Looking for advice on network certifications
July 25, 2006 5:51 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is thinking of getting some of the Cisco or Microsoft network certifications as a way of getting out of her current field (glorified data entry, basically) and into something more interesting and lucrative. She's smart, incrediblly detail-oriented and good at understanding complicated processes, but she has no background in computers. How should she go about this?

In particular: 1) Are there any certifications that are especially worth getting, or especially pointless? 2) What are the best self-study books for someone who wants to learn the material well but has no technical background? 3) Will any of this be of any value to her if she doesn't have a 2- or 4-year degree?
posted by nebulawindphone to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I personally think the Microsoft certifications are the least valuable out there. I would recommend CompTIA A+ and Cisco's CCNA (if you can afford it). That said, certifications alone will not get you anywhere. In my experience you have to either have a degree or have loads of experience or in very rare cases have an incredible self-acquired aptitude. In the latter case (which I suspect she'll have to do since the first two don't seem to apply) she needs to get a low level help desk job at a medium sized company. From there she just needs to consistently wow people and struggle up the ladder. Certifications will help with this but without the other two key factors (education, experience) it's all about how good you are. Good luck to her, it's not easy.
posted by saraswati at 6:02 PM on July 25, 2006

With no real experience, she'll just be another "paper MCSE", and there's a ton of those already out there, and they're not in demand. Most people hiring an IT job can sniff these types out and will not hire them. My advice would be, before starting on an expensive cert process, set up a lab at home (old stuff people have gotten rid of, maybe a few new cheapie PCs, old router off ebay), get a few books or manuals off the internet and mess with it for a few months. See if she likes it, and has a knack for it.

You say she's "She's smart, incrediblly detail-oriented and good at understanding complicated processes" -- why not look at a more general business job, examining business processes, or accounting. There are a fair amount of job openings along these routes (especially with Sarb-Ox) even for entry level.
posted by Spurious Packets at 6:14 PM on July 25, 2006

The A+ is pretty worthless too.
posted by cellphone at 6:16 PM on July 25, 2006

I got a CCNA with basically the same motivations as your girlfriend, and in terms of getting me a job, it was pretty much useless. (It may or may not have been a contributing factor in my getting an unrelated technical position over a year later.)

I was able to get the CCNA with no experience, but it did take about a year of self-study and a lot of time spent with router simulators, as well as a lot of help from friends who are networking professionals. I'm not sorry that I did it, as it was very difficult and I'm glad that I saw it through, and I now know a lot more about how the internet works than most people, but I don't think you should count on it getting you a job.
posted by bingo at 6:17 PM on July 25, 2006

Let me rephrase that. The materials for the A+ are good, quality, informative materials. The worth of the cert itself is negligable.
posted by cellphone at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

The thing about certs (and I have a few) is that they will get you past HR to an interview, where you will have to show that you know what you are doing. Getting to the interview itself has always been the hard part for me.

I agree with Spurious Packets about getting a few machines to mess around with before you start sinking money into getting a cert.
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 6:18 PM on July 25, 2006

Whenever I've interviewed people, I've tended to view proprietary schools, and to a lesser extent certs, as red flags -- that is, as negatives. To me they suggest somebody looking for a job and job security, and who has done a lot of rote memorization to pass the foolishly over-detailed cert tests, not someone who is a "natural" geek who just has a mania for problem-solving. YMMV.
posted by orthogonality at 6:32 PM on July 25, 2006

Sadly, both certifications have been diluted by diploma-mill schools. (Schools that just prep you to pass the test but don't actually learn the material.)

If she's at all interested, perhaps going for a few of the MCP tests first off would be a good idea. And who knows, the MCP in Windows XP might be useful to add to a resume.

Is she really interested in working in IT? A lot of people start with the desktop support role and then move on to bigger & better things. Picking up a couple MCP certs is not that difficult or expensive. It might be a good way to see how things go before dropping cash on a CCNA or MCSE.
posted by drstein at 6:56 PM on July 25, 2006

I'm a network administrator with umpteen years in the field, no certs. If I were going to get any, I would probably take the CCNA track - but as others have said I wouldn't count on it getting me a job, and if it did I'm not sure I'd take it.

Put another way, I sure wouldn't want to work somewhere that hires IT people based solely on the letters after their names.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:18 PM on July 25, 2006

If you want to help her with job insurance, do what everyone else says, get her some equipment and have her set up home networks, etc. And then, the important part: get her to network with people who work where she would want to work. Knowing someone there who knows you is far more important than a cert.
posted by cellphone at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2006

Pick up a couple of Ciscos, get CCNA, it's really easy.. that'll tell her if she likes it, or hates it :)

Simulators work too, but it's nice to have the hardware.

Even a Cisco 2500 would be less than 1000yen on an auction.. and we have quite a few waiting to go to the scrap heap, so there probably are companies like that near you.
posted by lundman at 10:39 PM on July 25, 2006

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