NEWS + ADVICE
A Guide to IT Certifications for Cleared Professionals
Federal procurements, including those in the Department of Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC) landscapes, are increasingly calling out specific Information Technology (IT) certifications as requirements for personnel. While these certifications shouldn’t take the place of experience as an evaluation tool, they simplify the vetting process for United States Government (USG) customers, so it’s not likely to be a diminishing trend. Savvy professionals will help themselves both in terms of professional growth and earning potential by staying abreast of the push for technical certifications.
The complex world of IT is trending increasingly towards specialization, making it difficult and costly to certify in a broad range of disciplines. For early career candidates the basics still hold value, primarily as foundations for next steps. A+, Network+, Security+, and Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) designations are solid choices as a start.
It’s still a Microsoft (MS) world in large part, so a natural progression can be a move into higher level certifications in that track: Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP) or Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA). The new summit of the MS track is arguably the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE). Its value stems from its breadth of coverage – Desktop and Server Infrastructure, Private Cloud, Business Intelligence, and SharePoint, to name a few elements – and depth of knowledge required.
Software Engineering certifications are not as commonly referenced in procurements, but as Oracle remains a USG mainstay it can pay dividends to be certified in recent versions. Similarly, the Oracle Certified Master Java SE 6 Developer (OCMJD) (formerly Sun Certified Java Developer) and Oracle Certified Master, Java EE 5/6 Enterprise Architect (formerly Sun Certified Enterprise Architect) can be strong differentiators in software development. From a management perspective, the Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) designation is gaining increasing traction in procurements.
In the network engineering realm, Juniper continues to gain ground (consider the entry-level Juniper certification, the Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate – Junos (JNCIA-Junos)), but Cisco remains the market leader. In the Cisco world there are multiple options and progressions: Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CCNA), Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), and by extension the CCNP + Security (CCNP + S).
The pinnacle in this line is the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE). It’s difficult to achieve, but the depth of experience and knowledge it requires guarantees that those who possess it are truly experts in the field and will always be highly sought after.
The emergence of Information Security (InfoSec) and Information Assurance (IA) as budget drivers shows no sign of waning. The DoD was at the forefront of codifying certification requirements for InfoSec and IA efforts with DoD 8570; it’s easy to find information on the specifics online and it’s mandatory information for anyone hoping to plan a thriving career in the space.
DoD 8670 is also a useful primer for IT specialists, since Information Security and IT intersect necessarily. There are a broad range of GIAC certifications that hold value, but the increasing emphasis on Cybersecurity makes the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) designation a good value-add; it requires only two years of related experience and can be achieved through self-study, making it a less arduous climb than some other options. Agencies across the DoD and IC are requiring higher percentages of staff to have either Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) or Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certifications, so anyone interested in the most senior roles in the InfoSec stovepipe will need one or the other.
Differentiators come along two primary tracks. The increased scope of recent data breaches has only increased the importance of robust penetration testing as a proactive security measure. Ethical hackers with either the GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification) Penetration Tester (GPEN) or Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP) will continue to see their value increase. From an IA perspective, being Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC) and/or a Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA) will be notable value-adds.
On the management track, the Project Management Professional (PMP) is the gold standard. Customers in the Federal space are specifically calling it out on an ever-increasing basis. The requirements for ongoing education and experience make it labor-intensive to maintain, but the value is undeniable. Information Technical Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3 Foundation certifications may hold some value on the management track, but they remain more valuable to companies than to individuals at this point.
Cloud Computing is growing rapidly in emphasis in the Federal sectors. Certifications typically lag behind industry trends, but an increasing number of organizations are offering designations in the arena. CompTIA offers a Cloud Essentials certification as a good jumping-off point, with Certified Cloud Technology Professional (CCTP) and Certificate of Cloud Security Knowledge (CCSK) – offered through Cloud Security Alliance – being excellent next steps. Amazon Web Services (AWS) began offering the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate certification and has since rolled out three additional certifications, including the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional, and one more in beta (AWS Certified DevOps Engineer – Professional). All offer high earning potential; with the continued growth of cloud computing and the emergence of AWS in the Federal space these certifications will likely become only more valuable.
In a related vein, virtualization continues to gain traction so the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) certification is a strong entry-level designation. The VMware Certified Professional – Data Center Virtualization (VCP-DCV) is a natural progression from there. These tools will continue to grow in popularity and focus, so related certifications will only increase in value in the coming years.
Education and experience remain the foundations of a successful career, but certifications provide Federal customers with specific, codified validation of knowledge and expertise. Based on current trends in procurement it is imperative for the career-oriented professional to obtain and maintain pertinent certifications to achieve their professional goals.
Doug Munro is Director of Recruiting at Veris Group, an industry-leading cybersecurity firm, trusted by Fortune 500 companies and Federal agencies to achieve immediate results and solutions to complex and ever-changing cyber challenges. Follow Doug on Twitter @DoDRecruiterDC.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2015 9:02 am
2 thoughts on “A Guide to IT Certifications for Cleared Professionals”
The old Microsoft Certified System Engineer has been retired and a couple of years ago Microsoft introduced the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert or MCSE, which is their “top of the pyramid” certification.
That is absolutely true, John. I regret I missed that point while updating an old post. Thanks for catching it and the correction has been made.