There’s been a common misconception beginning in the late 1990s, that to have a successful career in information technology, you must have a college degree. As career fields continue to diversify, this is becoming less the case in favor of industry recognized certificates for individualized skill sets. But why is this important to small businesses, how does it affect your IT planning, and what are some major certifications you should look for based on your needs? Read on as we explore these questions and more!
As a Small or Medium Business (SMB), you want the best combination of knowledge, skills, experience, and cost efficiency. Quite often those combinations are most easily found in those who have a industry certifications, such as those from CompTIA, Cisco, MikroTik or Microsoft among others. This is important because while someone just out of college may have the degree and study time they may not possess the field experience and hands-on time that comes from working in the field for 4 years while attaining certification status. That’s not to say degrees are negative by any means! Just that in many instances the best combination for your situation as a small business could come from a different source.
So how does this then affect your planning? In order to find the best match for you, identify your current and long term business IT needs. Are you an existing business that has a network and computer infrastructure to maintain and improve only as needed? Are you a cutting-edge business expanding to new locations, and maybe need the newest design considerations and knowledge of a degree in Information Security like Liberty University and Drexel University among many others offer? Are you somewhere in between? Start by writing down your needs in a bullet format, beginning with what types of equipment you have and what your future plans are for changes or upgrades. It’s usually helpful to write down what is holding you back or problems you have, then start from there. This will gives you specific areas to match against… the more “mainstream” your situation is (servers with web hosting or file sharing, workstations, firewall) there are often degrees that fit directly into that area. The more unique (web hosting or workstations on Linux, firewalls with Packet Inspection, public DNS, packet tracing, wireless bridging, extensive troubleshooting, etc) the higher the chances a specialized skillset would be appropriate.
So far, we’ve talked about why certifications in the varying IT fields are important, and how it could affect your planning; but what credentials are important to look for? That’s a great question! It all depends on what the areas of need are you identified in the step above. CompTIA offers a wide array of testing to meet certain needs. A+ is a great all-around certification and covers all fundamental areas at a basic level. Network+, Security+, Pentest+ (penetration testing, covered in another article), Cyber Security Analyst+, Cloud+, Linux+, and many, many others delve deep into those specific fields of study. Cisco offers it’s own certifications, beginning with the CCT as an entry level then moving to Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and a line of CCNP (for Professional) certificates including security, datacenter, enterprise, service provider, and more. They’re high-level certifications that show extensive knowledge and experience, typically with a commensurate cost… it’s helpful when you have a large scale network, or other enterprise environment (think 100+ client machines in your network). Microsoft is another that offers many certifications, but it’s best if you look at the offerings to match it against your needs because what they offer is so vast.
In conclusion, no path whether it be professional education through a degree field or self-study and accreditation through certifications is wrong. My goal is to introduce you to the area of certs, how it can help you plan and look for professionals who meet your needs, and what area some major certifications to look for when choosing one. If you need help knowing what type of specialty may best match your needs, contact us and we’ll see how we can help or refer you to a great match!