Deciding which IT certifications are worth pursuing makes an interesting exercise. By paying careful attention to you present circumstances -- technically, professionally and personally -- you can quickly identify technology areas and job roles where training and certification will help to advance your career. Then, as long as you pick the right certification credentials to build on where you stand, and aim toward a better future, things should turn out to your advantage.
I had the following e-mail show up through the contact from at Tom's IT Pro last week. Before I answer the questions raised therein, in both general and particular terms, let me remind you that I offer a special questionnaire here at the site entitled "How to Help Me Help You." Those who want to maximize the return on their time and effort expended in reaching out to me for input or advice would be well-served by following this link and filling out that questionnaire as an important part of arming me with most of the information I need to know to provide the most useful and informative replies. Thanks in advance for your understanding and cooperation!
Here's the text of the inquiry I received, more or less unaltered:
Dear Mr. Ed
I am a network administrator in a small office, but my problem is that I have no IT Certifications. But I do know how to manage a small business network using Windows Server 2008 R2. Now, I have decided to pursue some certifications. Please guide me to the best one available for somebody like me. I know more than just basic networking, and understand all of the major topics, tools, and technologies that a network administrator should know. My next goal is to move into larger networking infrastructures, such as a data center or a service provider.
Please guide me to the best relevant certifications, beyond the basic or introductory level.
Thanks in advance.
Dear Mr. Elf:
You raise some good questions, but don't really provide enough detail for me to understand what you really mean when you write "I know more than just basic networking, and understand all of the major topics, tools, and technologies that a network administrator should know." This is a very big ball of wax, Mr. Elf, and I have to question if you know the kinds of technologies and protocols you're likely to encounter at a data center or service provider operation; particularly high-end routing protcols like IGRP and BGP, the ins and outs of complex DNS server set-ups, load balancers, high-end security gear or appliances, and so forth..
Given where you're at, I'd recommend knocking off the MCSA on Windows Server 2008, then upgrading your skills to MCSA/MCSE on Windows Server 2012. This opens up your entrée into System Center 2012 and private cloud topics (one good way to ease into data center topics). I'd also recommend that you think about Cisco certification, particularly the CCNA/CCNP track, each of which covers routing and switching as well as data center topic areas. Some exposure to VMware, leading up to the VCP 5 for Datacenter Virtualization would also be an excellent track for you to start finding your way down.
About the Author
Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus IT veteran who's worked as a programmer, technical manager, instructor, network consultant and technical evangelist for companies including Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications and is the author of over 140 books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.More by Ed Tittel
At this point, while you may have a good grasp of the SMB basics, you have a lot to learn, and a lot of hands-on skills to acquire to start making your way up the food chain to become active on the infrastructure side of the networking biz. If you follow one or more of my recommendations, you will get a better idea of the subject matters of greatest interest to you. But that's when the hard work truly begins, as you will have to start gaining significant hands-on experience in using, working with, and designing working environments built around the networking infrastructure tools and technologies you find so interesting.
My best guess is that you should hunker down, and prepare yourself to spend the next 2-3 years devoting at least 10 hours a week toward pursuing training, cert prep, and hands-on experimentation and learning to get these subject matters firmly under your belt. At that point, you can start looking around for job opportunities that your new collection of cert credentials will entitle you to start applying for.
Good luck with your planning, and be sure to give yourself the time and budget necessary to pursue your career advancement goals. They are good ones, but will take real sweat and elbow grease to realize.