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IT career tips: Choosing certifications and technologies

Which certifications become obsolete quickly? What new technologies should IT pros study? "IT Career Path" Webcast speaker Douglas Paddock answers these questions and more.

Options aren't limited in information technology careers. That's the good news. The bad news is that IT professionals are always standing at a crossroads, trying to choose an IT path that's going to be viable in the future. During the Aug. 26, 2002, SearchWindowsManageability (SWM) Webcast, "IT Career Paths," SWM users asked me many questions about how to choose the best and most durable training and certification paths. Time ran out before I could tackle all of the Webcast attendee's questions, so I'm answering them in this Q&A interview.

Attendee: What technology fields are going to be hot in the future? How can I best prepare to get in on the ground floor of those fields?

Boy, this is a hard question. I would say .NET programming -- programming is always in demand -- and security are two good fields. Database administrators are also usually in demand. The best way to prepare for these fields depends on how you learn best, how much money you are willing to spend, how much time you are willing to spend and what prior experience you have. There isn't any best way for everyone.

Attendee: I'm an experienced professional in the Network Infrastructure field. I'm looking to supplement my income by part-time instructing; certified as CCNP and CCSE. I've contacted organizations like CTEC, Executrain, local colleges etc. Do you have any advice?

No, it looks like you've fairly well covered the bases. I would check back with the places you've contacted and ask them flat out if anything is wrong with your current certifications or resume. By this I mean, are they looking for another combination of certifications and skill sets, or did they perceive something wrong with your resume, or are they just not hiring in the current slow market?

Attendee: In your experience, what is the best combination of certifications that an individual can obtain to make oneself better-suited for the current market?

Wow, there is a lot of controversy about that right now! With a slow market, I would research what companies in the locale where I want to work want, and see if they fit in with my wants and desires. Again, programming is always needed, as well as database and Exchange administrators. Security is a growing field, but a little bit of a question mark because many companies know they need it, but aren't sure where to fit it into their company if they've never had a security guru before. I mention Exchange and SQL because you need something to make you stand out from the mass of other MCSE's looking for a job. Another important point is to try and do something you like to do. I say try, because in a tight job market you sometimes have to take what you can get.

Attendee: What certifications become obsolete the fastest? How often do I have to re-qualify for a certification?

It seems to me lately that EVERYTHING is becoming obsolete quickly. I know that I became an MCP in 1998, and I've taken 13 tests since then just to stay current, as well as about nine more to fill in various teaching requirements, not counting various classes taken that didn't require a certification test. Microsoft certifications, for sure, require constant updating.

Attendee: Is there a way to get in on the ground floor in an IT career without taking training classes to start with? Is there a way to learn on the job, or are those days gone?

One of the best places to start may be in your current job. I know someone who volunteered extra time to help his IT department doing odd jobs and learning, and the company ended up sending him to a CTEC. You can look around for weekend work as an intern, even if you have to do it for free to get your foot in the door. You should have basic IT skills to start with, though, meaning you know how to use a PC, what an icon, mouse, etc., are and what they do. It's hard to do it this way, but a long way from impossible if you're willing to put forth the effort.

About the author:

As an IT instructor at Louisville Technical Institute in Louisville, Ken., Douglas Paddock spends each day preparing people for technology careers. Paddock also practices his calling in extracurricular activities, writing columns, conducting online workshops, and serving on the Ask The Expert team for SearchWindowsManageability. He holds multiple certifications, including MCSE, MCSA, MCT, and CIW Security Analyst.


You can listen to and watch Doug Paddock's Webcast on "IT Career Paths" at any time.

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Certifications are not only becoming obsolete quickly, they're questioned because of the focus on memorized knowledge vs. learning and investigation skills.

Just as I advised on another thread - quote from Quora.

"The "elite" software companies --
Microsoft, Google, Amazon, etc -- are generally not neutral about
certifications for software engineers; they're actually negative. Yes, that's right. If you have a certification and you're applying to one of those companies, just don't list it on your resume.