Saturday, December 22, 2018

Getting Certified for Beginners in IT

For those just starting out in IT, to those looking to change careers, getting certifications is a great place to start. From my experience, employers love certifications. Whether or not the certification is actually as useful as people think is an entirely different story. Now getting a certification is not a magic key for a job, but it can be some heavy leverage. It's a piece of paper that specifically says that you can do that type of job and are backed by an industry standard that you are indeed capable by there standings. So where to begin?

Every job I applied to, and the job I currently work, consider the CompTIA A+ the starting point of being an IT Specialist. Sure people get hired without it, but at my place of employment, they expect you to either acquire or have supplemental experience/education with credible proof. I will say that the CompTIA IT Fundamentals is as useful as toilet paper, so try to start with the A+. There are other companies with other certifications, but the A+ is the go to. So what does an A+ mean? Well, it's pretty much a basic understanding of computers, operating systems, and troubleshooting. Pretty much the job description of IT, the only thing you need to add on is that you're good with Office suites like Microsoft Office, and maybe tack on some free ones like Libre Office and OpenOffice.

Despite the A+ being a job description for IT work, like a help desk, it's just saying you meet expectations. In the day of the Internet, networking is something every IT person should at least understand. This includes things like the OSI model, different technologies used, network services, and the like. When it comes to networking, there are two routes you can go. CompTIA Network+ is the normal go to if you're not wanting to go heavy into networking, but the Cisco certifications like the CCNA are held in high regard. Even if you don't use a Cisco network, their certifications are held very high when it comes to networking.

Once you cover these two areas, you should have the proof you need that you can IT. After that you can branch out into quite a few different areas. They include Security, Infrastructure (Cloud and/or Server), and Networking to name some. Those of course branch off into more specific groups.

When looking at security, there's the CompTIA Security+, CySA+, PenTest+, and CASP+. There's also other companies such as SANS with the GIAC stuff, EC-Council with their well known CEH (certified Ethical Hacker) to get you started, and Offensive Security (who brings Kali Linux to the table) with a certification that shows you can penetration test in the real world. There are so many good options here, especially with everyone trying to get into the penetration testing stuff.

With networking, your best bet is to get into Cisco's certifications. To be honest, I don't recall seeing much else asked for outside of Cisco certs beyond the minimum of a Network+. It's also a good start with so many companies emulating what Cisco does and the way they do things, so you still are quite versatile.

Infrastructure is a unique area because it often requires some advanced networking, security knowledge, and a million and one tools and commands to pull out of thin air. When it comes to the cloud stuff, I have never really looked at it. When it comes to the server stuff, there's of course some that CompTIA have, like the Server+. Other options worth exploring are the certifications offered by Microsoft themselves. Let's face it, they're everywhere. There are of course other things out there that can be just as important, or even more so. In steps Linux. CompTIA does have the Linux+, but I think the Redhat certifications are a better bang for your buck. Redhat and CentOS seem to be the heavy hitters in the Linux world that actually require some knowledge. Every Ubuntu based server I've delt with at work was either shipped pre-configured or just a script you ran and called it quits. I manage the CentOS servers we use for mass image deployment across our locations. We have security cameras that use Ubuntu servers, but those are already setup and our camera guy is usually only running updates or wget and a shell script. There's a few other places that offer certifications, but none spring to mind.

I should also add that there are certifications for virtualization that can be valuable for Networking and Infrastructure. There's plenty of information on it if you go check out VMWare and their certification path.

So how do you decide which way to go? Well, start with the A+ and Network+. Figure out an industry you want to work in or type of area. Then just take the more general varieties and narrow it down as you go. So... Good luck!

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