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Making it in IT: Why Entry-Level Certs Matter

By - Source: Toms IT Pro

When building a structure, you have to start from the foundation and work your way up from there. But when building a castle of ideas, or a collection of IT certifications, bottom-up construction is neither necessary nor always practiced. The recent introduction of Associate Level credentials from VMware proves this point nicely, and gives our certification and career expert Ed Tittel a great excuse to explain why such credentials are important to success in great volumes. In other words, here's why the bottom of the IT certification heap matters more than you might think.

At the end of August, 2013, VMware announced a set of additions to its already successful and popular certification program. Kevin Parish has written about these credentials in some depth already in a TIP news item entitled VMware Now Offering Associate-Level Certification, VCA so I won't belabor those details (he does a fine job of covering them). What I would like to discuss in this connection is why a set of effective and interesting entry-level certification credentials can be an important contribution to the overall success and health of any large-scale IT certification program.

If you look at certification programs from any number of sponsors, including the big boys -- namely, Cisco, CompTIA, and Microsoft -- and countless players from the middle of the pack -- names from Brocade to VMware come to mind -- you'll find that many, if not most of them offer entry-level credentials to would-be certified professionals. Though CompTIA doesn't refer to its certs along the lines of the typical: associate, professional, expert, and architect hierarchy that's common to many such programs, its biggest successes (A+, Network+, and Security+) all play to interested information workers seeking to establish initial credibility for skills and knowledge in the areas those credentials cover.

Microsoft has its Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) credentials; Cisco offers a potent pair of introductory certs -- namely the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), which in turn leads to the Cisco Certified Networking Associate (CCNA) credential. VMware's recent announcement starts with Associate Level credentials in Data Center Virtualization, Cloud, and Workforce Mobility. In all of these cases, and many more that range from exactly along these lines to something similar, certification sponsors seek to establish a kinder, gentler entry point whereupon aspiring IT professionals can start climbing their way up a certification ladder or hierarchy.

My gut feeling is that these credentials are designed to cover enough skills and knowledge to make them worth something, both to the individuals who pursue and attain them, and to organizations that seek to hire employees with those kinds of skills and knowledge. But these initial credentials also pose relatively modest barriers to entry that are designed not to require so much learning and skills development that they could put off or scare away junior IT professionals.

Given that the professional level VMware credentials are widely regarded as fairly formidable (and with their requirements for in-class or online courses that cost $1,800 and up, they're not cheap, either), I can appreciate how the new VCA (VMware Certified Associate) credentials can help to steer more people into the company's training and certification programs. After all, the bottom of a pyramid has to be big and broad, so as to provide support for the other layers of more advanced and demanding credentials that must be pursued as candidates climb further and further up the ladder (or through the hierarchy). This should provide a big boost to VMware's participant population, and shows that it's starting to move into the big leagues in the IT certification business.

But really, this could be a win-win situation. Though the advantages to VMware are blindingly obvious -- more test takers, more participation, more cert-related revenue -- such credentials also make the professional level credentials eminently more approachable, and may steer more people into pursuing professional and expert level credentials than is currently the case today. Given how popular VMware is in the marketplace, and how strong demand for qualified VMware professionals has become, this is a pretty smart move on VMware's part. It'll be interesting to see how market uptake follows into these new Associate Level credentials as well.

Ed Tittel is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who’s worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.

Check out Ed's Tom's IT Pro blog Making it in IT - Certification & Training.

See here for all of Ed's Tom's IT Pro articles.