7 Best IT Certs to Study for From Home
Looking to grow in your IT career? Or maybe you're an IT newbie looking to get your first certification? No matter where you are in your career, certifications are a great way to increase your knowledge — and maybe even land that promotion you've been eyeing.
To help you choose the right certification, we've compiled a list of the top seven IT certifications that you can study for at home. Most of these certifications can be completed in just four weeks, though a few may require longer study time, especially if you aren't experienced.
If you want to pursue one of the following certifications, join our annual Cert Class. In addition to building your skill set and increasing your marketability, you could win some free CBT Nuggets swag. Commit to earning a cert today.
1. Microsoft Azure Administrator
Microsoft's AZ-104 exam is required to earn the Microsoft Azure Administrator badge. It was created from combined material formerly covered by AZ-100 and AZ-101, which was retired in May 2019. Although entry-level, Microsoft's new Azure pathways emphasize depth of learning, meaning you should have experience and proficiency in the areas covered by the exam — including multiple services across the entire IT lifecycle.
Passing AZ-104 is one of two pathways to becoming a Microsoft DevOps Engineer. Although you don't need to be an expert to start preparing, you should have a solid foundation in systems administration.
How long does it take to complete the Microsoft Azure Administrator AZ-104 exam training? 20 hours. You should be able to complete the training in 20 days. Depending on whether you take the weekends off, it will take about 3 to 4 weeks.
How long does it take to complete Microsoft Azure Administrator AZ-104 practice exams? We recommend taking no more than one test daily and reevaluating your progress based on the results. If you have a solid sysadmin foundation and learn the material well, you can complete 3 to 4 practice tests a week. If you discover knowledge gaps and need to study certain domains further, it will take longer.
How long does it take to master the Microsoft Azure Administrator terminology and platform basics? The total time to work through the material should be no more than four weeks. If you're starting at a lower experience level, plan for six weeks before your exam so you have time to work through additional study materials on any knowledge gaps.
How long do people study for the Microsoft Azure Administrator AZ-104 exam? Students who utilize other learning mediums average approximately 50 hours of prep, which is derived from using the Microsoft Learning Path Modules (34 hours) and supplementing that with another 6 to 8 hours of material. Students who use CBT Nuggets average 30 hours of prep, with 20 being spent on the material, six hours spent on practice exams, and four reviewing knowledge gaps.
How do you know when you're ready to take the Microsoft Azure Administrator AZ-104 exam? You'll want to complete two consecutive practice tests with a passing score. Review every question you miss and ask yourself whether you missed it because you didn't know or because you didn't understand the problem. If it's the former, study that area further. If it's the latter, review how the question was phrased until you feel comfortable with how the test is written — and are confident you won't misunderstand it again.
Azure is the fastest-growing cloud provider. AWS dominated the market with half the market share a year ago, but since Microsoft revamped its certification pathways and began investing in market growth, Azure has become a firm contender. The future is very bright in this area — and AZ-104 is an excellent way to start learning the Azure Platform.
2. Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900)
AZ-900 is an entry-level exam for Microsoft Azure. It's an excellent starting point for anyone interacting with cloud computing for the first time, familiar with cloud computing but new to Azure, or an on-prem sysadmin or architect transitioning into a cloud-based role.
The AZ-900 exam covers a wide area of material and can equally apply to any Microsoft Azure certification paths, from Architect to Data Scientist. If you feel any uncertainty about where you stand on Microsoft's cloud computing service, reviewing the foundational material upon which everything else is built is probably worth your time.
How long does it take to complete the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) training? Eight hours. You'll be able to complete training in eight days at a pace of an hour a day. The material is easy enough to work through that we recommend consecutive study days without taking a weekend off.
How long does completing practice exams for Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) take? It's highly unlikely that you'll need to take more than two practice exams. Take one after you've finished the course material, address any knowledge gaps, and if you feel you need additional practice, take a second one.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900)? Plan to spend eight hours reviewing the material and another two hours covering areas where you need more practice. Along with practice tests, you should set aside approximately two weeks to prepare for the exam.
How long do people study for the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) exam? The typical student spends 20 to 25 hours studying for the exam and utilizes two to three different training resources. Although the Microsoft learning path will cover everything you need to know, it's almost entirely text-based with a few short videos. This format lends itself to being a bit dry, which tends to extend the amount of time needed to work through it.
How do you know when you're ready to take the Microsoft Azure Fundamentals (AZ-900) exam? If you pass your first practice exam and feel confident in the material, you're ready. If you find skill areas you feel weak on, review those. Take a second practice exam, and you hopefully should be good to go.
The AZ-900 exam is an excellent starting point for anyone new to cloud computing or Microsoft Azure — or who is perhaps just needing a refresher course before moving to more advanced exams. You can work through the material quickly and then use the momentum to advance to your next certification training!
3. CompTIA Security+ (SY0-601)
This certification is widely recognized as the foundation for anyone interested in a career in cybersecurity. The exam itself is unique in its approach of using performance-based questions rather than exclusively relying on knowledge. When you have a CompTIA Security+ certification, employers know that you can do more than just identify security incidents; they can depend on you to address and resolve them.
How long does completing the CompTIA Security+ (SYO-601) training take? 23 hours. At an hour per day, the total training course takes 23 days. While you should maintain a steady pace, the material is sufficiently complicated that you should intersperse several breaks in your study regimen, meaning the total time to work through this material will be approximately 3.5 to 4 weeks.
How long does completing practice exams for CompTIA Security+ (SYO-601) take? We recommend taking one practice test to evaluate your knowledge base. Review all missed questions. If you find gaps, take a day to study those areas, then take another practice exam.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for CompTIA Security+ (SYO-601)? Three to four weeks of study will get you up to speed on the test foundations.
How long do people study for the CompTIA Security+ (SYO-601) exam? If you are established in IT or have any background in cybersecurity, CBT Nuggets training should be all you need. If you take your time studying the material, dedicate one hour per day, take several days off, and do three to four practice exams, you can spend less than five weeks studying for the test.
How do you know when you're ready to take the CompTIA Security+ (SYO-601) exam? Once you've passed two consecutive practice tests, you can be confident in your preparedness level.
Cybersecurity has arguably the brightest future of any area in IT, and Security+ is the single most common element of CompTIA's stackable certifications — it's required for 7 of the 12 certs CompTIA issues. As our economy faces uncertainty in the days ahead, using this time to prepare yourself for a sector that does not have an unemployment rate would be a wise move and a direct investment in your professional future.
Note: CompTIA Security+ SY0-601 will retire in July 2024. It will be replaced with SY0-701.
4. CompTIA Network+ (N10-008)
CompTIA Network+ certifies a tech professional's ability to work with IT infrastructure holistically, including everything from designing functional networks to troubleshooting existing ones. Unlike more specific certs (e.g., AWS & Azure that cover proprietary systems), this one is vendor-neutral and can be applied to virtually any product or system.
Network+ sets you up for future growth, comprising a core element of 5 out of the 12 CompTIA stackable certifications.
How long does completing the CompTIA Network+ (N10-008) training take? 20 hours. You'll need to dedicate 20 hours to complete the CBT Nuggets training course. The information covered here is foundational to all networks, so the more in-depth your background in IT is, the easier the material will be, and the more consistently you can work through it.
How long does completing practice exams for CompTIA Network+ (N10-008) take? Expect to take at least two practice exams even if you're an experienced IT pro. You want to ensure that you feel comfortable with the material and have identified any informational gaps. Taking three to four tests would be wise if you're new to IT and are pursuing this as one of your first certifications. These can be accomplished within a week, including allocating time for additional material review.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for CompTIA Network+ (N10-008)? IT professionals with a network background will likely already know most of the terminology and platform basics. However, even in this case, it's useful to go through the entire training course to ensure that your experience is well-rounded enough to address all of the exam material.
How long do people study for the CompTIA Network+ (N10-008) exam? Because this certification covers such a broad spectrum of material, study times vary widely and are primarily dependent on the amount of experience someone has going into their prep phase. Approximately one-third of professionals take one month to prepare, with another third taking two months and the final third taking three months or longer.
How do you know when you're ready to take the CompTIA Network+ (N10-008) exam? We recommend working through several practice exams and inversely correlating the number with your IT background. The deeper your experience, the fewer practice tests you'll need, while newcomers might need up to four practice runs. After completing two assessments with a passing score and no longer feeling like encountering new material, you're ready to sign up for the certification exam.
CompTIA Network+ is one of the most widely recognized certifications in IT and forms a solid foundation for new or aspiring tech professionals. Rather than setting you apart, Network+ should be viewed as a milestone that gets you in the door. In other words, if you don't have one, you should have a solid IT background that's affirmed in other ways to ensure you're on the same footing as your peers.
5. CompTIA A+ (220-1101 & 220-1102)
While many of the certifications we recommend aim to boost your career upward, CompTIA A+ is slightly different. Often described as an "entry-level rite of passage for IT technicians," this cert is required to be employed as an IT tech by Dell, Intel, and HP and is one of the primary requirements for Department of Defense IT personnel.
Unlike most certifications, two exams are required here: Core 1 (Exam 220-1101) and Core 2 (Exam 220-1102). The former can be roughly characterized as more hardware-centric with a higher emphasis on infrastructure, while the latter focuses more on software and operating systems.
How long does it take to complete the CompTIA A+ training? 34 hours (max). The training program for the first exam will take 21 hours, but additional study time should be factored in to account for any knowledge deficiencies. We've found that the first exam tends to be the more difficult, and test-takers averaged 11 weeks of prep time. The second exam has a 14-hour training curriculum and takes less time for the corresponding study but is still comprehensive. The average training time tends to be about ten weeks for Round 2.
How long does it take to complete the CompTIA A+ 220-1101 and 220-1102 practice exams? Because of the breadth of knowledge required, it's best to take one practice exam and then spend a week brushing up on any questions that you missed. Dig deep into the material surrounding that item, and ensure you feel confident about those domains before taking your next practice test. Repeat this process until you're consistently achieving passing scores. Set aside a month for practice tests and subsequent review.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for CompTIA A+ 220-1101 and 220-1102? Plan for five to six months to prepare for both exams. This timeline can be substantially shortened with greater levels of experience, but take at least one to two practice tests before you schedule the actual exam.
How long do people study for the CompTIA A+ 220-1101 and 220-1102 exams? This varies based on experience level, but expect to spend a minimum of 100 hours between working through the study material, taking practice tests, and reattacking low-scoring areas. How long this takes from a calendar perspective varies, but remember that slow and steady wins the race — cramming for six hours a day will result in rapid burnout and low information retention rates.
How do you know when you're ready to take the CompTIA A+ 220-1101 and 220-1102 exams? You're going to cover so much material that the best way to know you're fully prepped is when you start getting bored with the information. To be clear, you're not ready when you're bored with the process; plan to put in the hours over multiple weeks. However, when you start to get bored with material reviews, you're likely ready.
The three CompTIA certs on our list form the CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist (CSIS) stackable certification. Having all three on your resume affirms that you have a rock-solid foundation in IT infrastructure, drastically increasing your hiring potential.
6. Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151)
With the rapid advancement of cloud computing, it's easy to forget that on-prem data centers aren't going anywhere and are still preferred for many applications. The CCT Data Center 010-151 certification validates a technician's ability to install and replace hardware components, as well as install, configure, backup, and restore software on various Cisco products.
The certification is a broad-based accreditation that should be considered for onboarding new network administrators and new or aspiring IT professionals. It's also useful as a finishing touch for network administrators with years of experience working on Cisco equipment.
How long does completing the Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151) training take? Seven hours. The training program is very straightforward and can be accomplished in seven hours.
How long does it take to complete practice exams for Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151)? You should take a practice exam the day after you finish the seven-hour prep course. This allows you to identify shortcomings and focus on those areas for subsequent prep. Admins with Cisco experience will likely only need minor touch-ups, while those new to Cisco equipment (even if they're otherwise very experienced) might need a bit more time.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151)? The material this exam covers is relatively straightforward but very detailed, giving it a reputation for being one of the more difficult certification tests on the market. That said, you should be able to thoroughly familiarize yourself with the terminology and platform basics within two weeks.
How long do people study for the Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151) exam? Because this cert evaluates the depth of information rather than breadth, your ability to remember details will substantially affect how much time you dedicate to studying for it. The average time is two weeks, although this can be as short as a week and up to a month for individuals who are new to the material.
How do you know when you're ready to take the Cisco CCT Data Center (010-151) exam? When you pass two practice exams in a row, consider yourself prepared.
Cisco equipment is prevalent in data centers. If your career does or will touch on this area, it's worth it to go ahead and knock out the certification. Even though the exam requires great attention to detail and has a reputation for being challenging, a few weeks of dedicated study should give you a chance to pass.
7. Microsoft 365 Certified: Endpoint Administrator Associate (MD-102)
MD-102 replaced the MD-101 and MD-100 certification tests. While much of the material is similar to the two previous exams, the material does contain more info from 101.
The replacement exam focuses less on deploying and maintaining Windows. Instead, it tests knowledge about cloud-first security topics, including how to use the Microsoft Defender Vulnerability Management dashboard and manage enterprise environments with Azure.
How long does it take to complete the Microsoft 365 Certified: Endpoint Administrator Associate (MD-102) training? 20 hours. Our training requires twenty hours, and the material is simple and straightforward and covers all the topics you need to be familiar with to pass the exam.
How long does it take to complete practice exams for Microsoft 365 Certified: Endpoint Administrator Associate (MD-102)? If you're an experienced junior systems admin, you almost certainly won't need more than a single practice run before you're ready to head to the testing center. Take a test the day after you finish the refresher course, brush up on any areas where you missed questions, and feel free to sign up for the exam.
How long does it take to master the terminology and platform basics for MD-102? You shouldn't need longer than two weeks at an hour of studying per day to fully grasp the material.
How long do people study for the Microsoft 365 Certified: Endpoint Administrator Associate (MD-102) exam? Experienced sysadmins might only need two to three hours to review the material before being able to pass, but it's a good idea to spend the full twenty hours refreshing your knowledge.
How do you know when you're ready to take the MD-102 exam? If you notice any lesson that's brand new to you, spend a bit more time reviewing the material. Beyond that, once you complete the training course, you'll be ready to sign up for the exam.
The MD-102 exam is the more specific of the two tests it replaces and uses scenario-based questions that are pretty specific, so it may require a bit more time to study for.
Additional Skills You Should Consider Mastering
Although certifications are both useful and valuable in the IT world, they're not the only way to advance your career. Adding various skills to your repertoire can accelerate your advancement and set you apart from your peers. We've identified five knowledge areas that can provide a boost to your career.
Linux CLI (Command Line Interface)
While most systems today heavily leverage graphical user interfaces (GUI), some command line interfaces (CLI) are used by systems administrators in certain areas to configure networks, install software, and access features that aren't available through the GUI itself.
Linux has been used for more platforms than any other operating system and forms the foundation for two broad arenas: the Android smartphone OS and the leading operating system on servers, mainframes, and supercomputers. If your career is going to involve any of these areas, mastering Linux CLI is certainly advantageous.
As you can imagine, the list of CLI commands is rather extensive, with more than 650 specific commands forming the knowledge core. You don't have to master all of them at once. Instead, make this an ongoing pursuit. We recommend saving the commands in a text file and referencing them whenever you have the opportunity to use one.
Another approach is to open the list daily, focus on learning one new command, and look for a chance to apply it. Even at the rate of command of one per day, this approach guarantees at least two full years of continuing education, with each step leading to more mastery.
Although systems administrators can eschew learning programming languages as a critical skill set, Python is a notable exception. You've likely encountered a situation where a shell script approached its maximum possible complexity, requiring more flexible tools to automate repetitive and manual tasks. One of the most applicable features of Python is its use of dictionaries, a data type that allows you to write unit tests.
Python is cross-platform, uniquely fitted to simplify complex tasks, and is available to install on any modern Linux distribution or UNIX OS, making it both flexible and widely available. Mastering the language is relatively straightforward, with numerous online tools (including free options) that can considerably shorten your learning curve.
If you're starting from scratch, begin with Python 3.6. Python 2.x has generally reached the end of its life, and while the two are similar, subtle syntax changes can trip you up over time. So, it's best to start with a blank slate.
The Bash (short for Bourne Again Shell) command language is a replacement for the Bourne Shell and a valuable addition to any sysadmin's toolbox. One of the more common scenarios system administrators encounter is having to mate processes or existing tools that aren't specifically designed to match.
While you can often install a compiler or interpreter, this isn't always the case. This means you need some kind of "glue" to hold them together and Bash is often a perfect solution.
The Bash shell is typically available on Linux distributions and most UNIX OS. It's also been included in Windows Subsystem for Linux, meaning it will be around for quite a while. Learning this valuable tool can not only increase your effectiveness at being able to match dissimilar processes, but it can also drastically increase your efficiency by providing a tool that's always at your fingertips.
Docker is a powerful tool that allows systems administrators to build, manage, and run applications in virtual containers. While this specifically targets Linux servers, other organizations such as Red Hat, Microsoft, and Rackspace leverage Docker to provide interoperability with their systems.
The nature of using an isolated container permits centrally managed applications that are both fast-performing and securely distributed. Because it's open-source, Docker is incredibly versatile.
One of the most common applications of Docker is as a replacement for complex applications packaging. With this platform, you can build a Linux container that's managed by Docker and combine various apps within it, resolving conflicts and significantly improving speed.
It's also easy to use, even for sysadmins who don't code. If you can start and stop a Unix or Windows service from the command line, you have enough foundation to begin working with Docker.
Microsoft Flow / Power Automate
Previously called Microsoft Flow, Power Automate is a cloud-based software used to create and automate tasks and workflows across various services and applications — without having to be reworked by developers.
As an automation tool, it can streamline anything from content management and simple push notifications to incredibly complex processes that involve numerous stages. You can also leverage it to automatically copy files and post them to shared locations and systematically collect information in an SQL database.
One of the most powerful things you can do as a systems administrator is automating your job. Arguably the most efficient use of your time can be found by creating flows to govern any recurring tasks, and Power Automate is a simple yet powerful tool to allow you to do this. You can even use this platform to manage itself.
Bottom Line: Use Your Time Wisely
There's no better time to invest in your career. In just a few weeks, you could earn a new IT certification and increase your retainability, employability, and marketability.
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