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Grow Your IT Career With The Right Skills And Certs At The Right Time

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

Today we tackle the tricky career decisions: which IT skills and certs should you cultivate and which ones can you skip? The advice comes in two flavors, one for those just starting out in IT and the other for more seasoned IT pros.

For every niche in IT, there are lots of different subspecialties that branch off from the main drag into varying areas. IT pros should consider carefully which such plots to tend, and which ones to avoid. For those just getting started, sticking to the main track, and learning important foundational technologies is key. With time and experience, however, more seasoned IT pros can safely venture off the beaten track.

I've been working as a technology writer for the past 20 years and more now. For over a decade before that, I worked in a variety of jobs in IT, back and forth between technology producing organizations and technology consuming ones. I've seen lots of different tools and technologies come and go, and watched others build careers upon them, while doing the same for myself. Over that period, I've observed that those who learn to make excellent use of technology, and really dig into the details, tend to do better than those who learn and do only what they must to get the job done, and move onto other concerns for the rest of their working tenures.

To some extent, people will always gravitate to what they understand best and value most, so my point may not be as clear on this subject as it could be. Our interests and proclivities have a way of influencing our work and life choices more than we often recognize, sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our detriment; but always moving us toward what we like, understand and value, and away from that which we dislike, don’t understand, and devalue. As IT pros consider which skills and interests to cultivate, and which ones to skip, however, it's important to anchor those choices to what is most likely to repay the investments of time and energy needed to pursue them in some tangible way. The avenues we pursue should originate from whatever stage our career is in, as I will now explain.

For IT Pro Beginners

For those getting started in IT, the best thing to do is to concentrate on foundational technologies and tools.

Thus, for example, a networking professional would be well-advised to learn as much about TCP/IP as he or she possibly can, with some deliberate attention to IPv6 addressing, services, troubleshooting, best practices, and implementations (ARIN has reported it's down to its last few million IPv4 addresses, and expects to initiate a waiting list for those future requests that insist on IPv4 address blocks, even in the face of untold gazillions of IPv6 addresses available, free for the asking). Likewise, someone in programming is well-advised to learn a new language (such as Ruby on Rails, JavaScript, or HTML5) or master a debugging tool or new development environment (like CodeLite or DialogBlocks). These may not be directly related to all of your day-to-day tasks, but they will teach you important fundamentals and help you learn and master various best practices and troubleshooting skills that will serve you well throughout your working life.

This is the stage of one's career where basic entry-level certs like the MCT, MCSA, CCENT/CCNA, and the big three from CompTIA (A+, Network+, Security+) all make good sense.

For Seasoned IT Pros

As IT pros mature professionally and advance in their careers, some degree of specialization becomes inevitable. Learning and skills mastery -- often buttressed by IT certifications or training programs -- usually follow suit.

This is when network pros should venture into wireless specialties and certs (like those from the Certified Wireless Networking Professional program), data center or network storage areas, or into the information security realm. Likewise, this is the career stage when some coders will naturally gravitate into project management (like Project+ or CAPM, followed by the PMP), development methodologies and management (such as Scrum, Agile Software, Extreme Programming or XP, and so forth), or perhaps supporting disciplines such as QA, testing, deployment, or maintenance. There are lots of courses, programs, and credentials available to scratch any or all such itches.

During the latter stages of one's career, those who don't move into management or other fields, may be inspired to specialize still further. This is the part of one's career where any of a number of so-called "pinnacle certs" might make sense, such as the CCIE or CCAr for Cisco-oriented networkers, Software or Enterprise Architect certifications for those involved in designing and overseeing entire infrastructures, super-senior information security credentials like the Certified Protection Professional (CPP, from ASIS International), the CISSP specializations, or perhaps the SANS GIAC Security Engineer (GSE) might serve to cap off what will surely be a long and distinguished career.

For developers, architect certifications more focused on development may make sense, as would the senior rungs in cert programs for various development methodologies and philosophies. This is also the stage of one's career where branching into governance or risk management might also make sense, along the lines of ITIL, PRINCE2, CGEIT, CRISC and so forth. At this point, IT pros usually know what they want, and where the opportunities are.

If you choose your avocations and interests carefully, as your career progresses, you can open lots of doors to future opportunities along the way. Follow your interests, and the market, and there's no telling where you'll end up.

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