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Certifications that matter

As companies look bridge talent holes in their IT organisations, there is an increased emphasis on vendor-and technology-specific training. Here are some of the hottest IT certification picks for 2011.

With great opportunities in technology, and increased competition for jobs, certifications are becoming more important for IT pros who want to make themselves more employable.  This is particularly true in a region like the Middle East, which is seeing a huge demand for technical education.

“The Middle Eastern market is developing at speed and there is a real, and growing, desire to adopt existing, new and emerging technology. Naturally, this translates into the need for professional technical training, and it is apparent that both individuals and companies can really see the value of personal development, in addition to the need for industry recognised qualifications whilst following a progressive career path.  Therefore, it is without doubt that the technical ability within the Middle Eastern region is rising rapidly and it is fast becoming an early adopter of technology and the associated educational training,” says Andrew Stevens, MD of CNet Training.

Agrees Josef Miskulnig, MD of Fast Lane, which is primarily into Cisco training:  “There is a strong demand for certification in this part of the world, especially for emerging technologies such as Unified Communications and data centre.”

Within networking, foundation technologies such as routing and switching – without which no network exists – represent a huge chunk of certification. To the uninformed, the hundreds of tech-related certifications that IT pros use to sell their services amount to an alphabet soup of incomprehensible acronyms. Nevertheless, 68 percent of IT hiring managers regard these labels as a medium or high priority, according to CompTIA, the largest vendor-neutral certifying group.

Most computer certification programs don’t require a college degree, and they can give help-desk professionals and network managers a competitive advantage and an earnings boost. For example, CompTIA says, businesses will typically pay a 10 percent premium for someone who has earned one of its entry-level certifications, and individuals with higher-level certifications can command a 40 percent mark-up.

Stevens says there are couple of reasons driving the demand. “Firstly, the acceptance by companies and individuals that there is a definite need for professional technical training.  They need to be educated to the very latest standards and hold the associated industry recognised qualifications in order to stand a chance at competing within the global marketplace.”

Secondly, the desire of individuals; they have a recognisable and strong thirst for knowledge that seems above and beyond that from other regions such as Europe and the US.  They are highly driven and motivated to learn and progress within the technological market place and are constantly seeking to expand their knowledge and qualifications, he adds.

These days, most of the training providers see virtualisaiton and data centre as the top networking invest area. “Professions with practical knowledge around some of the advanced technologies such as Unified Communications and data centre can command a premium, because the skill sets are very rare in these areas,” says Miskulnig.

Stevens agrees that data centre training and development is extremely popular: “With an increasing number of organisations relying on data centres to hold and secure their data, more data centres are needed, therefore it is certainly one of the hottest technology areas and professional training is a must.  Again, professional educational frameworks with associated industry and internationally recognised qualifications have been developed extending across the entire data centre arena, from initial design considerations through to on-going management and energy efficiency.”

Programmes such as CDCDP (Certified Data Centre Design Professional) and CDCMP (Certified Data Centre Management Professional) are highly popular.  In addition, these new and advanced educational frameworks are helping to ensure that the entire industry works to a consistent and verified quality standard.

Sanjeev Singh, MD of Spectrum Training, foresees a huge demand around cloud computing. “Right now, there are no vendor-neutral certifications around cloud computing, and it is really a unique skill which will be in demand particularly from telcos.”

The demand in the Middle East is primarily for vendor-specific certifications and Cisco is often the popular choice within the network domain, with CCNA being the most common at the entry level and CCIE at the top of the rack. The networking giant has recently introduced new level of certification, Cisco Certified Architect, which has been dubbed the Ph.D in Cisco.  While Cisco boasts more than 20,000 CCIEs worldwide, the vendor decided to build another layer of expertise on top of its proven certification program. The CCA requires applicants to already be certified as Cisco Certified Design Experts (CCDE) and have 10 years of experience. The training for CCA would equip IT professionals with the C-level know-how and skills to prevent wasteful investments on technology and better align network projects with business goals, according to Cisco.

On the other hand, Juniper has its popular JNCIA at the entry level and JNCIE at the top of the pyramid. “We train around 20-25 people around JNCIA-Junos, and JNCIE is targeted at service providers. Soon, Juniper will introduce JNCIE for security,” says Singh of Spectrum, which is the authorised training partner for the company.

Determining the best IT certification to pursue depends on an individual’s existing skill level, career goals and accessibility to training. Here we detail some of the hottest IT certifications for 2011.

Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

Few businesses get along without a hearty helping of Microsoft-powered equipment, and the company offers a raft of specialized training programs for those who service its products. Among Microsoft’s most popular certifications is Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE). The requirements for MCSE certification are one to two years of experience in designing, installing, configuring, and troubleshooting network systems.

ITIL v3 Foundations
For many, the goal this year is to streamline IT operations, adding automation where possible, while at the same time increasing services to users. The premise of overhauling the way IT works is outlined in the IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL (Version 3 is currently being adopted).
With four levels of ITIL certification, IT professionals can prove they understand the principals around service life-cycle management and apply them to real-world environments. Companies seeking such expertise would likely desire a candidate who couples ITIL skills with security or other technical expertise. Considered more of a process-oriented area, ITIL can still deliver benefits such as improved availability, faster problem resolution and reduced costs due to streamlined processes.

Red Hat Certified Security Specialist

The fastest-growing information security certification is Red Hat’s. Launched in 2006, this certification is aimed at senior network administrators and is designed to prove that a person has deep skills related to running Red Hat Enterprise Linux in a secure fashion.

To qualify for this certification, network engineers must first pass the Red Hat Certified Engineer test and then be trained as a Red Hat Certified Security Specialist. Engineers must pass three exams – in advanced networking security, Linux policy administration and directory services/authentication — in order to earn this credential.

Beyond certifications

While vendor-specific knowledge and foundational certifications seem a prerequisite for most jobs, IT professionals in 2010 should also consider amping up their vendor-neutral skills around technologies that continue to gain attention from high-tech as well as business leaders.

“There is a need for a combination of both vendor specific and vendor neutral education training.  It is without doubt that a certain level of vendor neutral training is needed in order to understand the market and gain the skills and knowledge to move forward.  Delegates can take these non product specific skills with them wherever they go and prove valuable to all employers.  This, combined with vendor specific training can be of extra benefit to both the employer and employee,” says Andrew.

It is also important to keep in mind that a credential along doesn’t guarantee real-world job skills, but it increases the odds that the person is competent. As companies try to do more with smaller budgets, they turn to technologies that reduce the need for IT staff. As a result, the market for IT professionals now emphasizes hybrid skills. Not only must they understand the equipment, but they must solve business problems creatively. But, unfortunately, no IT certification currently available can gauge whether a professional understand how IT supports and complements the overall business.


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