5 Best IT Certifications for 2024 and Beyond
Early in my career, more years ago than I will share, the holy grail of IT cowboys was Microsoft certification. Everyone was in competition for who could accumulate the best and the most, and the gold standard was the MCSE. My philosophy, which holds true today, is that a certification is only as good as the skill and experience that backs it up.
Yes, employers do look for certifications, and with good reason. The market is flooded with IT pros. Even your grandmother has a laptop in her shoulder bag. In IT, we have to surf the crest of the wave or wind up in the trough of irrelevancy. Simply having a knack for technology is no longer enough.
The future of IT is wireless. Below, I offer a few certifications, that will at a minimum, ensure your résumé does not line the bottom of the round file. As you read, bear in mind that none of these certs will secure or maintain employment without the skills and experience to back them up. Know the material, don't just cram for the exam.
These may not seem like the bleeding edge of technology, but that's not what most businesses want. Employers today, as always, want someone who will become a company asset. Someone on whom they can depend.
Humanity is networked. Cisco is still the gold standard, and not only due to cutting edge hardware. The future is wireless. 5G is looming large, with the potential to transform how we interact. Though 5G is still over the horizon, wireless is already an indispensable component of our infrastructure, and this trend will only increase. Copper will continue to reign supreme in the data center, but the path to the data center is increasingly wireless. Just visit the nearest Starbucks.
The venerable CCNA has branched into a number of specialized silos (i.e. Cloud, Data Center, Routing and Switching), but my gut tells me that—if you had to pick just one—this would be a good one to have in your toolbox.
You must recertify every three years, but Cisco has a long list of other certifications that will reboot your CCNA Wireless, including the CCIE (see below), which can only improve your marketability. The national median salary for a typical position, that of Senior Network Technician, is $60,000, but can range upward to six figures with the right background. AWS Associate
Amazon is a dominant force, and not only in the homeland. This global entity has turned into an indispensable part of everyday life. Amazon took to the cloud early in the game, and continues to be a leader. Besides, Cisco and the rest of the pack aside, how cool is saying you're a certified AWS Associate? Good for three years, this path can lead to a deeper role in the Amazon infrastructure, which is not going anywhere. Amazon is firmly rooted.
Recertification should be a fait accompli with three years of experience behind you. By that time, however, the smart move would be to up your game with a more advanced certification, such as Security, Big Data, or Cloud.
Being a foot soldier in the army of Amazon is an excellent way to grow a bullet-proof career. Starting salary is in the neighborhood of $100,000 depending on location and experience, but can be well above that mark.
Any (Or All) CCIEs
Here we are back in the land of Cisco. Let's face it: If your plan is to have a role in supporting network infrastructure in any capacity, the hardware you will likely be supporting is going to be Cisco. There are other contenders in the ring, but — just as with Amazon — Cisco is not going anywhere. Even if the budget tapped another manufacturer, look around the data center. Isn't that a Cisco switch?
The CCIE is an expert-level certification. Like most certs, you could pick a silo, but likely this certification is the end result to an evolution of previous work experience. One pleasant aspect of the CCIE is that you will not need to consider recertification for five years.
This seems like a long time in computer years. IT is fact paced, and things will change drastically in that time. Yes, you will have gained the experience to back it up, but I caution you to not sit on your laurels. Keep your eye on the horizon — and on your next move. Continually reassess your skill set. Rather than simply re-certify in your chosen flavor of CCIE, consider broadening your market presentation by including another skill silo.
Because the CCIE is an expert certification, the salary range reflects this. Nationwide, you would find the CCIE attached to positions such as network administrator. The median salary: $93,000 depending on focus.
Offensive Security Wireless Professional (OSWP)
If you're a movie fan, perhaps you've seen A Few Good Men. The movie is a bit dated, but I bet you're familiar with the phrase that has entered our English lexicon: "You can't handle the truth!" The truth referenced by this line is regarding who and how the security of the nation is pursued. In today's world, as throughout human history, there are walls. Those walls must be peopled by defenders dedicated to the task.
Today we still have walls. Some resemble any other fortification. A large number, a vast number, are composed of copper and silicon. The "rough men" of today are largely geeks who ensure that these walls are not breached. It's their reason. Thanks to Fancy Bear and PLA61398, this is a daunting task.
Cybersecurity is arguably the most important aspect of IT today. In my current support role, a high percentage of calls I receive are reports of compromised accounts and phishing attacks. In IT, we defend against a large army of nation states and independent actors bent on theft, fraud, or simply defacing our electronic face. A plug and play solution is not enough. We can automate much of the defense, but up-to-the-minute knowledge of likely exploits, and instinct, is indispensable.
Offensive Security is not a household name. They are, however, well-known in the security world. They are the producers of Kali Linux, a Debian-based distro that is lightweight and packed with tools that will make anyone from penetration tester to security engineer drool. If security is your niche, consider one of their certifications.I offer the Offensive Security Wireless Professional. Wireless for the reasons I've outlined above, but they have a core of certifications that anyone focused on security may want to consider. My favorite is the OSEE: Offensive Security Exploitation Expert. Wow.
Recertification is not required. However, a word of caution. As fast as the pace of IT is, security changes on a daily basis. The skills on which these certs are based need to be kept fresh, and that means dedication on your part. Getting certified and thinking you're done will lead to disaster. But as far as job security goes, defending the walls will ensure your longevity. The median salary for a security engineer: $90,000.
One more quote, from Star Trek: "Military secrets are the most fleeting of all." Today it is cyber security.
Certified Ethical Hacker
Why Certified Ethical Hacker? In response I'll offer my last quote: "To catch a thief you need to think like a thief." While you can't go wrong pursuing any number of security certs, such as Security+, I find myself doubling down on my point regarding security. Again, I don't see cybersecurity being displaced in the near term.
With AI taking an ever increasing role, who knows. But as the quote implies, this cert prepares you to simulate an attack on your company network or freelance your skills. Having this certification on your résumé will always look good, and the salary you command will make you smile.
EC-Council offers a number of security certification, but I consider the CEH the most versatile of their offerings. The training by definition must be broad in order to dovetail with any network you might encounter. National median salary: $80-100K.
The CEH says you have the skills necessary to protect the domain, in every sense of the term.
Looking around at the time, it was clear that some MCSEs could not troubleshoot their way out of a paper bag, while I — with no certs — took a lead role on my team time after time. I was asked for by name, and continue to be. As a result, I felt justified in my decision to prosecute my career based on experience instead of a piece of paper. But in the long run, this was a mistake. One which I pay for daily as those with lesser experience than I are selected for positions in which they may or may not be trapped in a paper bag.
None of the certifications above is insurance to securing a stable, lifelong career. You must back them up with knowledge and skill. Do you think you're IT's gift to networking? Prove it. Get a CCNA. Better yet… CCNA Wireless.
Because the future is not wired.