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Many of the questions I get from readers and IT professionals might best be summarized as “If I earn the following cert(s), will it help my career?” More than half the time, in fact, one or more of the specific IT certifications mentioned in the query comes from the Computing Technology Industry Association or CompTIA. To be even more specific A+ is mentioned most frequently, with Network+ close behind, and Security+ in third place by the numbers.
Thus, I’d like to address the issue of what kinds of value these and other CompTIA certifications can provide, and what kinds of people are most likely to benefit from their pursuit and attainment. Both A+ and Network+ focus solidly on entry-level personnel, or as CompTIA likes to put it “individuals embarking on a career in technology.” A+ seeks to identify PC technicians with at least 6 months of experience or its functional equivalent, where Network+ ups that ante by three months and recommends its pursuers to earn the A+ as a stepping stone to this credential.
By design, both A+ and Network+ serve as steppings stones to other, more advanced CompTIA certifications, and to some extent, they’re also referenced or recognized in other vendor-specific and -neutral certification programs. But the fact remains that these credentials work best to identify those inexperienced or new-to-the-industry workers who have sufficient interest in and motivation to demonstrate some basic PC (A+) and networking (Network+) knowledge and proficiency.
By themselves, neither or both of these credentials is probably enough to land somebody a job in IT, however. Even an associate’s degree remains worth more to most organizations hiring entry-level workers, or those switching from other fields to IT. Thus, while I can (and do) recommend A+ and Network+ to aspiring IT workers in PC or network technician, help desk, tech support, operator, and other traditional first rung IT jobs, I usually have to temper that recommendation by observing that other signs of education, skill, and ability will add to one’s chances of parlaying these credentials into a job.
Security+ is a slightly different animal. It recommends earning both A+ and Network+ first, and seeks to identify individuals with two or more years of security-related job experience. Thus, it’s not quite as “entry-level” as the other two certs, though it is very much an entry-level information security certification by virtue of its depth and breadth of coverage. Here again this is a certification that while helpful and worth pursuing may not be enough by itself to parlay into an information security position. That’s partly because the phrase “entry-level security position” is something of an oxymoron, and something of a rare bird besides that. However, earning the Security+ is a useful stepping stone toward the CISSP, CISM, and other more senior infosec certs that and often do help IT professionals move into information security jobs, or up the information security component in network and systems administration positions.
Thus, to answer the question posed in the title of this blog, the answer is: “Yes, but…” The buts include “don’t expect to turn this into immediate gold, a first job, or a promotion” and “be prepared to proceed from these ‘stepping-stone’ credentials to other, more substantial and serious vendor-neutral and/or -specific certifications to really boost your career and your future earning potential.”