The path to an IT career

Often, I am asked what degree a person should seek in order to become an Information Technology (IT) professional. Alternatively, businesses sometimes contact me to find out what credentials they should be listing when searching for someone to fit their IT roles. The answer might surprise you. Some of the IT jobs out there don’t necessarily need an advanced degree. In fact, depending on what you want to do, you might be better served by going the certification route.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Universities definitely have their benefits, and if you’re looking to be a programmer, sometimes the easiest route to get there is by going through a degree program. There are other, just as valid, ways to get the knowledge you need. And, quite a few employers are starting to recognize those other methods.

For instance, you might decide you want to be a network administrator. Keep in mind that a network administrator can have many varying responsibilities depending upon the organization for which you work. But, for the most part, you can think of the network administrator as the person who maintains the computer network for an organization, including, but not limited to, the servers, firewalls, switches and other devices. Depending upon the size of the organization, the network administrator may even be responsible for desktop support.

So, how do you get the credentials needed if you decide to forego the traditional university route?

First of all, you might try your local community college. Many of them have certificate programs that focus upon practical applications for network administration. In fact, some of them are even using recognized tracks for professional certifications that are more widely known outside their own institution.

Instead of receiving an Associate of Science, you might pursue a Cisco Certified Network Associate certification (CCNA). When an employer sees you have a CCNA, they know you can handle most traditional networks, especially those using Cisco equipment. It should be noted, you don’t have to attend a community college to obtain this certification, but many people find it beneficial to learn in a traditional environment.

There are other certifications you can obtain as well.

Probably the most basic is the CompTIA A+ certification. Whenever I am looking to hire an IT person for basic desktop support, this is the go-to certification I look for. It tells me the applicant has at least the basic computer skills necessary to recognize the most common hardware and software used in most environments.

CompTIA offers quite a few other certifications as well—so many that if you were to just use their certifications you could probably fill out the educational portion of your resume with just their offerings. (I don’t recommend that though). You could substitute the CCNA for the CompTIA Network+ certification. And, you could also complete the track for the Security+ certification if you are looking to advance your career into computer security.

If you do decide to consider a security career, I would definitely suggest you go after the Certified Information Systems Security Professional certification (CISSP). It’s widely recognized as one of the best certifications to have in order to work in the security field.

Then, there are the Microsoft certifications. Microsoft has a series of certifications that has morphed over the years into a comprehensive program designed to turn out IT professionals capable of supporting both desktop systems and servers.

If you’re interested in pursuing one of the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert certifications, then I highly recommend you visit and check out all the different options. You can even pick and choose which ones you want, based upon what kind of IT career you want to pursue.

I hope that helps answer some of the questions you have about how to break into the IT field.