Career advice: Are certs worthwhile?

Premier 100 IT Leader Gary Hensley also answers questions on transitioning to the security field and becoming a leader

Gary Hensley
Gary Hensley of Clif Bar and Co.

Ask a Premier 100 IT Leader
Gary Hensley
Title:
Director of IT
Company: Clif Bar and Co.

Hensley is this month's Premier 100 IT Leader, answering questions about the value of certifications, transitioning to the security field and becoming a leader. If you have a question you'd like to pose to one of Computerworld's Premier 100 IT Leaders, send it to askaleader@computerworld.com.

Are certifications a worthwhile pursuit? Which ones are most valuable for someone just embarking on a career in IT? Yes, certifications can be a very worthwhile pursuit. Ten years ago, when recruiting for IT talent, I weighted a four-year degree much heavier than any certifications, but times have changed. Although a business degree is an excellent foundation for IT business analysts, technical certifications can provide a solid foundation for network, systems and help desk positions. For those just embarking on an IT career, priority should be given to the most commonly deployed mainstream technologies. Microsoft has several entry-level certifications focusing on server, networking, security and desktop operating systems called MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate). For network certification, the CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) continues its long standing as a solid credential. Server virtualization is a hot topic, and VMware offers the VCP (VMware Certified Professional) certification for people who implement and maintain VMware-powered virtual environments.

After doing desktop support for five years, I am ready for a change and am considering the security field. What would help me make this transition? If your desire is to grow into the security field in your current company, it might make sense to tell your manager -- and possibly the manager in charge of systems security -- about your development goals. Mentoring under your company's own security professionals is probably the most pragmatic approach to transitioning into a new role. Hopefully, your company encourages career broadening within IT. In addition, looking into certifications could be worthwhile. A respected advanced credential for IT security professionals is CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional), but it might be too advanced for people who are entering this profession for the first time. There are many other security certifications offered through security vendors, associations and universities that might be worth a look as a way to prepare for the transition.

How does a good manager become a leader? Qualities of a good leader depend somewhat on the culture of your company and the team you are working with. Whether a team or organization is values-based or bottom-line-driven, that culture will be reflected in the quality of its leaders. Attributes of a good leader include the ability to do the following:

• Communicate your vision. Your team understands the destination and shares an understanding of how to get there.

• Equip your team. Support your team with the right tools, training and resources.

• Mentor others to success. Work alongside your team members to coach and lead, and to provide clear direction and bold action when needed.

• Aim for "servant leadership." Demonstrate humility and a willingness to serve and follow.

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