What certification or course should I study next? Or First?
Those question gets asked in online IT communities dozens, if not hundreds of times per day. And it’s a natural question. Everyone wants to know their next step.
This, like many questions, is most often answered from inside you, not externally. Trust me- if I could just figure out a way to answer this one, I could retire to Tahiti in a year. But alas- it’s not as simple as saying something like, “Oh, yeah- get your A+ if you want to get started” or “MCSE is the right path for everyone.”
It just depends.
What I have for you today is a filter that, once you figure out more about you, you can apply to a particular course of study to help you figure out if it’s for you.
***GUESS WHAT? I should take my own advice! This is how easy it is to just ask someone what you should do next:
Way to impress the guru there, buddy. I do plan on emailing him, by the way.
How to use this
If you can answer Yes to each or most of these questions, then you should consider it as your next stop on your IT learning quest.
Do I find this technology interesting?
If this learning is optional for you, this is a serious indicator of whether you should pursue it. If you think it’s dumb or boring, and can’t see the potential for it, investing time, energy and resources in it will likely be wasted. Why get started if you are bored to tears by it and don’t finish?
Will getting this particular knowledge or certification increase my marketability and/or earning potential?
If you can get a big raise by learning an in-demand technology, you should do it. Getting the right experience and certification can mean massive earnings growth, and open up a lot of potential roles in your area.
Some people just look at this as the sole criteria for getting a certification. That is plan foolish. Yes, money is important (and I mean really, really important), but it’s not everything- not by a long shot.
Can I afford to acquire the hardware and software necessary to learn this subject?
Some certifications can be gotten without hardware or software costs, but the majority will require you to run something on something. You will need hands-on experience.
This requires a bit of research. If you’re doing MCSE, you just need a trial of Windows Server and some PC to run it on. However- if you want to learn vSphere (like I did) or get your Cisco CCNP, you will need computers, routers and switches to make that happen.
Cheap hardware and free software trials are out there. Can you pay for them?
Can I immediately apply this knowledge to an IT problem someone has?
Being able to use your training right away instantly makes it more relevant- an thus more likely to be finished, and worlds more interesting. It’s very satisfying to get knowledge, then be able to leverage it and solve problems.
I saw this played out when I got my VCP. I was high on VMware, and over the next few weeks, I found myself doing the things I learned about and practiced in production environments and *gasp* answering questions for my peers. Like a real SME.
Will my employer cover my costs to get this knowledge or certification?
Many companies want or need to have specially trained and certified technicians in their ranks. Sometimes as a contractual obligation, sometimes as a marketing tool. Other times, they will just want to rely on contractors and consultants less, and bring that expertise “in-house.”
Because of this, they will often pay your expenses to get the knowledge. This is a pretty sweet deal. Make sure you talk to someone about it before you commit, but this is a great way to go.
Are there any prerequisites to getting this knowledge?
Some certifications recommend a minimum level of experience before tackling it. Other, like VCP, require a VMware authorized course before you can certify.
Ask yourself if the level of the training is appropriate for your level of knowledge and experience. For example, if you don’t know what a firewall is, you shouldn’t try to go for CISSP- they want you to have 5 years of direct work experience.
To help you start your investigation, here are some of the most popular IT certification providers:
- Microsoft Learning
- VMware Certification
- Red Hat Linux
- PMI (Project Management Institute)