Join 3,558 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Are any computer or IT certifications worth pursing?
June 10, 2014 4:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the weird position of being halfway through a psych/programming/IT degree meant to train me as a user interface expert. I'm taking a year off to work. I want to learn more about networks, networking, and network security. I want to learn more about computer security in general, best practices to follow. I want to eventually get a non-glamorous job in tech support or similar to pay the bills until I work my way up. Are any of the current computer/tech/IT certifications worth pursuing?

I want to learn more about TCP/IP, but I don't want to specialize in Microsoft systems. I want to learn more about network engineering, but not as someone who will eventually install cables for a living. I just want to spend the next six months learning as much as I can about computers, networks, servers, and security, and maybe spent the six months afterward as a tech support person. I know I'm not set for anything fancy in IT unless I get at least an undergrad, preferably a few degrees, and I'm OK with that. It's a temporary solution.

But I've heard that employers don't actually look at certificates or that the certificates are all outdated.

Is there any certificate, or two or three, that I can study for in the next few months that will increase my chances of getting at least a rudimentary IT job? If so, which certificates should I study for?
posted by quiet earth to Technology (10 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
None of the entry-level certs are supremely valuable. They don't guarantee that the certificant has a given level of technical expertise, nor do they automatically qualify one for a job.

That said, getting a certification does indicate that you are willing to put forth several hour's study effort and pay a couple hundred dollars to take the test. That can make a difference if you are looking to get into the industry and don't have experience or contacts to set you apart from the other applicants. A lot of operations teams and consulting/staffing firms want to be able to say "We're 100% Cisco/Microsoft certified!" in their marketing materials, so it helps in that way as well.

If I wanted to get into network engineering without experience today I would get a CCNA. That's the entry-level Cisco certification - or at least it was; apparently there are new ones but I'd avoid those. You want test "200-120 CCNA Routing and Switching". Don't take a course - buy a CCNA study guide at any bookstore and be prepared to spend some time with it if you really are starting from scratch. If you have access to any kind of Cisco equipment - routers are best, but switches are OK too - play around with it as much as you can just to get familiar with the command syntax.

Past that I wouldn't pursue another certification until it's time to go after the top level certs - the ones that cost thousands of dollars and multiple days just to take the test. In the security world I do see a fair number of CISSP's, but that's similarly involved. I don't know anyone who has seriously pursued or benefitted from the mid-level certifications (background: network engineer for 15 years, in ISP and university environments).
posted by five toed sloth at 4:43 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I have also heard that Cisco is the only basic one worth doing, really.

FWIW IAAsysadmin and systems, network and security administration is basically a trade - degrees and certifications and such are nice and will open doors but you can work up perfectly well in the sector without them. I have worked with some excellent sysadmins who never finished college. (I do have a CS degree, and it was helpful in getting me the interview for my first job, but has been essentially useless in terms of actual stuff I needed to know.)
posted by corvine at 5:00 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


A+ and Network+ are rudimentary PC parts-and-service, and the rudiments of network, respectively. I suggest you try some A+ test questions (available all over, online, or just flip through a book without leaving the bookstore) to get an idea. You are probably past this-- an IT degree should blow this stuff out of the water.

Network+ is the basics of network engineering, including a veneer examination of structured cabling-- you should know your UTP cable orders by color, for example. So, OSI levels, TCP/UDP, Subnetting, network architecture, basic troubleshooting tools and techniques.

CompTIA is the group that creates the + tests above, and here is their price list.

CCNA is the godfather of general-practice network certs. Here's a guy who created a free CCNA course on youtube, funded by kickstarter. What you learn for CCNA should be mostly transferable to non-cisco stuff. (CCNA has to be renewed every 3 years.)

For security, there's a Security+ cert that I know nothing about, and there's CISSP, which is the CCNA-equivalent-level cert-- again it's the least specialized, core-concepts exam for Security, but it's also a big one that's above the level of something like, I presume, Security+. I would have to research further as to how actual employers or techs value CISSP.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:01 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


You can't get a CISSP because you don't have 5 years in a security domain. And the CISSP is a necessary joke in the field, anyway.

Degrees are useful for getting past HR, but are not necessarily required. I would say either go whole hog on the Cisco certs (one should be able to self study to a CCNP level), or, given that you like the intersection of networks and security, go get a GCIA cert from SANS. If you get a GCIA and actually learn the stuff rather than just memorizing facts, you can probably be employed as an intrusion analyst and bypass years in tech support.

A GCIA is reasonable if you seriously work at it for a few months -- I'm talking around 30-40 hours a week seriously learning this stuff inside and out. That's what I did. Feel free to memail me if you are interested in or go that route -- if you're in the appropriate location or willing to move, I can probably put you in touch with a number of shops and recruiters that would pick you up in a heartbeat. There's a shortage of folks in my field at the moment.
posted by bfranklin at 5:02 PM on June 10 [2 favorites]


> You can't get a CISSP because you don't have 5 years in a security domain.

Ah, that's news to me. Though it looks like a 4-year IT degree knocks 1 year off that requirement, FWIW.
posted by Sunburnt at 5:05 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Also, keep in mind: we're listing the certs that are worth it on your own dime. On your employer's dime on company time? Anything except niche vendor certifications are worth it. In short, go get MS, Cisco, Checkpoint, etc. on the employer dime. McAfee, sourcefire, and other very vendor specific stuff? Probably not worth it.
posted by bfranklin at 5:08 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


Given the amount that cisco charge for certs, I guess they must be worth it. Your institution may be lined up to provide cheap CCNA certs which is the first step down the cisco networking route by my understanding.

I'm a psych graduate who programmes for money. I have no certs, but I did write a book on a niche product that is used in products with hundreds of millions of end-users.
posted by singingfish at 5:23 PM on June 10 [1 favorite]


I want to learn more about TCP/IP, but I don't want to specialize in Microsoft systems. I want to learn more about network engineering, but not as someone who will eventually install cables for a living. I just want to spend the next six months learning as much as I can about computers, networks, servers, and security, and maybe spent the six months afterward as a tech support person. I know I'm not set for anything fancy in IT unless I get at least an undergrad, preferably a few degrees, and I'm OK with that. It's a temporary solution.

You seem to have some misconceptions about the way the IT business works. Just get a job doing ANYTHING. It really doesn't matter. Learn as you go, keep your resume updated and use your contacts to network yourself into better, more interesting jobs. I started out mostly just fixing printers and cleaning viruses off of windows boxes and now I've got a dev-ops job at a massive tech company making three times as much money. I have no certs and no degree, and it's never really been an issue.

If you know how to follow written instructions, use google, ping a server and read a traceroute and have decent communications skills, you can get a tech support job at a lot of places.

The key to getting a job is looking at what the job requires, and make sure you mention the technologies listed on your resume. Don't list anything you aren't familiar with, but you usually don't need to be an expert to through a job interview for an entry level job. Make sure you mention that you're a quick learner and pick things up on the go and like solving problems.
posted by empath at 12:51 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]


I suspect employers don't care much about certs but recruiters ,I.e. employment agencies, do because it helps categorize you. Employers care about experience.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:53 PM on June 11


Short answer: No, you don't *need* to have a cert, but they can be useful for helping to focus and scope the extent of learning in a very wide area. As mentioned above: CCNA/CCNP are probably best places to start.

Study and understand the roles of, and differences between, Layers 1 through 4 of the OSI model. Understand how IP communications are translated between the Network and Datalink layers. Know ARP and its role as the glue between Ethernet and IP communications. Learn why Switched Ethernet was such a great improvement over Shared Ethernet (I feel like over 60% of my useful knowledge/experience came simply from being involved in network troubleshooting during the time when that whole transition was underway....) Understand the benefits and drawbacks of [an application] using TCP vs UDP.

If you're really serious, check out the book Interconnections by RadiaPerlman.

Don't worry about learning using MS platforms. Sure, there's a bunch of proprietary higher-layer stuff related to directory services and authentication, but at layer 4 and below, it's pretty much implementing open standards such that what you learn there will translate well elsewhere.

Get some old PCs / laptops and some hubs/switches ; build stuff ; break stuff. Breaking connectivity then trying to figure out how to fix it, is the absolute best way to learn applicable skills.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 9:44 PM on September 3


« Older I have accidentally trained my...   |  I need help finding a hairstyl... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments