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CompTIA Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths

CompTIA Certification Guide: Overview And Career Paths
By , Mary Kyle

CompTIA offers some of the most recognized entry-level certifications for IT professionals, including its A+, Network+ and Security+ certifications. This certification guide will help you get started with CompTIA's certs and career paths.

Headquartered near Chicago, CompTIA is a non-profit trade association comprised of more than 2,000 member organizations and 3,000 business partners. Although the organization focuses on educating and certifying IT professionals, CompTIA also figures prominently in philanthropy and public policy advocacy.

CompTIA Certification Program Overview

CompTIA's vendor-neutral certification program is one of the most recognized in the IT industry, having issued more than 2 million certifications during a 20-year span. Currently, CompTIA certifications are offered at four levels, or series:

  • Foundational
  • Professional
  • Master
  • Specialty

Although the Basic and Master categories each offer a single certification at this time, CompTIA's Professional series is comprised of nine globally recognized certifications that can help aspiring IT professionals get started in a number of different areas of IT, including security, networking, cloud computing, server and Linux administration, project management and more. There are currently four certifications in the Specialty category, for document imaging, cloud essentials, healthcare IT and trainers.

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CompTIA Basic Certification

CompTIA IT Fundamentals

CompTIA IT Fundamentals is the sole certification in the Foundational category. It's ideal for beginners with a basic understanding of PC functionality and compatibility as well as familiarity with technology topics, such as hardware basics, software installation, security risks and prevention, and basic networking. Currently, CompTIA offers both a proctored and a non-proctored version of the exam.

CompTIA Professional Certifications

The CompTIA Professional series certifications aim at IT professionals seeking a specific IT career, such as computer support, networking, security, mobility, project management or storage. The three most popular CompTIA certifications — namely, A+, Network+ and Security+ — fall in this category, as well as the Linux+, Cloud+, CSA+, Mobility+, Server+ and Project+ certs. Let's take a closer look at CompTIA's Professional certs.

CompTIA A+

The CompTIA A+ certification has been described as an "entry-level rite of passage for IT technicians," for a good reason. This certification is designed for folks seeking a career as a help desk, support, service center or networking technician, and it covers PC and laptop hardware, software installation and configuration of computer and mobile operating systems. A+ also tests a candidate's understanding of basic networking, troubleshooting and security skills, which serve as a springboard for CompTIA networking or security certifications or those offered by other organizations. According to CompTIA, more than one million IT professionals hold the A+ certification. The A+ is required for Canon, Dell, Intel and HP service technicians and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). Candidates must pass two exams (exams 220-901 and 220-902) to earn the A+ credential.

For more information about the A+ certification and exam details, browse our Best Computer Hardware Certifications article.

CompTIA Network+

Many IT professionals start with the A+ certification. However, if you have the experience and don't feel you need the A+, you can move directly to the CompTIA Network+ certification, which is geared toward professionals with at least nine months of networking experience. A candidate must be familiar with networking technologies, media, topologies, security, installation and configuration. The Network+ certification is recommended or required by Cisco, Dell, HP and Intel, and is also an accepted entry-point certification for the Apple Consultants Network. The Network+ credential meets the ISO 17024 standard and just like the A+, it is recognized by the U.S. DoD. Only one exam, N10-006, is required to earn the certification.

We cover the Network+ certification in our Best Computer Networking Certifications article.

CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CSA+)

As cybercrimes increase, the requirement for highly skilled information security analysts will continue to rise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports anticipated growth of 18 percent for information security analysts between 2014 and 2024, the fastest rate of growth for all occupations. One of the newest additions to the CompTIA certification portfolio is the Cybersecurity Analyst (CSA+) certification. The CSA+ credential is specifically designed to meet the ever-growing need for experienced, qualified information security analysts.

CSA+ credential holders are well versed in the use of system threat detection tools, as well as the use of data and behavioral analytics to secure applications and systems from risks, threats and other vulnerabilities. CSA+ certification holders are not only able to monitor network behavior, but analyze results and create solutions to better protect against advanced persistent threats (APTs), intrusions, malware and the like.

CompTIA describes CSA+ as a bridge certification between the Security+ credential (requiring two years' experience) and the master-level Advanced Security Practitioner Certification (CASP) credential, which requires 10 years of experience. To earn the CSA+, candidates must pass a performance-based exam.

CompTIA Security+

CompTIA Security+ covers network security concepts, threats and vulnerabilities, access control, identity management, cryptography and much more. Although CompTIA does not require any prerequisites, the organization recommends that cert candidates obtain the Network+ credential and have at least two years of IT administration experience with a security focus. To obtain the Security+ certification candidates must pass on exam, SY0-401.

Want to learn more about Security+? Read about exam details, training options and renewal requirements in our Best Information Security Certifications article.

CompTIA Linux+

The CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI certification aims at Linux network administrators with at least 12 months of Linux administration experience, including installation, package management, GNU and Unix commands, shells, scripting, security and more. The A+ and Network+ certifications are recommended as prerequisites but are not required; candidates must pass two exams to earn the credential.

CompTIA Cloud+

As the cloud computing market continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the CompTIA Cloud+ certification has been keeping pace. This certification targets IT professionals with 2 to 3 years of experience in storage, networking or data center administration. The single exam tests candidates' knowledge of cloud models, resource management, business continuity techniques and general hypervisor technology for server virtualization.

CompTIA Mobility+

As with cloud computing, mobile technology is also increasing in popularity and significance for IT infrastructures, especially with the explosion of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs and Internet of Things (IoT). If you're an IT professional with 18 months' experience in a mobile environment, and familiar with a variety of mobile devices, technologies and security, the CompTIA Mobility+ certification is for you. CompTIA also recommends that candidates have 1 year of networking experience or a Network+ certification, and they must also pass a single exam. The Mobility+ exam is slated for retirement on December 15, 2017.

CompTIA Server+

CompTIA Server+ aims at server administrators with 18 to 24 months of experience with server hardware and software technologies and the A+ certification is recommended. The Server+ credential is recommended or required by HP, Intel and Lenovo for their server technicians, and is recognized by Microsoft and the U.S. DoD. A single exam, SK0-004, is required to achieve this credential.

CompTIA Project+

The CompTIA Project+ certification focuses exclusively on project management and is ideal for project managers who are familiar with project lifecycles from planning to completion, who can finish a project on time and under budget. Project managers interested in this certification should have at least one year of project management experience overseeing small- to medium-sized projects. The Project+ credential requires that candidates pass a single multiple choice exam, PK0-003.

CompTIA Master Certification

CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP)

The highly sought-after CASP certification is the only master-level credential currently available from CompTIA. This certification is designed for seasoned IT security professionals who plan, design and implement security solutions in an enterprise environment.

Although this certification doesn't impose any explicit prerequisites, it's not a bad idea to earn the Network+ and Security+ certifications before tackling the CASP exam. You should also have 10 years of IT administration experience, as well as a minimum of 5 years of technical security experience (thus the certification's place in the "Master" category).

Booz Allen Hamilton, Network Solutions and Verizon Telematics, among other companies, require CASP certification for certain positions. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy also accept CASP as an industry-based certification required by employees and contractors who perform IT work in DOD data centers. The CASP certification requires that candidates pass the CAS-002 exam, which consists of 80 multiple-choice and performance-based questions.

CompTIA Specialty Certifications

CompTIA specialty certifications cover topics specific to a particular vertical or niche market, such as digital imaging and social media. This category also includes the long-standing CTT+, CompTIA's IT trainer credential.

CompTIA CDIA+

The CompTIA Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+) certification is geared toward individuals looking for a career in digital imaging and content management; specifically, best practices for planning, designing and specifying such systems. This certification is recognized by imaging powerhouses such as Canon, Konica Minolta, Ricoh and Kyocera. The CDIA+ requires candidates complete the CD0-001 multiple-choice exam. CompTIA recommends that CDIA+ candidates have at least 2 years of experience before sitting for the exam.

CompTIA Cloud Essentials

The CompTIA Cloud Essentials certification is geared toward individuals who understand the business aspects of cloud computing and how to move from in-house to cloud storage. In addition, they should be familiar with the impacts, risks and consequences of implementing a cloud-based solution. A single exam is required to earn the credential.

CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician

The U.S. is nearing the end of a long transition to electronic medical records, which is partly responsible for making healthcare IT one of our fastest growing industries. Candidates for the CompTIA Healthcare IT Technician certification not only need basic networking skills, but they also need knowledge of U.S. healthcare regulatory requirements, organizational behavior and business operations. Candidates should have the CompTIA A+ certification or at least 500 hours of hands-on healthcare IT technical experience. A single exam (HIT-001 or identical HIT-BE1 exam) is required to earn the credential.

CompTIA CTT+

The CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) certification is perfect for anyone interested in technical training. It covers instructor skills, such as preparation, presentation, communication, facilitation and evaluation, in vendor-neutral fashion. Adobe, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft and Ricoh all recommend CTT+ to their trainers, and accept it in lieu of their own in-house trainer certifications.

Two exams are required for the CTT+ credential: CompTIA CTT+ Essentials (TK0-201) and either CTT+ Classroom Performance Trainer (TK0-202) or CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer (TK0-203).

The CTT+ Classroom Performance Trainer and CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer are performance-based exams. In this case, you must submit a video or recording of your classroom or virtual classroom sessions and complete a form that documents your training preparation, delivery and student evaluations.

Related Jobs and Careers

In addition to certification levels, CompTIA groups its certifications into several career paths:

  • Information security
  • Network and cloud technologies
  • Hardware, services and infrastructure
  • IT management and strategy
  • Web and mobile
  • Software development
  • Training
  • Office productivity

The CompTIA Certifications page lets you pick a certification level and/or a career path, and then returns a list of certs to focus on. For example, one of the most popular career paths in IT is network administration. CompTIA's Network and Cloud Technologies career path offers numerous certifications that can help you advance your network administration career, such as IT Fundamentals at the Basic level, A+, Cloud+, Linux+, Mobility+ and Network+ at the Professional level, and the Cloud Essentials and Healthcare IT Technician specialty certifications.

Those interested in network security (one of the fastest growing fields in IT) should consider the certifications in CompTIA's Information Security career path. This includes IT Fundamentals, A+, CSA+, Network+, Security+, and CASP.

CompTIA also provides a comprehensive IT certification roadmap that encompasses certifications from CompTIA as well as a variety of other organizations, including Cisco, Citrix, EC-Council, Microsoft and more.

Because CompTIA credentials do not focus on a single skill (such as networking or virtualization), CompTIA credential holders may find themselves in a variety of job roles depending on their experience, skill level and area of interest. Here are just a few of the possible careers that CompTIA credential holders may find themselves engaged in:

  • A+: Typically, A+ credential holders find work in support roles, such as support administrators, support technicians or support specialists.
  • Network+: Network+ professionals primarily work in network-related roles, such as network analysts, administrators or support specialists. Credential holders may also work as network engineers, field technicians or network help desk technicians.
  • CSA+ Security Analyst: Common roles for professionals interested in cybersecurity, information security and risk analysis may engage in roles that include security engineers, cybersecurity analysts or specialists, threat or vulnerability analysts, or analysts for security operations centers (SOCs).
  • Security+: Security spans a variety of jobs, such as network, system or security administrators, security managers, specialists or administrators, and security consultants.
  • Server+: Roles for server professionals include storage and server administrators, as well as server support or IT/server technicians.
  • Linux+: Linux professionals often work in roles such as Linux database administrators, network administrators or web administrators.
  • Cloud+/Cloud Essentials: Cloud+ credential holders typically work as cloud specialists, developers or system and network administrators. Cloud Essentials professionals tend to work in areas related to cloud technical sales or business development.
  • CASP: Common roles for CASP credential holders include cybersecurity specialists, InfoSec specialists, information security professionals and security architects.
  • Mobility+: IT professionals interested in mobile devices may work in a variety of roles, ranging from email administrators, mobile device management/device administrators to network administrators, as well as solution architects.
  • Project+: Project+ credential holders typically engage in project leadership roles, such as project managers, coordinators and directors, or team leads.
  • CDIA+: Common careers include electronic records managers, solutions sales consultants and enterprise content management (ECM) administrators.
  • Healthcare IT Technician: IT healthcare professionals engage in roles such as help desk technicians, healthcare-related desktop support, and managed service providers.

While the examples above are by no means exhaustive, they do provide an overview of some of the available careers. Your career choices are limited only by your interests, imagination and determination to achieve your personal goals.

CompTIA Training And Resources

CompTIA provides various and extensive training options, including classroom training, study materials and e-learning. A wide range of CompTIA Authorized Training Provider Partners (CAPPs), such as Global Knowledge, Learning Tree International and more, operate all over the world. Classroom and online/e-learning offerings range in cost from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the particulars. Visit the CompTIA Training page for more details.

CompTIA works with third parties to offer a wide range of self-study materials (the search tool is available here). Content that has been through a vetting process is branded with the CompTIA Approved Quality Content (CAQC) logo. Other materials that allow you to study at your own pace, such as audio segments, lesson activities and additional resources, are available through the CompTIA Marketplace.

Finally, every CompTIA A+, Linux+, Network+, Server+, Security+ and IT Fundamentals certification candidates must check out CertMaster, CompTIA's online test prep tool. CertMaster helps you determine which topics you know well and those you need to brush up on, and suggests training to help you fill in the gaps.

MORE: IT Career Paths & Certification Guides
MORE: Best IT Certifications
MORE: Best IT Training