IT certifications -- why, which, and when

SolarWinds recently hosted a survey on the value of IT certifications. Based on the survey results, IT certifications are more valuable than any other time that I can remember, and folks with these certifications are seeing a return on their time investments.

As you can see in the results, 60% of the respondents said that IT certifications helped them land a new job, while 50% said that they earn more money as a results of a certification. Nearly 30% said that the certification helped them get a promotion.

Now that the results are in and we're all thinking about IT certifications, it should be easy to see why they are worth pursuing. That leaves us with the questions of which and when...

There are many factors that can impact which IT certification you should pursue. If you don't currently have a certification and your current role (or expected next role) involves hands-on use of technology (as opposed to program or people management), then I'd suggest you get a certification within the field that you're primarily engaged in. For network administrators and engineers, that means getting a certification from the primary network hardware vendor that you work with; for systems administrators, a certification from the operating system provider or virtualization software provider that you primarily work with.

If you already have these certifications in hand, then you need to think about whether to delve deeper into those technologies with a higher level certification, or if it would be better for you to broaden your horizons with a certification from a different discipline. In most cases, choosing a certification from a different area will be more useful when you look for your next job. Companies today are looking for well rounded technologists and the data centers of today make knowledge of all of the IT infrastructure -- networks, systems, servers, SANs, virtualization, etc. -- critical to being able to troubleshoot complex issues. However, if you are in a specialized role and you expect to stay in that role long term, attaining a higher level certification within the specialty will likely help you along the way toward pay increases and promotions.

In terms of the "when", obviously sometimes things are so busy that you really can't allocate any time to studying for a certification exam. However, it will be much easier to pass the exam if you're studying while you're actively working with the technology. Also, as I mention in a previous blog post, the holiday season can be a great time to prepare for and attain a new certification.

If you've already achieved certifications in network and system administration and you're looking to further differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack, network management certifications can help you accomplish this. They assume that you already have a solid foundation in network and systems engineering and administration and focus on network management best practices.

Last but not least, there are a few emerging technologies like IPv6 and virtualization that are in high demand and that will continue to build momentum for years to come. If you're looking to come up to speed on these technologies, you'd might as well seek out a certification while you're at it.

What certifications have you recently attempted? What did you learn throughout the process? Leave a comment and let us know!

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Josh Stephens is Head Geek and VP of Technology at SolarWinds, an IT management software company based in Austin, Texas. He shares network management best practices on SolarWinds’ GeekSpeak and thwack. Follow Josh on Twitter @sw_headgeek and SolarWinds @solarwinds_inc.

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