8 IT Certifications for Career Changers in 2015
A common observation from experienced IT/IS industry veterans is that the only constant in their profession is change. The statement is usually in reference to the creation and adoption of new technologies, which almost always results in new capabilities, new processes and new risks.
Change, however, is also a constant for IT industry workers when it comes to their jobs, particularly when it comes to the type of work they are doing and who they are doing it for. Sometimes the change experienced by IT professionals is compulsory; this industry is no stranger to layoffs, restructuring and off-shoring. This volatility requires an IT worker to keep old skills fresh, while adding new skills based on the evolving requirements of their current (or future) employer.
That said, a lot of the employment volatility in the IT industry is attributable to career changers. IT professionals have a reputation for looking for different work opportunities regularly, sometimes in related but unfamiliar disciplines, within the industry. In particular, IT workers are not prejudiced against so-called "lateral moves," taking a new job that is on par with a current position in terms of compensation and corporate standing. For IT pros, a lateral job move that gives them an opportunity to learn new skills and use previous talents in a new way, is a win.
Which IT certifications for which IT professional?
IT certifications can offer career changers a way to gain knowledge and accreditation in a new technology field, without the time and financial commitments demanded by a full degree program. Earning a certification acts as a statement of intent to a hiring manager or the head of a different internal department, that a candidate is serious about making a professional transition.
Since career changers likely won't have significant experience in the field they want to move to, they should start by looking at relevant foundation-level certifications. Many mid-level and higher certifications have specific job experience requirements that career changers are unlikely to meet. These higher credentials should be bookmarked for later consideration.
Of course, the best IT career change is one that transitions the switcher into a thriving technical field. A lateral move into an area of information technology that has become stagnant, or (worse yet) is in decline, isn't a sound strategic decision.
Using the "2014 IT Skills & Salary Report" from Global Knowledge, and Windows IT Pro as a guideline, we've identified three highly active IT areas, and linked one or more relevant industry certifications to each. If you're considering a career change within the industry (or looking at entering the IT industry from another career path), the following information can help you narrow down which certifications are associated with the functional area you wish to join.
Another point of interest: most of the certifications listed in the following sections were cited in the "Top Paying Certifications" table in the "2014 IT Skills & Salary Report", linking them to potentially stronger earnings potential.
Security is still one of the top priorities for everyone who builds, owns, or maintains information systems. In recent years, the IT security function has been broken down into a number of specialized job roles, spread across varying levels of the typical corporate org chart. Security is one of the most vital disciplines in the industry, making it a desirable new field of choice for IT career changers.
There are many security-related certifications available from a number of industry organizations and technology vendors. Some of these certifications can't be earned without previous experience in relevant IT/IS security job roles. These include the highly rated Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) and Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) designations from non-profit industry group ISACA. While these are good programs to look at after obtaining several years of IT/IS security experience, they aren't usually a viable option for career changers.
The Security+ certification from CompTIA is a respected vendor-neutral credential held by over 250,000 professionals worldwide. Security+ is a foundation-level certification, and is a good choice for career changers due to its high recognition value within the industry.
The GIAC Security Essentials (GSEC) certification prepares candidates for hands-on IT security work. The GSEC is one step above the GIAC Information Security Fundamentals (GISF) designation, making it an intermediate level security certification that, with proper training, is well within an IT career changer's wheelhouse.
Certified Ethical Hacker
A security certification which has gained in popularity recently is the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) designation from EC-Council. This credential is for white-hat hackers who repurpose techniques taken from malicious hackers to test computers and networks for vulnerabilities. Candidates who attend official CEH training can challenge the exam without having to fulfill a two-year work experience requirement.
Today's cloud computing environment is powered by virtual servers. Using virtualization, many organizations are no longer limited by the constraints that come with physical configuration of traditional server rooms. Virtualization enables virtual server creation and management based on fluctuating business priorities, and can facilitate each priority's unique demand for computing resources.
Similarly, desktop virtualization has changed the traditional office environment of independent workstations, each loaded with a separate instance of applications and an operating system. Virtual desktops allow for centralized backup and software updates, easier disaster recovery, and easier management of employees who work from remote locations. Similarly, desktop virtualization enables the use of "thin clients", computer workstations built with inexpensive commodity hardware, which lowers the total cost of network clients.
The VMware Certified Professional - Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV) certification is a vendor certification aimed at candidates who want to manage virtualization based in data center environments. VMware is the maker of vSphere, a popular industry standard server virtualization platform.
Citrix Certified Associate and others
Thin client industry leader Citrix has a number of certifications based on its XenDesktop virtualization product. Citrix's certification program has been revamped in recent months, and the Citrix Certified Associate - Virtualization designation is the new starting point. This credential covers the use of Citrix XenDesktop version 7.Software Development.
Microsoft has its own server virtualization solution and a related certification for it. The Microsoft Specialist certification in Server Virtualization covers the creation and management of virtual servers using Windows Server Hyper-V and System Center. As with other Microsoft Specialist certifications, the Server Virtualization designation can be earned by passing a single exam.
The structure and management of IT departments has undergone significant change over the last decade. Businesses and governments have both looked to achieve a balance between reducing costs, and maintaining an established level of productivity and quality of service.
ITIL v3 Foundation
The ITIL v3 Foundation certification is based on the IT service management framework created by the Information Technology Infrastructure Library, or ITIL. ITIL is a globally recognized system that has achieved widespread adoption throughout the IT industry. The ITIL v3 Foundation certification covers the basic principles of the system, and is the gateway to more advanced ITIL credentials such as the ITIL Expert certification.
Where ITIL framework is rather all-encompassing, the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) certification is based on a more specialized system commonly used by software development organizations. Scrum is a set of processes based on Agile development methods used to organize and complete complex projects. Use of Scrum has gained in popularity over the last decade. The Certified ScrumMaster credential is for people who want to lead project teams using Scrum principles and practices.
"2014 IT Skills & Salary Report," Global Knowledge and Windows IT Pro, January 2015,