Earning networking certifications gives you the credentials you need to differentiate your job resume from others. As a computer network professional, IT networking certifications not only help you get your foot in the door at job interviews, they help you stay on top of the latest technology and give you the skills you need to compete in today's job market -- not to mention a higher paycheck.
That's what LAN administrator Melissa Snider, first place winner of SearchNetworking.com's Career Success Story Contest, discovered. In her story from the IT trenches, Snider exemplifies tried-and-true career advancement techniques that boost job prospects and pay.
How certifications helped our remaining contest winners
#2: Thomas L. from Germany was respected as a consultant.
#3: John C. from the U.S. gained credibility during a career change.
#4: Renne B. from the Philippines proved her skills.
#5: Flavio B. from Brazil nearly trippled his salary.
#6: Steven M. from Canada was able to get a job after an injury.
Snider's story begins as a food service supervisor. She got her first taste of networking after a contracted IT administrator came to her facility and delivered a faulty system upgrade. When the trained admin failed to resolve network issues, Snider took matters into her own hands and successfully troubleshot problems on her own. Snider said that when a problem arose, "the managers wouldn't call him, they would call me because I … knew what had to be done to make it work."
Later that year, Snider learned that the admin was making more money than she was as a supervisor (while she performed his tasks), so she sought proper training and certifications to pursue a career in network administration. She thought, "If I can get my certification, I can be paid more" -- which proved to be the case.
After 17 years away from school, Snider returned to the (virtual) halls of academia in 2006 and earned a bachelor of science degree in information technology from the University of Phoenix. She earned the degree by December 2008, while still working full-time. Though she earned an MSCE on Windows 2000 in 2001, she's continuing down the Microsoft certification path and plans to use the free voucher she won from our Career Success Story Contest to help her earn an MCITP in Windows Server 2008 Administration this year.
Snider currently works as a regional LAN administrator at a chemical company based in Ohio. From her office in Houston, she oversees a total of six locations, five in Texas and one in Oklahoma. Her duties include Windows Server 2003 administration, managing file servers, Lotus Notes and various infrastructure elements including Active Directory servers/domain controllers. Snider also acts as second-level technical support for her sites, and she backstops the help desk staff when they run into problems or issues they can't handle by themselves.
"People also stop me in the hallway when I'm visiting their sites to ask me questions, or to get some help, whenever they can," she said.
How is it that Snider was able to go from a networking newbie to a tech-savvy guru? Below is her advice on pursuing education and certification, and how they help networking professionals advance their careers:
Earn IT/networking certifications: It wasn't until Snider became certified that she got many more phone calls for job interviews. "If people want to be taken seriously as networking professionals, they must earn some kind of certification. Usually this starts with Network+, but it can't end there. Network+ is good for basic networking literacy, but it will be necessary to build upon that foundation to do well in the workplace. Preparing for the MSCE back in 2001, and for the latest generation of MCTS and MCITP exams today, has helped me learn some of what I need to know to excel in the workplace."
"I learned so much more after I was certified," Synder said. When she completed her certifications, she was hired right away at a company for systems support where she was contracted for three years to build 34 servers and upgrade all machines to Windows 2000. With the knowledge she gained from her MSCE, she was able to complete the project in 18 months. "The help desk calls went down to almost nothing, and they really didn't need support," she said. She admits that she wouldn't have been able to complete that project as successfully had she not earned her Microsoft certification.
- Stay dedicated even after setbacks: "If you take a test and fail, go back and try again," Snider said. "I failed my first Network+ attempt but found my second try much easier and passed without too much trouble. I then passed all seven exams for my MCSE on the first try, so it might just have been a matter of sharpening my test-taking skills. In 2001, it had been a long time -- over 17 years -- since my last serious testing, so it probably took a while to get back into test-taking shape. You have to be dedicated to succeed at improving yourself and your career prospects. On any given day, things can get in the way of passing an exam, but if you go back and try again, you can probably figure out how to pass. If you never try, you won't fail, but if you don't try, you'll never pass an exam."
- Certification isn't enough -- work and go to school: "It was hard going back to college and working full-time," she said. "But after the previous economic downturn in 2005, when I worked only four months that year, every job I was interested in required a bachelor's degree and certification, so that's when I decided to finish my degree and earn some more certifications. I don't think certification by itself is enough to get a job, and it certainly wasn't the only thing that got me into my present position. I also had to promise my employers to finish my bachelor of science degree in information technology, and I was very proud to graduate late last year and fulfill that promise to them. It was one of the greatest moments in my life."
- Don't stop learning: "Work is always a learning process, especially in IT," Snider said -- particularly around the fields of security. "You think you have all of the antivirus software updated until something isn't working. Sometimes permissions and group policy conflict, and that's an area I have to research to figure out fixes for, too."
- "That's why it's important to keep studying and learning as much as you can," she said. "Don't think you know it all or that there's nothing left to learn. There's so much stuff out there, and it just keeps coming. Find what interests you, and dig into it."
Networking career advice
- Get peer advice on how to prepare for certification exams.
- Take a look at valid certs in our networking certification guide.
- Check out Ed Tittel's latest career and certification advice.
Like all of the other winners in our Career Success Story Contest, Snider brings a great mix of technical skills and knowledge, hands-on experience, and ample motivation to the workplace, and to her plans for career development and advancement. All of us could do very well to follow her example.
About the authors:
Ed Tittel: Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer and consultant who's written more than 100 books, including his latest, Windows Server 2008 For Dummies, with co-author Justin Korelc. Ed has been active in computing for more than 25 years as a software developer, manager, writer, researcher, and trainer. He is probably best known for creating and editing the Exam Cram series of IT certification prep books.
Tessa Parmenter: Tessa Parmenter is an associate editor for SearchNetworking.com. As associate site editor of the Networking Media Group, Tessa develops and edits newsletters, writes and edits original articles for publication, blogs on the Network Hub and works intimately with contributing industry experts to bring advice to the public. If you have any feedback for SearchNetworking.com or for any of her articles, feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.