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What Entry Level Certifications Should I have?


Make no doubt about it; vendor certifications are big money for all the big players of technology. Having to renew every three years and pay for the privilege of keeping your certs active is a substantial steady stream of income for Microsoft, Cisco and CompTIA.

There is also the gainfully employed working for training companies promising to help get someone certified in one or two weeks. Certifications are big business for a lot of people.

What does being certified mean for the individual? It says you are going to get past the HR person and onto the next level of the job interview. There has to be something used by organizations, government agencies, schools and the military to discern a person worthiness for consideration. We can all sit at the bar and discuss the validity of being certified, but technical certifications are the yardstick used to help measure a person readiness for a job or promotion. You can't consider your experience or your education until we have checked the box next to certifications.

We've all seen people with a college degree get promoted over individuals (Good'ol Joe) who have been on the job much longer and demonstrated they are ready for the promotion. The job description says a Bachelors degree from an accredited institution of higher learning is required. We can say Joe got shafted which was not the case. Joe did not meet the minimal qualifications for the job.

The same is true with certifications. At the lower realms of technology, we can get by on our good looks and workbench experience, but when we try to get to the next level, we hit a wall. When the owner is also the HR and the pay clerk, we can talk our way into a $15.00 an hour job, no certs required. As long as we're living in our parent's basement and driving their car to work, life is good, no certs required.

Once you start making six figures and playing with the big dogs, you do not want to have to bother with keeping current with your certs but those are what brought you to this level, and they are going to be what keeps you at this level. I got hired as an online adjunct at another university because I was Server 2008 certified. The school no longer teaches Server 2008, and now if I want to continue teaching Server 2012, I must be certified Server 2012 by such and such a date or else.

Companies I work with as a subcontractor hire me because of my Cisco and M$ certs. Those same companies now want me re-certified with Cisco and M$. The certs that brought me this far have run their course, and I need new and better certs if I want to stay where I'm at.

The entry-level certifications that you should be striving for have not changed all that much in the last decade. Everyone working in technology should have an excellent understanding of hardware and software fundamentals and that certification would be CompTIA A+. A+ is about as basic as it gets for certifications but this exam is anything but easy. I studied for a year before I took mine back in 1999 but technology was not my friend back then, and I found it hard to grasp all there was to know. I barely passed. This was my first cert, and after the shock wore off, I began to cut my study time in half and then in half again, and now if I take two weeks off, I can usually get certified in just about anything.

The good news is that regardless of the vendor they all draw the questions from the same pool of technical knowledge. TCP/IP does not change from one vendor to the next nor do industry standards. That's why you will see many of the same questions though reworded, covering the same material across on different exams. The same can be said for the A+, Net+ and the Security+; they cover much of the same material.

CompTIA A+ CompTIA has a bunch of exams that are worthwhile. Besides the A+ there is the Net+ for networking basics and the Security+ for network security basics. There are plenty more + exams, but these are some of the more well-known ones. Starting out you will need to consider if you want to get Microsoft certified. Having one Microsoft certification makes you a Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP). When I started, it was NT 4.0 exams and then Windows 2000, 2003, 2008, and now it is Server 2012 and 2016. For entry level, you need the have at least one MCP, and I would shot for a desktop operating system such as Windows 7. These all lead to bigger and better Microsoft certs such as the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) which has so many different levels now I could not cover all of them in this writing. MSCE use to mean Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer, but the designation of engineer upset a lot of real engineers, so M$ once again have reinvented themselves.

You can check it out here: M$ Certifications but every primary Microsoft cert begins with just one MCP. For those with ambitions of grandeur and the need to make the big bucks and bark with the big dogs, there is Cisco. Cisco certs are tough, and they continue to get tougher. For CompTIA and Microsoft certs, attending class is a good idea but with Cisco, it is pretty much a requirement, or you are in for a long haul. Cisco has recently changed their Career path, and the CCNA is no longer their entry level cert.

The new entry-level cert for Cisco is the CCENT, Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician.

We call this working at layer 2 and layer 3, switching and routing. Most techs usually start out at the desktop and then work their way up to Cisco. Usually, they get bored with fixing end-user problems and dealing with desktop support. Working at layer 2 and layer 3 keeps you away from the human element, and for some of us, that is a good thing. If all of this sounds very foreign, it is, but it is so prevalent in technology that you cannot ignore it. You don't have to get certified in technology, you get an entry-level position based on your good looks and personality, but for those of us born with a face made for radio, we use certifications as part of our three-step program for staying employed despite our lack of physical attributes. Remember that being a triple threat in technology is having an education, certifications, and experience. When you get to this level, you don't worry so much about finding a job as you do about finding the wrong one.

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