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The IT Career and Certification

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The buzz in the IT industry is usually about hot certifications and hot jobs. Where does an IT Career come in? Having a career in IT involves providing IT service for a living. IT is quite wide with many different fields such as Engineering, Networking, Programming, Database Administration, Web Development and Research. Each of these fields has unique requirements. Choosing a career in any of these fields requires knowledge and information about the nature of the job and its requirements.

So how does all this relate to certification? IT Certification is a growing trend that can’t be ignored by anyone with more than a passing interest in the IT industry. More and more potential and working IT professionals want to get certified.

Why Certification?

Many ask, why certification? The reasons vary, but many people find that it is an industry recognized and valued credential. It has been known to create opportunities for professionals with either a prospective employer or client. It is no wonder that employers use certification as a condition for employment, as well as rewarding certifications earned with job advancement or promotions.

The evolving scenario in all sectors of activity is one of a growing complexity of computer systems and businesses dependence on them. Qualified and competent IT professionals are needed to ensure the effectiveness and efficiency of computers. All sectors of the economy require the services of skilled technical IT personnel. But IT skills demand far outstrips supply. Furthermore, today, the telling inadequacy of the formal education system has contributed in making IT certification the main issue in IT education. Skilled professionals are urgently needed to create, operate, maintain and program computers.

It follows that there must also be standards to confirm the skill level and experience of such individuals. Certification gives an IT professional, a valued credential that is recognized in the IT industry.
Not only that, it is a powerful tool for providing job opportunities and for meeting challenges on the job. Improved income and enhanced job credibility are powerful motivators for becoming IT certified. There are also numerous valuable sponsor benefits. Employees and employers cannot afford to ignore IT certification.

But are these benefits automatic? The answer is no. For an individual, it always makes sense to approach certification within the context of an IT career. The first thing is to be sure that you want a career in IT. New entrants to, and professionals in, the IT field must know what it is all about and if IT certification is a route they must take.

Career Development

The question of which certification will boost your career will come after you are sure that certification will enable you to meet your career objectives. There is nothing like certification for certification’s sake. Certification should be considered within the context of your unique, individual career development plan. The issue of certification comes only after you have a realistic career development plan in place. So what does having a career development plan entail?

A career development plan requires what I term as career self assessment and career situation assessment. What do I mean by career self-assessment? Career self-assessment requires to you ask and answer questions that relate to your career expectations. You must ask yourself the questions: What sort of working life do you want? What are your career goals? What are your ambitions, personal or lifestyle preferences? In terms of career satisfaction what is important to you? Generally, the areas you should consider are: Nature of work, Work interests, Recognition, Security, Income (Salary and benefits), Personal / Family life, Opportunities for growth and Responsibility. Simply put what would give you career satisfaction in each of these areas? Which areas are of top priority, which are unimportant, which are you indifferent to?

A valuable career self-assessment is one that is honest. Lying to yourself will not help.

Next you need to do what I would call a career situation assessment. What is your current career situation? What stage are you at your career? What is your current situation with respect to your work or profession? Are you in a job that meets your ideal situation? If you are out of work, what is your background? Are you self-employed? Or are you a student? Again you must use the criteria you used for your career self-assessment to assess your current career status. Are you currently meeting your expectations in terms of Nature of work, Security, Income (Salary and benefits), Personal / Family life, Opportunities for growth, Responsibility, etc?

Which areas require improvement? It must be pointed out at this juncture that certification is not the solution to all your career limitations. Some career shortcomings will not be solved through certification. Your career development plan therefore involves action you will take to address any career gaps or shortcomings.

Training, certification, work experience, change of attitude, formal education, job change, or change of location or work environment may address some career deficiencies.
So what are the career goals you want to use certification to achieve? Certification is ideal for addressing career deficiencies if the lack can be resolved by acquiring or increasing valued IT skills and qualifications. Limited knowledge of new or relevant technical areas can also be addressed by certification. So is certification for you?

If certification is for you, you need to address issues relating to the quality and amount of resources, you are able and willing to commit to certification. The resources to consider are: time, money and effort. How much time do you have for study, for taking the exams and for training? Some programs will demand more of your time than others. What is your work schedule like? Will you be able to take time off for training?
Money is an issue. How much money do you have to spend? How much do you have to spend on training, books, training materials, training CDs if necessary, practice tests, testing fees? Certification is a career investment, so it is important to do some form of cost benefit analysis. Don’t look at the money simply in terms of what you’re investing now.

To succeed, time and money must be spent with a well-defined and directed focus. Availability of time and money will not guarantee success without the necessary commitment and effort. Be honest with yourself. How much effort can you make towards achieving certified status. Effort required varies from program to program. It is advisable that you gauge your level of commitment.

Which Certification?

If certification is a solution, the question is which certification? You should now begin to identify certification programs that fit into your career plan. MCSE, A+ (sponsored by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA)), Java2 (sponsored by Sun Microsystems), Oracle (sponsored by Oracle Corporation), CCNA (sponsored by Cisco Systems) are some of the most popular certification at the moment.
Although some certification programs are more popular than some, it doesn’t mean that the others aren’t valuable to you. Always avoid the bandwagon effect or “money only” attitude. One has to match his or her interests, work goals, time availability and financial resources to a certification program. It is better to choose a certification that is in line with your goals rather than choosing any popular certification program.

For example, if your career self-assessment and your present career situation points towards networking certification, you may consider programs such as MCSE, Network+, CCNA or Certified Novell Engineer (CNE). You will then have to consider your available resources in terms of money, time and effort.

Practical Certification

But before you conclude on a certification program, there are still some practical issues you must consider. For each certification you are considering what are the actual strengths, weaknesses or potentials of the program in industry? Get information about the programs. We live in the information age. Use information to succeed. How is the program valued by industry? A certification’s credibility is ultimately affected by the reputation, real or perceived of the organization backing and administering it. What is the level of recognition in industry? What do employers think of it? Get information from training schools. Do your research.

Don’t restrict your research to your immediate environment. Because certification is a global trend, it is advisable to visit sponsor’s sites as well as various independent certification support / information sites on the web. You can only take the right decision with a balanced opinion of the real potentials of certification programs that have been identified.

Furthermore, you have to realize that IT certification is not a cure-all. An IT career is more than the acquisition of technical skills and knowledge. An IT professional is incomplete without the right professional attitude. Certification to a large extent focuses on skills and knowledge. Professional Ethics must guide an IT professional when working and interacting with Clients/Customers, his or her organization and society. We must all widen our view that limits professionalism to simply the application of skills, knowledge and experience.

Additionally, for a certification program to be valued and accepted, there must be a proven connection between accepted work experience and certification. Is a certification a valid test of an individual’s ability to demonstrate command over a body of knowledge and apply that knowledge productively? Or is it “paper certification” which only demonstrates a person’s ability to cram and pass a test?
We are concerned with certifications that mean something. It is about demonstrating that you are an expert in a particular area or areas and a reputable, recognized organization is willing to attest to that, and by you confirming that on the job.

Certification must also be seen as a continuous process. You should continually set new goals and update yourself. To stay ahead, you have to keep on learning.

Finally, never forget that Certification is not an end in itself; it should be part of your career advancement strategy. Your goal should be to succeed in the IT industry, while achieving career satisfaction.

First appeared at Jidaw Systems Limited

Jide Awe is the Founder/CEO of Jidaw.com (http://www.jidaw.com)

The IT Career and Certification
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