If you’re a business owner, you know how difficult it can be to find and vet a trusted, reliable, IT service provider. With so many options out there – how do you know if an MSP is worth their salt?
One way to easily cut the wheat from the chaff is IT certifications. These important distinctions are perhaps the easiest way to protect your business from hiring unsatisfactory IT service providers.
If you’re a business owner looking to hire an IT professional, what are the IT certifications you should look for?
In this article, we’ll cover the important areas of IT certifications, so you can have a basic understanding of what you should be looking for when searching for an IT provider near you.
What are IT Certifications?
Like any certification in any area of interest or any business, IT certifications are proof that an IT professional has undertaken and successfully completed expert-level training in a specific area of IT operation. Usually, this takes the form of expertise in a specific discipline of IT, such as ITIL, or a specific program or network, like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.
The thing with IT certifications, in comparison to other business-related certifications, is that they are A) highly technical in nature, involving arcane IT expertise that far surpasses amateur knowledge, and B) often take months or even years to obtain, further underlining the difficulty to obtain these certifications.
Given the difficulty of obtaining one, IT certifications are a fantastic thing for business owners. They signal that the candidate is not only committed to continual expertise in an IT-related field, but also have the time, energy, and application to become an expert in their field.
These certifications are a shortcut to business owners in that the certificate holder is to be trusted. They prove that they are not only as skilled as they say they are but that they have the additional soft skills needed to be successful as an IT professional, such as determination, adaptability, and time management.
If one has an IT certification, you can bet that they’re – at the very least – competent enough to hire.
Areas of IT Certification
There’s many different areas of IT expertise – and as such, there’s a multitude of IT certifications. Some are extremely general, covering operations of whole IT departments. Others are deeply granular and specific to one program or even one IT function within a program.
The most trusted certifications cover the larger buckets of IT, giving authority to the professional in that area of expertise most in demand in the professional realm. Here are the main areas of IT certifications.
- Networking: Network certifications prove adequacy in designing, implementing, and managing interconnected IT systems on both an inter- and intra-network level. These are IP connectivity, architecture, and infrastructure experts – valuable people in 2023.
- Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity certifications focus on protecting and securing networks and data from breaches and attacks. This is one of the most common areas of expertise where you’ll see certifications frequently.
- Cloud Computing: Simple – these certifications cover the design, implementation, and maintenance of cloud services. These are your AWS and Azure specialists.
- System Administration: This area of focus ensures consistent upkeep, maintenance, configuration, and operation of all IT services within an organization. The “back-end” specialists.
- Project Management: The process of managing IT projects by overseeing interdisciplinary teams and managing timelines, deliverables, and responsibilities. Agile is a common tool used in the IT world, and you’ve probably also heard of methodologies like Scrum.
Why are IT Certifications Important to Businesses?
As always, why IT certs are important to businesses and business owners comes down to the bottom line. The reality is that certified IT professionals are more reliable to businesses – they seem like a safer investment, with a higher ROI, than IT professionals without certifications.
In many ways, certifications are an investment in an IT professional’s resume. It signals trust and quality to prospective employers or clients. This is why many IT MSPs and MSSPs ensure their employees hold high-quality, well-known certifications – to make the client feel safe and secure in their decision to partner together.
In short, certifications:
- Equip IT professionals with higher levels of expertise to deliver better results
- Help IT professionals looking for work to stand out to hiring managers
- Allow businesses to make less risky investments in IT
- Improve visibility for IT organizations and individuals bidding for jobs
- Increase retention as there are fewer issues with highly-trained professionals
- Give IT professionals a stronger bargaining position in terms of compensation
- Create trust between businesses and IT service providers
The 15 Most In-Demand IT Certifications for 2024
As the demand for IT services only continues to grow in an increasingly digital-first world, legitimate, value-focused IT certifications in specific areas of expertise will only become more important.
The ability for both businesses and IT organizations to identify a trustworthy candidate is already a huge need for decision-makers who are often balancing the needs and wants of several disparate business units.
As more constraints are piled upon the shoulders of these decision-makers, they will look to signifiers of trust and ability as a shortcut to identify the best candidate. Chief amongst these mental shortcuts will be those certifications that have shown a direct correlation to the quality of IT work.
Looking forward to 2024, here are the most in-demand IT certifications that remain some of the most trusted, reliable IT certifications.
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA): The little brother of the CCNP, the CCNA is a generalist course on network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability.
- CompTIA Network+: CompTIA’s network cert focuses on essential network technologies, installation, configuration, media, topologies, management, and security.
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP): This is the more advanced version of the CCNA, with far more depth and knowledge than the CCNA. This certification delves into enterprise network solutions including dual-stack (IPv4 and IPv6) architecture, virtualization, infrastructure, network assurance, security, and automation.
- CompTIA Security+: This basic but mighty security course focuses on the baseline skills necessary to perform core security functions, emphasizing hands-on practical skills.
- Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): More thorough than the generalist CompTIA Security+ cert, this globally recognized certification has far more in-depth knowledge and skills in information security than pretty much any other one.
- Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH): This hacker-specific certification is hyper-focused on understanding and knowing how to look for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in systems by using whitehat attacks. A great cert to have for security specialists.
Cloud Computing Certifications
- AWS Certified Solutions Architect: Demonstrates skills in designing distributed systems and applications on the AWS platform, which accounts for 30% of web traffic these days.
- Microsoft Certified – Azure Solutions Architect: The Microsoft Azure counterpart to the AWS cert, this cert shows the holder holds proven knowledge in designing and implementing solutions running on Microsoft Azure, including aspects like computing, network, storage, and security.
- Google Cloud Certified – Professional Cloud Architect: Certifies expertise in cloud architecture and Google Cloud Platform, enabling professionals to design, develop, and manage robust, secure, scalable, highly available, and dynamic solutions.
System Administration Certifications
- Microsoft Certified – Azure Administrator Associate: Shows the user knows how to implement, manage, and monitor an organization’s Microsoft Azure systems.
- Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA): An entry-level certification that focuses on competencies in system administration, including installation and configuration of a Red Hat Enterprise Linux system.
- VMware Certified Professional – Data Center Virtualization: A cert focused on the specific area of scalable and reliable virtual infrastructure. This proves the holder knows how to build robust data centers for a business – no small undertaking.
Project Management, Scrum, and Agile Certifications
- Certified ScrumMaster (CSM): If you’re in IT, you should get to know Scrum. Many IT departments use it to manage the various disparate projects the department may be juggling at once. A CSM certification proves full knowledge of Scrum and how to effectively run it – opening opportunities for management positions for IT professionals.
- Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP): Agile is an alternative methodology to Scrum, and operates on similar principles. Like the CSM cert, the Project Management Institute ACP cert proves your ability to effectively manage a project using Agile principles.
- Project Management Professional (PMP): PMI also offers a larger, more general project management cert that is not as useful in an IT context, but still shows value to an employer about general project management skills. The PMI general project management certification is widely regarded as the gold standard of project management certifications.
The Most Important IT Certifications For Business Owners
There’s literally hundreds of IT certifications out there, so how do you know which ones matter?
As we established in the last section, looking for the most popular and trusted certifications is important, as these will have the most robust information and skills and many years of proven quality.
Companies like CompTIA, Microsoft, and Salesforce offer certifications in various areas of IT, especially their own proprietary software. Certified Microsoft Azure specialists, for example, are going to only continue to grow in value to organizations as more and more companies sign up for Microsoft’s IT solutions.
Here’s the most valuable or important certifications business owners should look for when hiring IT professionals in-house, or when you’re looking to outsource your IT operations to a trusted MSP.
- CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional): If you need an MSSP or someone who can protect your systems from attacks, then CISSP is what you’re looking for.
- Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP): If you need someone to construct and maintain the most efficient network for your business, from routers to VPNs, a CCNP holder can be extremely valuable.
- AWS or Azure Certifications: Considering 50% of web traffic goes through Amazon or Microsoft’s cloud, having someone on your team or on your service provider’s team who specializes in this area can be extremely valuable to optimize your IT.
There is no such thing as a silver bullet, neither life nor the quest to find the perfect IT partner for your business – but there are ways to tilt the field in your favor.
Certifications are perhaps the easiest and most direct way to vet a potential IT provider. MSPs or MSSPs who lack any certifications at all, whether on an individual or organizational level, are generally to be avoided.
IT professionals without any certifications suggests both a lack of commitment to the profession and a pure, unabashed laziness. If they can’t be bothered to continue staying up-to-date with the rapidly changing world of IT, how can they protect your business from cyberattacks?
That’s not to say IT certifications are the be-all, and end-all. Actual expertise, customer reputation, pricing, level of service, and – perhaps most importantly – attitude and demeanor are much more important than a wall of impressive certifications.
However, a lack of IT certifications is something to look out for, especially if you have access to other partners that have demonstrated that level of commitment to the IT profession.