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Life Beyond the Help Desk: What’s Next

Have you been crushing it on the help desk? Maybe you’re ready for a new challenge. Well, you’re in luck. Working the help desk can make the transition to the IT field smoother. You’ve likely got some IT knowledge. So, why not take it a step further?

Let’s look at some ways that help desk professionals can take their careers down a new path.

Get Certified

The best way to augment your help desk skill set is to get certified. Certification is critical for IT newcomers. You need a logical, structured way to build your IT knowledge base. You also need to be able to validate what you’ve learned — especially to current and future employers. Certifications help you do both of these things in one fell swoop.

The first step toward certification is finding the right training. Everyone learns differently — and that’s okay. While some learners may prefer video training, you may learn better using textbooks. Test different resources to figure out which one(s) meshes best with your learning style. It’s also a good idea to supplement your main training go-to with other resources. For example, many CBT Nuggets learners also rely on textbooks or certification guides during their studies.

The bottom line is that you need training that serves two purposes: Builds practical knowledge and skills, while preparing you for associated exams. Remember that training can serve as a replacement for work experience in the eyes of employers, so don’t take it lightly.

Once you’ve determined what type of training works best for you, the question becomes which cert should you go after. For help desk professionals, starting with vendor-neutral certification is a smart play. Plus, there’s a good chance you may possess a lot of the knowledge needed for those exams.

Start Vendor Neutral

It’s best to start with vendor-neutral certifications that cover general IT knowledge and skills. This approach allows for the broadest career track. Vendor-neutral certifications cover concepts that can be applied universally. For example, a vendor-neutral certification like CompTIA Network+ sets you up well to pursue an entry-level vendor-specific cert such as Cisco CCENT.

Entry level certifications are also valuable building blocks to earning more advanced certs down the road. In fact, IBM has partnered with the vendor-neutral to provide a unique path toward IBM certification. CBT Nuggets partners with CompTIA to provide Continuing Education Credits (CEUs), which count toward recertification.

Many hardware and software products are proprietary in nature, and therefore have their own learning curves. There’s plenty of time to specialize once you get your foot in the door. But that means having the basics down first. That’s why vendor-neutral certification is highly recommended for getting started in IT.

CompTIA offers two vendor-neutral certifications that are ideal for help desk pros who want to move into IT. There’s some debate over which one you should take first, so let’s look at both of them.

CompTIA A+

CompTIA A+ certification provides the broadest starting point for an IT career. Because of its focus on troubleshooting, A+ may be the ideal first certification experience for help desk gurus.

help desk experience should come in handy when pursuing A+ certification. You probably already know many of the basics. Like the difference between hardware and software. Or troubleshooting Windows.

While A+ serves as an easy transition into IT and the certification process, some may feel that it’s too basic to be worth their time. You should examine CompTIA’s exam objectives to get a better feel for your skill set in the tested areas. Training partners such as CBT Nuggets provide practice exams to help gauge your baseline.

CompTIA Network+

The next step up the CompTIA ladder is Network+ certification. Even though it’s more advanced than A+, there are no prerequisites. This makes Network+ a great choice if your current skills are on par with the A+ cert.

Network+ assumes you have the basic technical knowledge that A+ tests you on. You’ll learn how a lot of that tech interconnects and works together — and eventually how to set up small, basic networks.

CompTIA Network+ is an ideal stepping stone to many IT careers — as networking is essential to most IT pursuits. Does working in IT security intrigue you? Well, you have to understand how networks work to know how to defend them. Even something as abstract as cloud computing requires networking basics.

Network+ certification can also fulfill the prerequisites for several other IT certifications including Microsoft MCSA. The certification was recently updated to include more on cloud computing and virtualization.

Exploring Your Other Options

While CompTIA certification is usually the best starting point, in some cases, you may already know that you will be stepping into a particular vendor / technology situation. If you know you’ll be working with an organization that is 100% Microsoft, or 100% Cisco, for example, the organization may value specific certifications more highly than CompTIA:

Microsoft MTA

The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) serves as the entrypoint into the world of Microsoft-specific certification. It’s a bit different from CompTIA A+. Rather than one exam testing general IT knowledge, there’s 14 MTA exams targeting specific areas. Some of which include Windows operating system fundamentals, mobility and devices fundamentals, and introduction to programming using Java.

MTA certification is ideal if you know which area of IT you want to focus on. It’s also helpful if you aspire to move up the Microsoft certification ladder. MTA certification sets you up nicely to earn MCSA certification, which is the most popular Microsoft certification level.

Another reason to consider MTA certification is if your organization is a Microsoft shop. There’s a good chance it is, as Microsoft is still widely popular among the enterprise. Especially when it comes to Windows and Windows Server.

What better way to position yourself to move off the help desk than to immerse yourself in the technology your organization uses?


The Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) is Cisco’s first step toward earning their coveted CCNA certification. Career prospects with a CCENT center around network support, an ideal upgrade from the help desk.

Once you have a better idea of your career ambitions, you only need one more exam to earn one of four possible CCNA certifications. We recommend Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching — it can open a lot of doors in IT.

Wrapping Up

Moving from the help desk to IT requires developing a strong foundation in networks and operating systems. The good news is vendors recognize this and have certification paths that build and focus your knowledge appropriately.

Don’t forget, you have a major advantage going into your studies. Your problem-solving abilities will serve you well as you transition to IT. Your ability to respond to issues with thoughtful, clear answers is a good mindset to have as an IT pro. Now it’s time to get studying!


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