The status of IT qualifications rises and falls with the technology they support, but it is clear which certifications are currently sitting on top of the pile, says this great article from Erik Eckel.

Debates about the value of one IT certification over another can be as protracted as sporting wrangles such as Chelsea vs Manchester United or Barcelona vs Real Madrid - except that certifications have a direct bearing on IT professionals' employability.

To settle some of the arguments,Eckel put together a list of the 10 accreditations with the greatest potential for technology support professionals, administrators and managers seeking employment in consulting firms or small and medium-sized organisations.

This list could have consisted of 10 Microsoft certifications, many of which would be MCITP accreditations. The world runs on Microsoft. Those professionals earning Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) certification give employers and clients confidence that they've developed the knowledge and skills necessary to plan, deploy, support, maintain and optimise Windows technologies.

Specifically, the Enterprise Desktop Administrator 7 and Server Administrator tracks hold great appeal, as will Enterprise Messaging Administrator 2010, as older Exchange servers are retired in favour of the newer platform.

With operating systems such as Windows spawning a new version every few years, many IT professionals simply aren't going to invest the effort to earn MCITP or MCSE accreditation for every release.

But mastering a single exam - especially when qualifications help IT pros demonstrate expertise with such popular platforms as Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 and Microsoft SQL Server 2008 - is more than reasonable. That's why the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS) accreditation earns a spot on the list. It provides the opportunity for IT pros to demonstrate expertise on a specific technology.

3. Network+
There's simply no denying that IT professionals must know and understand the network principles and concepts that power everything within an organisation's IT infrastructure, whether running Windows, Linux, Apple or other technologies.

Instead of dismissing CompTIA's Network+ as a baseline accreditation, every IT professional should add it to their qualifications.

4. A+
Just as with CompTIA's Network+, the A+ accreditation is another certification that all IT professionals should have on their CV. Proving baseline knowledge and expertise with the hardware components that power computers should be required of all technicians.

I'm amazed at the number of intelligent, seasoned IT pros who aren't sure how to crack the case of a Sony Vaio or diagnose failed capacitors at a glance. The more staff learn about the fundamental hardware components, the better.

SonicWall products power the VPNs of countless smaller businesses. The company's network devices also provide firewall and routing services, while extending gateway and perimeter security protections to organisations of all sizes.

By gaining Certified SonicWall Security Administrator (CSSA) certification, engineers can demonstrate their mastery of network security essentials, secure remote access or secure wireless administration. There's an immediate need for engineers with the knowledge and expertise required to configure and troubleshoot SonicWall devices providing security services.

Although SonicWall has taken some of Cisco's market, the demand for Cisco skills remains strong. Adding Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) expertise to your CV does no harm and helps convince larger organisations in particular that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to deploy and troubleshoot Cisco routing and switching hardware.

Increasingly, my office is being asked to deploy and administer Mac OS X networks. In the real world, divorced from IT-industry rhetoric, we're being asked to replace older Windows networks with Mac OS X client-server environments. We're particularly seeing Apple gaining ground in non-profit environments.

We've found the best bet is to get up to speed on the technologies that clients are requesting, so it stands to reason that earning Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) 10.6 accreditation won't hurt.

In fact, developing skills in Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server will help provide the confidence needed to begin pursuing Apple projects, instead of responding to client requests to deploy and maintain Apple infrastructure.

Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP) 10.6 accreditation helps IT professionals demonstrate expertise supporting Mac OS X client workstations. If you work for a single organisation and that firm doesn't use Macs, you won't need this certification.

But larger organisations adding Macs or consultants working with a wide client base will do well to ensure they have Snow Leopard client skills. The ACSP is the perfect way to prove mastery.

ISC2's security accreditation for industry professionals with at least five years of full-time experience is internationally recognised for its value and validity. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) title demonstrates expertise with operations and network security.

These subjects will only increase in importance as legal compliance, privacy and risk mitigation continue to command the attention of larger organisations.

10. PMP
Organisations begin cutting project managers first when times get tough. Management roles and responsibilities often get passed to technical staff when layoffs occur. But even in challenging economic times, IT departments require staff familiar with planning, scheduling, budgeting and project management.

That's why the Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation makes the list. It measures candidates' expertise in managing and planning projects, budgeting expenses and keeping initiatives on track.

While there's an argument to place CompTIA's Project+ certification in this slot, PMI is a respected organisation that exists solely to further professional project management and, as such, deserves the nod.

Honourable mentions: MCSE, Itil, RHCP, Linux+, VCP, ACE, QuickBooks, Security+

The omission of NetWare certification from the list is not a mistake. It's gone the way of BNC connectors. Microsoft owns the market. MCSEs have more value.

ITIL has its place, particularly in larger environments. RHCP or Linux+ and VCP have roles in enterprises dependent on Red Hat and VMware virtualisation technologies.

Acronis' ACE deserves a look. With some 3 million systems now being backed up by Acronis image software, technology professionals need to learn how to use the software properly. But I think it's fair to say there's still some confusion about the software's tremendous potential.

Smaller businesses are also showing an interest in Intuit's QuickBooks technologies. From QuickBooks Point-of-Sale to QuickBooks Enterprise platforms, there's strong, growing demand for expertise in the field.

Security+ really should be included, but I'd be criticised if I include nothing but CompTIA certifications in the top 10 list. However, my advice for anyone entering the industry or even veterans seeking their first accreditations would be to gain CompTIA certifications.

How can you go wrong with the manufacturer-independent certifications that demonstrate mastery of fundamentals across a range of topics, including project management, hardware, networking, security, and voice networks?

Source: Erik Eckel -

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