Thursday, January 1, 2009

IT Certifications In Demand

What Credentials Are Hottest Right Now?

According to a 2007 Robert Half survey of more than 1,400 CIOs from American companies with more than 100 employees, the top five IT skills in demand are Windows administration, network administration, database management, firewall administration, and wireless network management. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than a million new IT jobs will be created by 2014. However, UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute reports a 70% drop in computer science majors between 2000 and 2005.

While many enterprises jockey for recent technology graduates from colleges and universities, others have relied heavily on targeted professional certifications as a metric for potential new employees. Experienced technology professionals often use technology certifications to advance their careers without investing time and money to obtain an advanced degree. Additionally, organizations are choosing to foot the bill for their existing staff’s certifications to increase employee retention while reaping the benefits of a better-educated IT staff.

Eddie Zeitler, executive director at (ISC)², a globally recognized standard for certifying information security professionals based on the strict criteria of a globally recognized benchmark (ANSI/ISO/IEC Standard 17024), has also witnessed senior executives, such as CIOs and CISOs, adding a professional security certification to their resume. He says, “As senior management becomes more aware of security issues, there’s a strong demand for certified players.”

Just about every IT vendor and discipline has some sort of professional certification. Boot camps, IT training centers, and independent certification bodies, such as (ISC)² and the Wi-Fi Alliance, also provide certificate programs for core disciplines.

Zeitler explains the different types of certifications and why both are necessary: "Someone who has to work only on a specific product, like a firewall, needs to have specific training on that box, model, version, etc. That's valuable. But to frame the security policy for a corporation, to talk about information assurance across the board with auditors, regulators, and compliance officers, you need a more senior person with a good strong grounding in information security.”

But many IT professionals question spending the money and time obtaining professional certifications in such a dynamic industry. Nancy Freelan, an enterprise IT recruiter for the last 18 years, explains the importance of certifications: “It gets your foot in the door.” While many of the organizations hiring Freelan do not require certifications, she uses it as a method to identify potential employees who have a commitment to their profession.

Popular Choices

Since the introduction of the MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) certification 14 years ago, it has been the top-ranking professional certification. Recently, Microsoft (www has overhauled its certification program. The model is composed of three series (technology, professional, and architect) and four credentials (Microsoft Certified Support Technician, Microsoft Certified IT Professional, Microsoft Certified Professional Developer, and Microsoft Certified Architect). Microsoft’s aim is to provide standards through which IT managers are able to qualify and validate core technical, professional, and architectural skills.

Following the lead of newer oversight bodies that developed more stringent testing criteria to alleviate “professionals-on-paper,” candidates for Microsoft’s senior-level IT architect certification, MCA, must have a minimum of 10 years advanced IT industry experience and must appear before an oral board of industry peers.

Before there were Microsoft certifications, the de facto standard often offered in conjunction with university extension programs was the Certified Novell Engineer, or CNE, certification ( Today, NetWare remains popular with companies, educational institutions, and government agencies, so the demand for trained Novell engineers and administrators continues to remain high.

With more data centers and IT departments integrating Linux into their infrastructure, IT professionals are also obtaining the Novell CLP (Certified Linux Professional) and CLE (Certified Linux Engineer).

“Any certification from Cisco puts a potential employee at the top of the pile,” says Freelan. With more than 90% of Internet traffic through Cisco ( routers and switches, the demand for trained professionals to maintain and troubleshoot networking equipment has ballooned.

Cisco offers multiple tiers of certifications—Associate, Professional, and Expert—within several disciplines, including Routing and Switching, Design, Security, Storage, and Voice, as well as Specialist Certifications for Data Centers, IP Communications, VPNs, and Wireless LANs. Routing and Switching continues to be Cisco’s most popular track, as it covers not only information about its products but also comprehensive information regarding network traffic, protocols, network interfaces, and access control lists.

The Big Picture

Freelan has also seen a sharp rise in resumes listing technology-specific certifications, such as those for databases, wireless installations, and IP communications.

Database giant Oracle ( offers an extensive array of certifications from its Oracle University covering databases, middleware, applications, and Linux.

The professional certifications garnering the most interest from both IT professionals and employers focus on security. “Enterprises don’t want to take chances when it comes to their security. If they are going to demand a certification for potential employees, it’s usually for some type of security training,” Freelan notes.

Due to the encompassing and holistic nature of security, enterprises want to see a nonvendor-specific certification, such as the CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) offered by (ISC)².

Similarly, emerging certifications for VoIP are following. With the growing popularity of IP-based communication, many organizations, such as Cisco, Avaya (, IBM (, and 3Com ( are turning to the CCNT (Certified in Convergent Network Technologies) certification to set the educational standards for emerging applications in converged telephony and data communication technologies.

The demand for certifications is constantly evolving along with new and maturing technologies. However, Freelan says, “Experience will always trump certification.”

“If I’m going to employ someone, I want to have some confidence as to their knowledge and skills. It just makes sense,” says Zeitler. “We want people certified for their jobs.”

by Sandra Kay Miller

The Major Categories Of Certifications
Discipline Popular Certifications
Administration • MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)
• Linux Certification
• Novell Professional Certification
• SCSA (Sun Certified System Administrator)
Database Management • Oracle DBA (Database Administrator) OCP (Oracle Certified Professional)
• Lotus Professional Certification
• MCDBA (Microsoft Certified Database Administrator)
Networking CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate)
Security CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional)
VoIP CCNT (Certified in Convergent Network Technologies)


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