If you use information technology firms to assist you in operating your business or have employed personnel, you have probably heard about technical certifications. Given the plethora of manufacturers and their acronyms you may understandably be confused as to the value of these letters after a name on a business card. Bear with me and I will attempt to provide a little clarity on the topic.

The information technology industry is notoriously plagued with a wide range of talent. The skill sets run the gamut from the high school student hanging a shingle out to repair computers to individuals with 25 years of diverse technology experience. As you can imagine it is tough for a business owner or employer to differentiate the real expertise before engaging or hiring such an individual. The primary manufacturers in the technology industry responded to this problem by developing levels of certifications.

While certifications are not new to the IT industry, I believe they have become relevant as our need for technology has exploded…and along with that explosion has come complexity. No longer can most companies rely on a “jack of all trades” technology professional. Certifications allow one to quickly determine if the individual has desired level of knowledge to support a given technology.

One caution is necessary, don’t rely on certifications alone when assessing whether an individual can perform to your expectations. Some certifications can be obtained with book knowledge only with no practical experience demonstrated. It is still important to ask for reference projects or relevant work references before making your ultimate selection.
Two of the major manufacturers that are prevalent in clients installed base are Cisco and Microsoft. Both have different ways to designate members of their certification community.

Cisco

Cisco Certified Entry Level (CCENT)
Entry level knowledge, very basic knowledge of IP networking.
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
The recipient has the foundation of networking.
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)
Advanced network certification.
Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert (CCIE)
The most prestigious networking certification in the industry.

It should be noted that each of these certifications has a particular skill set (ie wireless, routing, etc) and the attainment of the certification indicates the requisite knowledge in networking skills in general, in addition to Cisco specific knowledge. Of special consideration is the CCIE certification which requires the candidate to participate in a live 8 hour lab test for certification. A typical candidate sits this lab at least three times on average before passing. There are currently around 30,000 CCIEs worldwide.

Microsoft

Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)
This demonstrates an understanding of the fundamentals of network and server infrastructure.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)
This certification is appropriate for a network administrator who will support an existing environment.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)
This certification is appropriate for someone desiring to design, deploy, secure and administer various Microsoft technologies. This certification is track specific (ie: Microsoft Communications, Microsoft Server, Microsoft Messaging, Microsoft Desktop, etc.)

At ENS Group certifications are required of all our technical personnel, but in addition, each potential employee is given a comprehensive knowledge test during the interview process. While this process is not perfect, it does help us accurately gauge an individual’s ability to support our clients in a real world environment. I hope this brief primer has helped describe the value of certifications. We are always available at ENS Group to assist you in better understanding your technology roadmap.

Tim Savage is the founder and Principal of Symplexity, Northern Indiana's technology leader. Headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Symplexity's highly specialized technology team can help make your business' technology headaches a thing of the past.

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