you. It becums an issue of title vs cash... i vote for cash! Besides, hw many can seriously tackle an RHCE exam, very few, and CCIE, very few again. So the fewer you are, the better the graph. Peace!

Bobbymak
Bobbymak

The PMP's concepts and terminology add no insight or clarification to one's ability to manage projects. It's a memorization of academic theories of questionable value. Project managment has been around since the construction of the sphinx and they did just fine without being certified. And being careful not eat their own dogfood, none of the officers of the PMI are themselves certified. Another reason to think twice before shelling out the bucks for this designation.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

These certification vendors claim that those holding them, or worse still those claiming to hold them can pass an exam. Quite often even so miserable a conjecture is dubious. In terms of means they can do the job, don't make me laugh. The idea behind certification was some independant and reputable body vouchsafing a professional's ability against an industry standard. As soon as the huge sums of money that could be raked in from selling a stamp of professionalism were realised, that orginal idea floated off on a boat load of greed. I've no argument with the idea that we can learn things on them, that we can prove that we had at some point by passing the exam. Certify us as professionals? Naivety, stupidity or mendacity are the only explanations. I've met too many with them, who were crap at the job, and only slightly less without who weren't. The only thing a claim of cert on a resume gives me confidence in, is which subjects to grill the next candidate on.

Jellimonsta
Jellimonsta

I don't believe one of the aforementioned certifications (bar maybe CISSP) would aid my resume or job search one iota. I don't think my current employer would really care too much about certifications, though I did have my CCSP and CCVP when I came here. I have subsequently let them lapse.

ScottLander
ScottLander

Why should all IT professionals have an A+ ? That's a great certification to have, but a couple of popular A+ study/reference guides are typically over 1000 pages of ram packed information. An A+ is a specialized certification for people who are typically technicians or deskside support type personnel. I don't see why everyone in IT has to have it anymore than a DBA certification. I think people also need to be careful of over certification... I've seen my share of people who have one too many certifications, and the thing I find in common with a lot of them is that their ego prevents them from learning anything from their non-certified peers(they won't normally admit they didn't know something) instead always preferring to be the 'teacher'. I've also had experience with my share of certified tech people who didn't measure up. Anyone can cram for a couple of months and pass an exam. It doesn't necessarily mean those people are experts.

robo_dev
robo_dev

The "Best" for what? For an entry-level job, the A+ is great. But for a senior level job, that's not gonna impress many people. Also, Network+ is also a pretty basic certification....not 'top ten' material, IMHO. If you're looking for a job in IT Governance, compliance, or IT audit, the CISSP is great, but the CISA or CISM is a must-have. Also, honorable mention: Quickbooks certification??? Seriously? How about all the GIAC certifications like the GIAC GSE (Security), GIAC Certified Forensics Examiner (GCFE), Oracle certifications, etc, etc.

rwtodd2007
rwtodd2007

I would think a good understanding of wireless would be needed as well (CWNA & CWSP). Looks like that whole area got dropped off the map.

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