Career advice: Do certifications matter?

I’m a network administrator who is committed to keeping current with technology. Lately, though, I’ve been hearing negative things about certifications. Are they worth the investment of time and money, or should I pursue other training opportunities? Rather than look at the certification as a unique event, think about what you want in your career. A career is a balance between education and experience driven by what you want to pursue. Education comes in a variety of forms, be it a degree, a certification or hands-on training provided by your company. Employers view all of these components differently, so focus on what makes sense to you, including what you are most interested in (learning is easier when you’re excited about a subject), how you learn (online or in a classroom?), your financial situation (does your employer offer any type of tuition reimbursement?) and what your company looks for when hiring (if certifications are required, then make sure you have them as part of your portfolio of qualifications).

I’d like to become an IT director the next time the opportunity arises. What would help me stand out among a field of candidates? Take the time to understand your company’s criteria for selecting an IT director. Look at other people who have been promoted to those positions and get an understanding of the qualities that they brought to the table. Then take a hard look at your skills and experience and understand the gap between them and what the company is seeking. Once you have ascertained what you need to focus on, build a plan that allows you to develop in those areas. Also, remember that sometimes opportunities are not always upward and that you may benefit from lateral moves to gain experience.

I’ve been a systems administrator for a while, but I’m becoming more and more interested in security (by way of very interesting interactions with our excellent infosec staff). Any ideas on how to move into that area?
Take advantage of your information security colleagues. If possible, arrange one-on-one meetings over lunch or coffee, or by phone if you’re not in the same office. This will allow you to gain some insight into what the group looks for in terms of qualifications and experience. Find out if there are some projects underway that require the involvement of your current organization with the security team, then ask your manager to see if you can be assigned to them. Outside of work, look for local trade associations and organizations that focus on security. Attend their meetings so you can network with people in that field to understand job opportunities and how to prepare for them.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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