Prove Proficiency in Your Knowledge and Skills
Entry Level (Starting Out)
The most basic certifications you can earn as an entry level IT professional are without a doubt the A+, Network+ and Security+ offered by CompTIA. These have always been and continue to be the golden standard for the industry.
This certification is divided into 2 exams just because of the sheer volume of information that you are expected to know. The 1st exam covered hardware information and talks about computers, cables, printers, peripherals (monitor, mice keyboard, etc.) and more. The second exam covers software and focuses more heavily on Operating Systems such as Windows, Unix, and Linux.
This certification covers all of the information you would be expected to know about computer networks to include routers, switches, cables, VLANS, and more. This exam build on information previously acquired in the A+ exam that talked about the basic computer networking functions.
This exam focuses specifically on information security. This includes physical security, malware, threat analysis, monitoring, and identification of threats. IT Security is introduced and discussed in the other 3 exams stated previously and builds upon the knowledge even further by going more in depth about threats and how to mitigate them.
There are other entry level certifications that can also be earned but these 3 certifications are a great place to start. None of these certifications require any prior experience or review. Once you pass the exam you are immediately certified that day. Also if you are interested in skipping exams it is completely doable. If you already possess the knowledge form A+ and just need the Network+ or Security+ for a certain career path, save yourself the time and money and skip them.
Intermediate Level (Career Specific)
Once you hit the intermediate certifications, you start to get more knowledge specific. Some certifications will cover the information security sector while other might be more concerned with networking or infrastructure. By this point in your career you probably already know what certifications you needs and you aren’t likely reading this but for those starting out and looking to see what he future holds, I’ll list a few of these exams.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Probably the golden certification of the computer networking field, earning the CCNP shows you have a very detailed understanding of how computer networks operate and communicate. The CCNP is almost a requirement for more senior networking engineers and administrators.
CompTIA Pentest+ and CySA+
For cybersecurity the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) exam offered by EC Council was valued intermediate exam but in recent years, it has become somewhat of a joke among the industry (especially with EC Council being busted for plagiarism in 2021). For this I put what I feel are CompTIA’s equivalent exams. The CySA+ (Cybersecurity Analyst) focuses on knowledge required for those working on the defense side in the blue team while the Pentest+ is their more offensive exam aimed at red team members. These exams have evolved greatly from when they were first released and are increasing in demand.
The advanced level certifications start to deal with jobs that are at the supervisory/management level. These are aimed for individuals who have worked in the industry for some time and want to showcase that knowledge and experience in order to advance to the next level in their career.
ISC2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
Without a doubt this it the golden standard certification in the information security world. Having this certification shows that you have a deep level of knowledge and understanding in the security practices overall and that you understand what it means to be a security executive. This certification is aimed for high level management and executives in businesses. Earning this certification is no light task as it requires 5 years of experience to earn the title (although you can take the exam before this with an associates title) and that’s sitting a 3 hour exam with 100-150 questions. These questions are also very hard.
Project Management Professional
The PMP is a highly sought after certification for project managers. In the IT sector, everyone deals with projects to some degree or another. Some IT professionals might be project leads. Having the PMP certification shows that you not only have the knowledge but the extensive experience of someone who knows how to successfully manage projects at full scale. this is no easy exam to pass either and while it might not be a requirement, just know that project managers make a lot of money. Holding this certification might be extra justification for a salary increase.
These are just a few certification and are by no means a reflection on all of the industries as a whole. There are plenty of other reputable vendors such as Microsoft, AWS, Google, SANS, etc. that offer highly sought after exams. Its just a matter of what you want to do and where you see yourself going in your career. Perform the research, ask around, and find out what certifications are required for the jobs that you want to perform.