Yes, You Need IT Certifications

Certifications are often lambasted as “worthless pieces of paper” and “experience is more important.” But for some people, certifications are more important than experience.

A substitute for experience

Newcomers to the IT world face the classic problem: how do you get experience without a job? Sure, you can tinker around on your own time, but how do you prove that experience? That’s where certifications come in.

Certifications show a prospective employer that you care enough and have the initiative to spend your own time and money to become a better IT professional. You might have tons of experience with IT as a hobby. But how do you prove that?

With a piece of paper.

Certifications get you hired

They are what get your resume looked at, instead of being tossed into the shredder by HR.

They are what get you the interview.

They are the tie-breaker between you and that other equally qualified person who doesn’t have a cert.

If you have a stack of certifications under your belt, you’re going to be a step ahead of the naysayers who think certifications are a joke, a scam, or a racket.

Certifications mean higher pay

My first IT certification was the CompTIA A+ in 2002. That helped me land one very low paying job. During that time, I also got my Microsoft MCSA.

Fast-forward a few years. I got a job at a local technology reseller where I earned my Network+, Cisco CCNA, CCDA, and finally my CCNP, all within a year. Shortly after that, I was able to get a job that almost doubled my salary.

A couple years later, I got my Citrix CCA. My salary went up by 50%. It increased a few percent each year thereafter.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: no college degree.

You’re always a beginner

Even if you’ve been in the field for 20 years, you’re always a beginner when it comes to emerging technologies. You can work your tail off to get experience with the latest and greatest, but if you want to turn that experience into a raise or new position, you have to prove your skills.

When you put in your resume against someone fresh out of college – and they have that highly sought after certification and you don’t – well, you can guess who’s getting the callback.

Pass the First Time: Study Tips for the CCNP Routing and Switching Certification

If you’re studying for or considering the CCNP R&S certification, here are a few things to keep in mind:

The CCNP exams test CCNA-level skills and knowledge, too

This is a good thing, because it helps weed out those who “brain dump” the exams. If you got lucky with OSPF on your CCNA exam, you’re not going to get lucky on the CCNP ROUTE exam. You really DO need to know this stuff. You can’t just pass the CCNA composite exam and then forget everything. You have to have a solid foundation to build on. You’re never too educated to go back and revisit the fundamentals.

Spend most of your time studying configuration and troubleshooting at the command line interface.

There’s no hard and fast rule on this, but a good rule of thumb is make sure AT LEAST 50% of your time is spent in IOS. Both the ROUTE and SWITCH exams have some simulations, but the TSHOOT exam has a LOT. If you’re not proficient with the command line interface, you won’t pass. Again, this weeds out the dumpers, and it raises the difficulty level of attaining the cert.

Write down all your questions in one place and periodically revisit them.

You’ll be amazed at how many questions you will learn the answer to without realizing it. Some questions you’ll look at and think, “Duh, that one’s easy. How did I not know that before?” From my CCIE studies, I have a list of questions that I organized by category: Layer 2, Layer 3, Security, QoS, etc. Writing down questions also reminds you of how much you DON’T know, highlights your misconceptions, and becomes a de-facto study guide. The last thing you want going into the exam is a false sense of security.

The exams cover a LOT of topics, and some of them are pretty in depth.

This is where a lot of people get frustrated, confused, or just overwhelmed. They look at the exam topics, see the magnitude of it all, and try to study and memorize everything about everything.

This is one of the biggest reasons I’m creating a series of CCNP R&S courses for Pluralsight.

The first one, Basic Networking for CCNP Routing and Switching 300-101 ROUTE was released this month. In each course I focus on real-world customer requirements and then demonstrate how to configure them step-by-step, explaining each command as I go. When watching the courses, you’ll quickly get an idea of what areas you need to study more and what areas you already know.

Not only that, each course module includes an assessment which thoroughly tests your knowledge of the relevant exam material. And, if you get an answer wrong, it will take you to the exact spot in the course where I cover that particular topic. It’s an incredibly effective way to study and learn quickly.

Check out the entire CCNP Routing and Switching learning path.