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Boost Your Career (and Salary) with IT Certs

By - Source: Tom's IT Pro

A young IT help desk professional, with a passion for system building and benchmarking, looks to develop his IT career path in network forensics and security.

Jeffrey, a young IT help desk professional, with a passion for system building and overclocking, is interested in developing his career path. His current job is not challenging enough and he often feels bored. He enjoys the troubleshooting aspects of his job and has an interest in network forensics and security. Jeffrey says:

"Job satisfaction and helping others is very important to me. If I could have any job I would be working for Tom's Hardware and reviewing all the latest technology. Benchmarking, overclocking, and gaming performance. I love the system builders marathon."

With an associate's degree in computer technology (mainly networking and hardware tracks), and no professional certifications, Jeffrey is finding it hard to move into a new role to progress his career. As many entry-level IT pros just getting their careers off the ground, he feels stuck and unsure how to move forward.

After taking all of this into account, we suggest some good entry-level certifications and IT career tracks that Jeffrey might be interested in. We also encourage him to continue with system building and benchmarking as a good, related hobby that might lead to something more in the future.

See: A One-Two Punch Career Plan to a $150K+ Salary

Dear Jeffrey:

Your associate's degree is a good credential to have for entry-level positions, but you may want to consider pursuing a bachelor's in computer science, or a related area, especially if you still have any unused GI Bill benefits remaining. There are enough good online options these days, that you might not even have to set foot on a physical campus to earn that diploma. My only advice would be not to put yourself in a situation where you must incur substantial debt to add another sheepskin to your collection.

Your interests in benchmarking, gaming, and PC hardware are difficult to translate into a job -- unless, perhaps, you'd like to become a technology writer on such subjects. Even then, you'd be hard-pressed to match your salary goals. But this is a great hobby for anyone working with technology, and it might lead to freelance work and possibly additional income in the future, especially if you enjoy writing. Look for opportunities to get involved, like Tom's Hardware's recent call for writers, and see where they lead. You might not be able to score a full time gig with this, but if it's something you truly enjoy, it might make your "nine to five" more bearable. 

I know you said that your current help desk position is something you'd like to get out of, but I urge you to look into help desk certifications to see if they might lead you to something better-paying (and eventually, perhaps into a management track as well). If anything, it would be good for your to validate your current knowledge with a professional certification. It would show you current and prospective employers what you know what you're capable of, which might garner a higher salary. See our list of the Best Help Desk Certifications for some potential options that you might want to consider. The MCSA certification from Microsoft, for example, is widely recognized; it requires only two exams, which can lead to other Microsoft certifications in the future.

See: Microsoft Certification Challenge: Get Certified by 2015

On the networking front, CompTIA's entry-level, vendor-neutral Network+ certification is a good starting point, or if you have the chops, go for Cisco's CCNA credential. Before you move into network forensics and security, I highly recommend getting a solid foundation in networking concepts. We list a number of other options on our list of the Best Networking Certifications

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If you want to go the hardware route, CompTIA's A+ and Server+ might be good options (see more at Best Computer Hardware Certifications). Otherwise, I'd strongly urge you to check out the other lists of the Best IT Certifications, where you'll find over 20 different categories to dig into, and sets of related certifications into which you can delve (and yes, computer forensics and InfoSec certifications are on the list, but you should first look into more entry-level options).

This might help steer you in one or more technical directions to help you boost your career, and your salary level, to help you meet your targets. Also, if any of those articles help you develop further comments, questions, or issues you'd care to address, let me know.

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