The world of IT has, from nearly the beginning, had certifications and qualifications that distinguish different levels of technical competence. However, in today’s climate, where we see the value of formal education and certifications being questioned, where exactly do certification programs fit in?
First let me say that because IT is highly technical it lends itself to being able to measure specific levels of competence through testing. The other thing I would like to point out is that knowledge is not everything—sometimes wisdom is needed to recognize the anomaly that skill does not understand.
A good technician has both a combination of learned skills and troubleshooting acumen. For that reason, many who have been in this field for a long period of time excel at what they do because they have seen so many things that it is easy for them to recognize a problem and prescribe a solution. However, how do we evaluate a new candidate that has little to no experience yet? How do we evaluate a candidate when we are building out a new division of our IT services business such as security? What about when you add a new hardware product? Certifications help us do this.
Here’s a quick guide for the some of the important certifications you should be looking at:
When looking for an entry-level candidate for something like a help desk position, consider the following relevant certifications.
- CompTIA A+
This certification is one of the oldest and most recognized in the industry. It shows a basic competence across a wide range of hardware, software, and troubleshooting skills across a wide variety of platforms.
- Microsoft Certified Professional
This certification includes several different options ranging from Office Specialist to Certified Solutions Expert to Certified Solution Developer. Because most of the world operates in a Microsoft-centric environment, these can be very valuable to your organization.
- Various hardware vendor certifications
If your business standardizes on specific equipment—and we know the best MSPs do—make sure your technicians and sales people have the appropriate vendor-specific certifications.
Note: Yes, I mentioned sales people. If your sales staff do not know the product well enough to sell it, you will not need technicians to support it.
As the IT world depends more and more on security it is logical that it has developed certifications around this specific subdomain. Here are a few certifications you should consider.
- CompTIA Security+
Like the A+ certification, this is a great starting point for any IT professional to get a good foundation of knowledge around IT security.
The Certified Information Systems Security Professional is one of the most recognized security-specific certifications around. They also offer several other certifications/training for administrators, cloud computing, software security, and many industry verticals. (Click here to find out more about CISSP.)
- Certified Ethical Hacker
Sometimes thinking like the enemy is the only way to counteract them. This certification concentrates on penetration testing and is frequently a prerequisite for anyone looking to go into IT forensics of any kind.
There are many other certifications that may come into play as your managed services business grows and your employees become tasked with more specific duties. The following certifications are things to look for when hiring these specialists.
- Help desk/service managers
ITIL certifications come in many different levels, but all focus on the best practices around running and managing a help desk environment.
- Project managers
There are several certifications available for project management, including the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAMP) and the Project Management Professional (PMP).
- Database administrators
Oracle and Microsoft SQL specific certifications are also critical to these positions.
Certifications will always play a vital role in the technical industry. They provide guidelines by which we can measure candidates who are not known to us or do not have deep experience in the industry. Also, keep in mind that experience is also a great teacher and can often exceed certifications in value. Your hiring process should be designed to consider both. Training can also be used as an incentive for your existing employees. Treat them well and give them opportunities to grow with your company and many will stay for a long time.
Eric Anthony is principal of customer experience at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter@EricAnthonyMSP