A Beginner's Guide to Certification Exams

The following points are discussed here:

I. Benefits of certification

II. Leading vendor certifications from Microsoft®, CompTIA®, Cisco®, Prosoft®, and CheckPoint®.

III. Certification FAQ 

I. The benefits of being certified include:

  1. Recognition and increased job opportunity - Certifications such as A+, MCSE, etc. are widely recognized. Attaining a certification ensures that the candidate has an established level of competency for doing a given job. These days, a relevant certification is seen more as an essential part of qualification criteria, rather than a preferred optional qualification.  

  2. Proficiency in Related Technology - Usually, the certification vendors develop the content for certification exam carefully, and up to the date. By achieving a certification, one develops proficiency and in depth knowledge in related technology, and products. This in turn results in efficient utilization of time on the job.

  3. Equipping a fresh out of college candidate to face a job - The certification process tries to fill the knowledge differential between the college degree and that of an industry. In other words, though a candidate may have enough domain knowledge to fit in a job, he still lacks the essential product knowledge that may be required to effectively carryout the job function. A certification in appropriate field (if available) narrows this gap. 

  4. Increased job security, and remuneration - Customer satisfaction reports have shown that the certified candidates perform better and enjoy increased benefits, and job security. According to CertMag.com study, certified candidates enjoyed salary increase from 10% to as high as 23%. It is also shown that more the number of certifications (higher the skill level) more the amount of compensation. 

II. Leading vendor certifications from Microsoft®, CompTIA®, Cisco®, CheckPoint®, and Prosoft®:

Microsoft®, CompTIA®, Cisco®, CheckPoint®, and Prosoft® are among the leading vendors of IT Certifications. Each vendor, in turn may have different certification tracks. For example, Microsoft has MCSE (For Networkers) track, and MCSD (for Developers) track. Usually, each track has different levels of certification aimed at the beginner, the pro, and the expert. As often said, certification is a journey, and not a destination. In fact, many certifications require re-certification after a pre-determined period of time (usually 2-3 years) to remain certified. Therefore, it is important that you choose your certification track after careful consideration of your career plan. Though there are wide range of  certifications available, we confine to a few leading certification tracks: MCSE/MCSA, CCNA/CCNP, A+/Network+, CIW, and CheckPoint CCSA/CCSE.  

  • A+, Network+, Server+ Track: These certifications are offered by CompTIA® organization (comptia.org). Some important features of CompTIA certifications are that they are vendor neutral, and the certifications never expire (though CompTIA recommends certified candidates to get re-certified when next revision is made available). A+ certification is awarded after passing two individual exams, namely A+ Core Hardware exam, and A+ Operating Systems exam. A+ certification is highly recommended for PC technicians, whose job is to install, or troubleshoot PC hardware/software. The certification is not very tough to achieve, and provides a good starting place for individuals desirous of furthering their goals to include Server+, and Linux+. Find more about A+ Certification. Server+ is one step ahead of A+, and is considered essential for individuals involved with configuring, installing, and troubleshooting servers. One need to have achieved A+ certification, for getting Server+ certified. Linux+ exam aims toward Linux operating system, and getting increased popularity. It is often true that technicians are not only involved with Computer hardware/OS, but also the networking of computer systems. This is where Network+ certification comes into play. If you are involved with networking of computers, it is recommended to pursue Network+ certification. There are several other certifications that are available from Comptia, but not discussed here at this point of time. The certification training procedures vary depending on the individual requirements. If you have sufficient time on hand, and appropriate tools, the recommended option is to self learn. There are enough books and resources available on the Internet for successfully acquiring several of Comptia certifications. If you are new to certifications, and pressed for time, the preferred option would be classroom based training. However, this would be more expensive option. You can find some books for CompTIA certifications here.

  • Microsoft® MCP/MCSE/MCSA: 

  • MCP™: Microsoft Certified Professional

  • MCSE™: Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer

  • MCSA™: Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator

  • MCSE/MCSA certifications are most widely recognized among Microsoft certifications.

Note that Microsoft MCP/MCSE/MCSA certifications are not vendor neutral. These certifications are specific to Microsoft technologies. If you are involved with (or planning to use) Microsoft products, then these certifications are for you. MCP is relatively easy to obtain. However, if you want to achieve MCSA/MCSE,  sustained effort is required. It is very essential to have hands-on practice when attempting these exams. For recommended books, checkout this our MCSE/MCSA books section here. Microsoft updates the certification track as new versions of the software is released from time to time (For example, MCSE certification exams got revised from NT 4 to Windows 2000, and again to .NET). Microsoft recommends that the certified candidates update their skills to the newest available version. Microsoft certifications are indispensable, especially when you are involved with Microsoft technologies. Several other certification tracks are available including MCSD, MCAD, MCDBA. 

  • Cisco® CCNA, CCNP, and CCIE Certification track: 

  • CCNA™ - Cisco Certified Network Associate

  • CCNP™ - Cisco Certified Network Professional

  • CCIE™  - Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert

Cisco certifications are highly regarded among networking certifications. The reasons include Cisco was a very early entrant into the field of networking, and consistently high standards of certification exams over a period of time. If you are involved with wide area networking, especially with intranets, extranets, or Internet, then Cisco certification path is for you. Again, Cisco certifications are vendor specific. The certified candidates are required to re-certify after a specified number of years (usually 3 years). Achieving next level of certification automatically renews the earlier certification. CCNA is the entry level certification, and is a pre-requisite for pursuing CCNP, an intermediate level certification. CCIE is the expert level certification and regarded very highly in the internetworking industry. If you are involved with or planning a career in networking , Cisco track is a good place. You can find some recommended books for CCNA, and CCNP here. It is important to have hands-on practice for passing Cisco exams. 

  • CIW™ track: CIW stands for Certified Internet Webmaster. These certifications are awarded by Prosoft® (prosofttraining.com). CIW track of certifications are reputed and widely followed by web professionals or candidates desirous of developing a careen in web design and development. With the ever expanding pace of internet evolution, sure these certifications are going to carry more weight. There are several levels of certifications aimed at beginner, mid-level, and expert level professional. View some recommended CIW books here. There are other tracks available from Prosoft. These include CCNT™, CTP™, and jCert™.

  • CheckPoint® certifications: CheckPoint certifications are again vendor specific certifications. The entry level certification is called CheckPoint Certified Security Administrator (CCSA™). The next level is called CCSE. Several other certifications are available from CheckPoint. CCSA™/CCSE™ certifications are basically aimed toward configuration, troubleshooting, securing, and maintaining CheckPoint's FireWall-/VPN-1 product line. View some recommended CCSA, CCSE books here. Most of the questions in the exam are said to be drawn from the official course book. It helps quite a lot if you can obtain the official course books while preparing for these exams.

III. Certification FAQ

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