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IT Certifications: 5 are hot; 5 are not

The term that describes today's economy is "jobless recovery." If I understand it correctly, the term means that fundamentals are improving somewhat, but without the corresponding growth in hiring and new job creation that usually accompanies more robust recoveries.

In this situation, IT professionals weigh the pros and cons of certification more carefully than usual. This makes the analysis of what's hot and cold in the

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IT certification arena interesting, because trends are as much about betting on what's likely to win as they are an outright indication of where opportunities are strong or weak.

I've heard from several readers who complained that they've earned top-tier credentials that did not lead to immediate employment or multiple job options. Even with high-demand top IT certifications in hand, basic job seeking rules still apply:

 

  • It takes a while to find a new (or another) job, even in the best of times. These aren't the best of times.

     

  • If you're limited by location, pay, job title, benefits or other restrictions, your job search likely will be longer and harder.

     

  • Certification -- even a premier credential -- does not guarantee a job.

With these caveats in mind, here's what my research tells me are today's hottest and coldest IT certifications. For clarity, I define "hottest" as those certs that are most likely to appear in classified ads, job postings and IT certification wish lists. Likewise, "coldest" are those credentials with the weakest growth, those that have gotten negative press, or those in which IT professionals have shown the least interest. My apologies in advance to those in the cold group; nobody wants that distinction!

What's hot

My top five IT certifications include:

 

  1. Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer (CCIE): Available in multiple forms (security, routing and switching, service provider and voice), this credential is the reigning champ, owing to a savvy combination of tough exams, profound coverage, and real probing of candidate skills, knowledge and analytical abilities.

     

  2. Information Security 'Ladder': In cert-speak, a "ladder" is a well-connected series of certifications with a sum that's worth more than its parts. Though many ladders are possible, combining CompTIA Security+ with (ISC)2's CISSP, plus a little something in auditing (CISA), physical security (PSP) or technical concentrations (CISSPs can focus on architecture or security management, or government-only stuff) is potent.

     

  3. CompTIA's A+ and Network+: Though they may not go far, these certs generate major numbers of candidates and credentials. By any measure, both remain hot, even if they lead only to entry-level jobs.

     

  4. Planet3 Wireless Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP): Wireless credentials gain heat from incredible interest in wireless networking at home, in the workplace and elsewhere. The Planet3 Wireless CWNP program leads the way, though there are lots of other options.

     

  5. Microsoft MCSA/MCSE: Though it's fashionable to be down on MS credentials, it's hard to ignore programs that routinely and continuously generate 4,000 to 5,000 (MSCA) and 6,000 to 7,000 (MCSE) new certified professionals, month after month, year after year.

What's cold

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! All these programs have enjoyed some success; some have even shown signs of recent recovery. All have tumbled far from their highs (note how many of these certs followed the dot-com bubble; the only order here is alphabetical):

 

  1. E-commerce/E-business: Take your pick of e-commerce or e-business certs, be they vendor-neutral or vendor-specific. All of them suck wind compared to 1999-2000, when they peaked. Many are no longer around.

     

  2. Java programming: Though Sun's core Java cert (SCJP) is still okay, other Java certs from Sun and from other vendors struggle to maintain growth and numbers.

     

  3. Markup languages: Be it HTML, XML or XML applications, certs built around Web content development or hacking Web pages are fading fast. The Certified Internet Webmaster (CIW) program is emblematic, even if it did report a recent profit.

     

  4. Novell/NetWare: In the early '90s, Novell ruled not just the network, but also the training and certification world. These days, it's hard to find people with a public interest in NetWare or other Novell technologies. That's too bad, because there's still a lot to like at "Big Red" (note: I worked for Novell from 1988 to 1994). Perhaps Novell's proposed acquisition of SuSE Linux AG, its Certified Linux Engineer (CLE) cert, and its move into services can save the bacon and warm things back up!

     

  5. Web professional: Web programmers, project managers, salespeople -- you name it -- popped up like mushrooms after the rain in 1999-2000, along with certs to match. Where are they now? Gone, gone, gone.

Because fortune is fickle, there's nothing that says you won't swap one list for the other someday. For now, the heat of growth and interest that separates hot certs from cold ones is susceptible to Arctic cold fronts from big economic shifts. Pick your horse carefully, and buckle your seatbelt!

Ed Tittel is vice president of content development and delivery for Austin, Texas-based Capstar LLC. He's probably best known as editor for Que Certification's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series, and as a columnist for Certification Magazine.


This was first published in November 2003

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