The Truth on Vendor-Neutral Exams
Vendor-neutral certifications are, arguably, one of the best career advancement tools for new IT pros or young professionals looking to break into the industry. There is a growing pool of vendor-neutral IT certifications to choose from, each of which will set you on a different path in the complex IT industry.
Here's a rundown on vendor-neutral exams, specifically, and how taking them will help you out.
What is Vendor-neutral?
"Vendor-neutral" certifications refer to any certifications that are not directly associated with specific IT vendors. These certifications tend to develop a knowledge and skill base that is universally applicable.
Vendor-neutral certifications equip IT pros with skills that are more conceptual, setting you up to work with a greater range of products.
As you advance in the IT industry, you will often find that your training narrows to the vendors who manufacture or develop the specific products you are using. This, inevitably, leads to the question: Should IT pros' skills be wide or deep?
If you have the option, go with both!
There is an ever-growing number of vendor-neutral IT certifications.
Choosing to pursue vendor-based certifications can have the unintended consequence of pigeon-holing IT pros. Narrowed job prospects work two ways. On one hand, your value can increase. However, if you're supporting a legacy technology, your value might rise up until the very point that you're obsolete. Or, your incredibly specific vendor experience can narrow your job prospects to your immediate detriment.
Vendor-neutral certifications, however, increasingly help to broaden your horizons professionally, open doors, and create opportunities.
CompTIA is one of the most trusted associations that offers vendor-neutral certifications, many of which meet industry-standard requirements for hiring practices, including those for most IT jobs in government agencies.
The CompTIA A+ (or CompTIA A Plus) certification is ideal for new IT pros in roles such as help desk, network support, field support, and service center. The CompTIA A+ certification is often considered the first step toward earning other CompTIA certifications. Learn more about the CompTIA A+ certification.
The CompTIA Network+ (or CompTIA Network Plus) certification is designed to launch IT pros on a career path in networking. The Network+ equips you for roles including network administrator, technician, installer, help desk technician, or IT cable installer. Learn more about the CompTIA Network+ certification.
The CompTIA Security+ (or CompTIA Security Plus) certification is the first step along the path to a career in IT security, but it certainly won't be the last vendor-neutral certification you'll earn along the way. IT security tends to be a field that aligns well with vendor-neutral certifications — but we'll get more into that later. The Security+ certification sets you up for positions such as security engineer, security consultant, network administrator, IT technician, or manager. Learn more about the CompTIA Security+ certification.
Other CompTIA Certifications
The A+, Network+, and Security+ are the most popular CompTIA certifications, but the association offers a variety of other certifications at basic, professional, specialty, and master levels.
For those choosing to pursue a career in IT security, there are many vendor-neutral certifications to consider. Uniquely, the certifications we discuss here range from entry-level to expert-level.
CompTIA Security+ (entry level)
As noted above, the CompTIA Security+ certification is an excellent first step on the path to your career in IT security.
SANS GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) (entry level)
Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC) offers a huge range of entry- to advanced-level IT security certifications. The GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) is an entry level certification, designed to provide an overview of risk management and defense in depth techniques.
EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) (intermediate)
The EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification is an intermediate-level certification designed for ITsec pros who are well on their way to a career in information security. The CEH prepares you for roles such as security analyst, security engineer, security analyst, penetration tester, and information security manager. Learn more about the Certified Ethical Hacker certification.
(ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SCCP) (intermediate)
The (ISC)2 Systems Security Certified Practitioner (SCCP) certification is for established ITsec pros who have solid experience working in information security and have a strong familiarity with and understanding of policies and procedures that ensure data confidentiality, integrity, and availability. The SCCP is ideal for roles such as network security engineer, system/network administrator, security analyst, systems engineer, security consultant/specialist, security administrator, systems/network analyst, database administrator, and more.
(ISC)2 Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) (advanced)
The (ISC)2 Certified Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is an advanced certification designed for ITsec pros with at least five years of experience in the field (and, arguably, the most challenging certification listed here). The CISSP equips you for roles such as security consultant, security manager, IT director/manager, security auditor, security architect, security analyst, security systems engineer, chief information security officer, director of security, network architect, and more. Learn more about the CISSP certification.
As IT pros move up the proverbial ladder and accept greater levels of responsibility, there is often a need for advanced project management skills. There are two primary methods of project management that are most widely accepted across the IT industry: PMI® and ITIL®. There are other approaches as well, but most methods in use among today's IT teams tend to fall under PM® or ITIL®.
The Project Management Institute (PMI)® Project Management Professional (PMP)® is a globally-recognized certification for project management in any industry. While the IT industry has happily adopted the PMP®, it is not designed specifically for the field. Learn more about the PMP® certification.
ITIL® is an internationally recognized standard method and approach to IT that provides a general awareness of key elements, concepts, and terminology used in the ITIL® service lifecycle. ITIL® Foundation is the entry-level certification and generally equips you for positions including IT project manager, IT manager, IT director, senior project manager, and service delivery manager. Learn more about the ITIL® Foundation certification.
A career in IT can be built on vendor-neutral certifications. The breadth of experience and knowledge that these certifications can affirm in your development prove your dedication to learning.
It is rare, indeed, to find production environments anymore that are exclusively dedicated to a single vendor. Choosing to prioritize vendor-neutral certifications over those of popular vendors sets you up for success in an industry that is increasingly seeking to create production environments that blend, mesh, or even (dare we say it?) frankenstein systems together using products from a variety of vendors.
Making the choice to pursue certifications that are free from restrictive product knowledge better prepares you to work with the variety of products you are likely to face in the real world.