What are the Best IT Certifications?

Not all skills may be learned in a college or degree oriented environment. Some knowledge may come in the form of IT certifications that may be looked upon as a sort of ‘merit badge’ in the professional world.  So what is the best IT certification you ask? Well, there is much debate about that in the technology world. Some tech professionals believe vendor specific (such as Google, Microsoft or Cisco) programs are the best, and others believe that vendor-independent exams (such as the Project Management Institute) are the more effective way to measure real-world expertise.  However, the best IT certification for you can only be determined by you and your personal circumstances and your potential career path. 

Below are a few frequently asked questions that may help you determine which may be the best IT certification for you.

Q. What information technology certifications are popular?[xiv]

There are far to many IT certifications for us to comprehensively cover, so we have selected a few of the more popular certifications and have listed some of the requirements necessary to complete them.[xiii]

Network+ Certification
Network+ certification – this data networking certification may be recommended as one of the first professional certifications for those pursuing the roles of help desk technician, network administrator, IT cable installer, and other career paths.[i]

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although the A+ recommended as well as 9 months of networking experience
  • Does it expire?: TBD – usually 3 years after the current exam has launched
  • Did you know? This certification is held by nearly half a million people worldwide

A+ Certification
This may be another good starting point for IT professionals, this certification covers topics like mobile, tablets, desktop, PC repair, operating systems, and more.  It helps prepare an individual for troubleshooting networking and security systems and may be a good choice for field service technicians, IT support specialists, and others.[ii]

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although it to have 6 to 12 months experience in the field
  • Does it expire?: Yes. Certifications issued after 2011 expire after 3 years, you can keep it current though, through continuing education offered by CompTIA
  • Did you know? This certification is held by over 1 million people

CCNA Certification
Teh CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification is intended for entry-level network engineers, this certification program covers the installation, configuration, and troubleshooting of medium-size routed and switched networks.[iii]

  • Who offers it: Cisco
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Does it expire?: Yes, after 3 years. You can keep the certification valid by passing one of Cisco’s continuing education exams BEFORE your certification expires 

​MCSA Certification
The MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator)  certification covers core IT skill areas such as Microsoft Windows 8, SQL Server 2012, and Office 365.  It may be a good fit for computer support specialists and other IT employees.[iv]

  • Who offers it:  Microsoft
  • Pre-requisites:   None
  • Does it expire?:   The MCSA does not require any sort of re-certification

​MCSE Certification
MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) – this certification covers a more advanced level than the MCSA on topics such as server and desktop infrastructure, private cloud and business intelligence. [xvi]

  • Who offers it:  Microsoft
  • Pre-requisites:  MCSA  
  • Does it expire?:  the MCSE requires recertification every 3 years. 
  • Important to know! This certification is being replaced by the new Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE)  - yes, it has the same acronym. The new cert is centered around the ability to design and build technology solutions vs a specific job role.

CRISC Certification
​CRISC (Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control ) – This certification is designed for IT professionals, project managers, and others whose job it is to identify and manage risks in Information Systems[xvii]

  • Who offers it:  ISACA  (Information Systems Audit and Control Association an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  At least three years of experience in two of the four CRISC domains is required for certification
  • Does it expire?: To keep the certification in good standing individuals are required to maintain a minimum of 20 CPE hours annually and 120 CPE hours over their 3-year cycle. There is also annual maintenance fee of US $45 ISACA member and US $85 non-member is required.
  • Did you know?: This exam is only offered two times a year!

Linux+ Certification

The CompTIA Linux+ certification may be a good choice for junior Linux administrators, systems administrators, web developers, and others who need to demonstrate familiarity with the Linux operating system. Why is Linux important? Well, not only does it power a vast majority of Web servers it is also the foundation of the LAMP development stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).[vi]

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although it is recommended to have 6 to 12 months Linux experience and the A+ and Network+ certifications
  • Does it expire?: It was unclear in our research if it does, however most CompTIA certifications do require continuing education renewal so it is likely as technology is always rapidly changing.

Google Apps Certification
The Google Apps certification tests your skills in either the deployment, configuration, and migration to Google Apps for Work (Certified Deployment Specialist exam) or the administration of a Google Apps domain (Certified Administrator exam). [vii]

  • Who offers it:  Google
  • Pre-requisites:  Deployment specialist: Recommended minimum of three years of professional IT experience, and complete at least three Google Apps for Work deployments.  Administrator – recommended minimum of six months experience managing a Google Apps domain with a minimum of 50 users.
  • Does it expire?: You're required to pass the certification exams every 18 months; the exam can be retaken 30 days prior to or up to 60 days after the 18-month renewal date.

ACE (Adobe Certified Expert)Certification

Adobe offers a variety of certification programs related to their popular software products, such as Analytics, Target, Dreamweaver, Flash, ColdFusion, and many others. The Adobe Certified Expert certification may be useful to graphic designers, web designers, web developers, and others.[viii]

  • Who offers it:  Adobe
  • Pre-requisites:  Typically none
  • Does it expire?: Certifications on Adobe Digital Marketing Suite products are valid for 12 months. All other product certifications do not expire

CCNP Certification
The CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional ) certification program covers more advanced routing and switching knowledge for network engineers, network technicians, and others.[ix]

  • Who offers it: Cisco
  • Pre-requisites: Valid CCNA or any CCIE certification
  • Does it expire?: Yes, after 3 years. You can keep the certification valid by passing one of Cisco’s continuing education exams BEFORE your certification expires

CISSP Certification
The CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) certification is perhaps one of the more popular IT certification programs for information systems security professionals, CISSP tests ten key areas including risk management, network security, and cryptography. This certification may be valuable to IT directors, security analysts, security systems engineers, and other IT professionals who need comprehensive knowledge of information security.[x]

  • Who offers it:  (ISC)²
  • Pre-requisites:  At least 5 years of recent full-time professional work experience in 2 or more of the 8 domains of the CISSP exam
  • Does it expire?: To remain valid, the individual is required to submit continuing professional education (CPE) credits in alignment with the refreshed 8 domains of the CISSP

Security+ Certification
The Security+ certification is relevant for professionals in the data security field as the certification aims to demonstrate proficiency with security fundamentals such as assessing network vulnerabilities. These fundamentals are likely to be important to any employee responsible for managing sensitive information.[xi]

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  Recommended minimum 2 years of experience with a focus on IT security and the Netowrk+ certification
  • Does it expire?: TBD – usually 3 years after the current exam has launched

PMP® Certification
Project Management Professional certification program tests key knowledge areas about directly managing projects including how to manage project scope, time, cost, quality, risk and more.[xii]

  • Who offers it:  Project Management Institute  (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  Depending on your circumstances - at least three to five years of project management experience, with 4,500 to 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education
  • Does it expire?: In order to keep the certification valid, the holder must earn 60 professional development units (PDU) per every 3 year cycle

There are many books and other study aids out there to help you prepare for taking one of these exams, including courses offered by our partner Udemy. We have taken the time to compile a short list of their highly user rated courses that may help prepare you for taking some of the above IT Certification exams. Ratings and enrollment numbers noted were as of 4/29/2015: 

Paid Advertiser:

Certification/
Subject
Udemy Course RatingStudents
Enrolled
A+CompTIA A+ 220-802 - Prepare For The CompTIA A+ 220-802 Exam5 Stars
(3 raters)
955+
A+CompTIA A+ 220-801 - Prepare For The CompTIA A+ 220-801 Exam4 Stars
(5 raters)
1.1k+
CCNACisco CCNA (200-120): The Complete Course5 Stars
(61 raters)
16k+
CCNACCNA 2015 200-120 Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant5 Stars
(663 raters)
21k+
MCSAMicrosoft Windows Server 2012 Certification - Exam 70-4104.5 Stars
(20 raters)
4k+
MCSAMicrosoft Windows Server 2012 Certification - Exam 70-4115 Stars
(5 raters)
2.5k+
SQLLearn MS SQL Server From Scratch4.5 Stars
(28 raters)
8.2k
SQLIntroduction to Oracle SQL4.5 Stars
(17 raters)
4k+
SQLSQL for Newbs: Beginner Data Analysis5 Stars
(47 raters)
2.9k+
LinuxLearn Linux in 5 Days and Level Up Your Career5 Stars
(104 raters)
6.7k+
LinuxLinux for Beginners5 Stars 
(32 raters)
2k+
AppsLearn Android Lollipop Development. Create Java Android Apps5 Stars
(101 raters)
15k+
AppsThe Complete iOS8 and Swift Course: Learn by Building 15 Real World Apps5 Stars
(2,199 raters)
82k+
AppsThe Complete Apple Watch Developer Course - Build 14 Apps5 Stars
(246 raters)
9k+
AdobeMastering Adobe Photoshop CC5 Stars
(16 raters)
15k+
AdobeAdobe InDesign CS6 Tutorial - Beginners to Advanced Training4.5 Stars
(16 raters)
11k+
CCNPCCNP 2015 All-in-One Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant5 Stars
(116 raters)
7k+
CCNPCCNP SWITCH 300-115 2015 Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant5 Stars
(37 raters)
1.1k+
CISSPIT Security: Hacking Tips & Techniques for IT Professionals4 Stars
(16 raters)
4.6+
CISSPGet CISSP Certified in Quick and Easy Steps4.5 Stars
(2 raters)
107
PMPProject Management Professional (PMP) Exam Prep5 Stars
(85 raters)
5.8k+
PMPPMP® Full Realistic Exam & PMP Math Lectures 5 Stars
(36 raters)
1.3k+

Paid Advertiser 

Q. What IT certification should I earn first?

The certification you might want to earn first (or at all) typically depends on your intended career path. For instance, web designers may pursue Adobe certification but likely won’t need Network+ certification. Take the time to explore your professional area and find out what the best IT certification track may be for your goals. Keep in mind that some certifications have prerequisites, and you may need to earn some certifications in a specific order. For example, the CCNP certification for network engineers requires candidates to have earned CCNA certification first.[ix]

Q. What IT certifications do not expire?

Some certifications could remain valid for the duration of your career, while others may need to be renewed on a regular basis as the IT field evolves. One example of a certification that does not expire is the MCSA. While the MCSA certifications may not technically expire, it may be retired as new operating systems replace old ones, but your certification remains valid.[iv] (Of course, once the operating system you are certified in is no longer in use, you may wish to be recertified in the latest OS.)

Some certifications, like the PMP, require you to pursue ongoing professional development and education in order to renew your certification. Certifications offered by CompTIA  such as the A+, Network+  or Security+ certifications would only need to renew at the highest certification level held. So in this example, you would only need to meet the continuing education requirements for Security+ to renew all three certifications.[xv]

Before getting certified, be sure to understand all the requirements for keeping your certification in good standing.

Q. What does IT certification require?

In most cases, you’ll need to pass an exam that covers core areas of your professional field, proving that you have the knowledge and experience necessary to be certified. Some certifications also have specific educational and professional requirements. For example, the CISSP certification requires candidates to have five years of full-time work experience involving at least two of the ten core areas that are tested in the exam.[x]  

Now that you know a bit more about the certifications that IT professionals could pursue, hopefully you are in a better position to decide which is the best IT certification for you. 


[i] certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/network.aspx  |  [ii] certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/a.aspx  |  [iii] cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna/index.html  |  [iv] microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mcsa-certification.aspx  |  [v] onetonline.org/link/summary/11-3021.00  |  [vi]certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/linux.aspx  |   [vii] certification.googleapps.com  |  [viii] training.adobe.com/certification.html  |  [ix] cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/professional/ccnp/index.html  |  [x] isc2.org/cissp-training.aspx  |  [xi] certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/security.aspx  |  [xii] pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx  |  [xiii] rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/5-it-certifications-to-get-your-foot-in-the-door/  |  [xiv} cio.com/article/2392856/careers-staffing/12-it-certifications-that-deliver-career-advancement.html  |  [xv] certification.comptia.org/news/2011/07/14/Top_10_FAQs_in_CompTIA_s_Continuing_Education_Program.aspx  |  [xvi] microsoft.com/learning/en-us/mcse-certification.aspx  |  [xvii] isaca.org/Certification/CRISC-Certified-in-Risk-and-Information-Systems-Control/Pages/default.aspx

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