5 Certifications to Get You Off the Help Desk
| career | career progression - David Zomaya

5 Certifications to Get You Off the Help Desk

You've been killing it at the IT help desk for a while. You've decided that it's time to advance your career and get off the help desk. You want to do something more challenging and rewarding, but landing that new role can be difficult. When all your experience is helpdesk related, standing out from other applicants is hard.

This is where certifications come in. According to CompTIA, 91 percent of employers consider IT certifications an essential part of the hiring process. The right cert can be just what you need to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be.

A certificate signals that you've demonstrated skills or knowledge in a given field. It shows that you are serious about learning. A reputable certification says something about your willingness to work and excel. Being a subject matter expert gives you a leg up and benefits your employer as well. They don't have to worry about spending more time training you; you can get right to the job.

To help jump start your journey, we've put together this list of the five best certifications to get you off the help desk.

1. Cisco CCNA

If you've worked in the helpdesk for a while, you've probably blamed the network for a problem at least once. With a CCNA, you could become the person that resolves those never-ending "network issues." Cisco Certified Network Associates (CCNAs) are highly sought after networking professionals. Getting this certificate will show employers you know your stuff when it comes to routing and switching. Further, the foundation of troubleshooting and critical thinking will transfer well to the world of Cisco networking.

According to Cisco, a CCNA-certified pro has validated ability to "install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size route and switched networks." Due to Cisco's popularity in networks across the globe, a CCNA can be an excellent launching pad to a networking career. Don't let "medium-size" fool you either. That simply refers to the size of networks the CCNA prepares you for directly. However, CCNAs can work in organizations of all sizes from small businesses to global enterprises. As we mentioned in What Types of Jobs Can You Get with a CCNA?, earning this cert can qualify you for positions such as network administrator, systems administrator, network analyst, or field network engineer.

One of the major upsides of being Cisco-certified is that the potential for upward mobility. The CCNA can serve as a stepping stone to gain the skills and experience needed to earn a CCNP and CCIE. With the average CCIE salary at $122,000 according to PayScale, it's clear to see why Cisco certs are so popular.

Even if you just stick with the CCNA, Cisco certs tend to have demonstrable ROI—return on investment. The average salary for a CCNA cert holder is $76,000/yr. Once you earn a CCNA, you can target job titles such as network administrator, systems administrator, network analyst, or field network engineer

It's important to note that there are a lot of changes going on in the world of Cisco certifications. While there are currently multiple tracks available to CCNA exam-takers, that is changing next year. The discrete exams for cloud, data center, industrial, wireless, and other specialties are going away. Once the changes take effect, the only ones left will be "standard" CCNA exam (200-301) and a DevNet Associate (200-901) exam. Additionally, CCENT certification holders will need to take their upgrade exams by Feb. 23, 2020 to earn a CCNA. Otherwise, they'll have to take one of the new exams to become CCNA certified.

2. VMware Certified Professional (VCP)

A VMware Certified Professional (VCP) is a good cert for those looking to focus their career on virtualization. If, during your time in the helpdesk hypervisors, virtual machines, and virtualized networks caught your attention, consider a VCA. The VCA is an entry-level certification focused on VMware virtualization technologies

VMware has many certification tracks to choose from, and the VCA is basically the starting point. The purpose of the tracks is so that you can cater your certification to the type of job you are looking for. The tracks include a number of options: data center virtualization, network virtualization, cloud management and automation, desktop and mobility and digital workspace. This sounds like a lot, but once you go over what each track entails, VMware has each track planned out in detail. Starting with the VCA helps you nail the fundamentals before you specialize.

As of early 2019, VMware removed the mandatory recertification requirement it had for each of its tracks. This allows you the freedom to choose when and how often you want to recertify depending on your company's needs. It is also worth noting that the VCA is NOT a prerequisite for the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exam. The ambitious among you may want to jump straight to the VCP. If you're on the fence and want some more information, check out our Complete VMware Certification Guide.

A note on VCA salary: you may see some online stats suggesting VCA salary is in the $80,000 plus range. Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily a range that applies to leaving the helpdesk. In addition to being targeted to administrators, the VCA is targeted toward management. This likely skews the numbers. With some helpdesk experience and a VCA, you'll likely be eligible for entry-level sysadmin jobs in virtualization. According to PayScale, $62,041 is the average salary for a sysadmin with virtualization skills, but not necessarily a VCA.

3. CompTIA Network+

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) Network+ is a vendor-neutral certification that covers the fundamentals of networking. CompTIA is a well-respected name in the world of IT certs. Over the last 20-plus years, the organization has issued more than 2 million IT certifications around the world. Their offerings cover everything from basic computer support, networking, security, open-source development, cloud and mobility.

Their Network+ is a solid foundational cert that can help open doors to networking jobs. Consider this cert if you're interested in a networking career path, but don't want to be tied to Cisco. Coupling your helpdesk experience with a Network+ cert will prepare you for jobs such as systems administrator, network engineer, or IT specialist. The average salary for a Network+ cert holder is $63,000/yr.

4. AWS Cloud Practitioner

If you're interested in focusing your work on cloud infrastructure, AWS certifications are a great way to get started. The AWS Cloud Practitioner certification is available to anyone who wants to be more knowledgeable about the AWS platform.

The certification covers cloud security, compliance, implementation and general infrastructure. With so many companies switching over to cloud-equipped technology, the need for cloud-certified employees is only expected to rise.

The nice part about the AWS cloud certification is that you don't have to spend a lot of money. The AWS free-tier offered still gives you access to the infrastructure you need. At $100 the exam is on the cheaper end of the spectrum too. You can earn this cert with a little cash and some hard work. With the popularity of AWS continuing to grow, the cloud practitioner cert can be a great resume booster.

If you're looking for other ways to add cloud skills to your resume on a budget, check out 5 Cloud Certs Under $300 to Get You Going.

Cloud Practitioner isn't the only AWS cert to look at if you have a little extra cash and experience. If you already have a year or so of AWS experience, consider the AWS Certified SysOps Administrator Associate cert instead. The SysOps cert is more advanced and more difficult. However, that also means it can lead to more challenging and rewarding roles once you earn it.

5. Microsoft MTA Certifications

Ok, we're cheating here a bit. The Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) isn't just one cert. It's important to include it here though. Because experience can be a barrier when you're trying to get out of the helpdesk. You may have some experience, but no way to demonstrate skills in the career track you're interested in. The MTA certifications help solve this problem.

There are over a dozen MTA exams that cover a variety of fields. For databases, check out Exam 98-364. Java, that's covered in Exam 98-388. Networking: 98-366. Cloud: 98-369/Course 40368. While an MTA won't make you an expert in a field, it will help break down barriers to entry.

Microsoft describes the MTA as a "great place to start if you would like to get into the technology field. MTA certifications address a wide spectrum of fundamental technical concepts, assess and validate core technical knowledge, and enhance technical credibility." As a helpdesk pro looking to make a move, that can be just what you need. The helpdesk has enabled you to demonstrate some of the soft skills important in tech. The MTA can help you build on that and specialize, even if you currently lack experience in a given domain.

Goodbye, Help Desk

The takeaway: certifications are a signal to employers you have a given set of skills. As a result, they can separate you from the competition for that tech job you've had your eye on. By earning a relevant certification, you can help propel your career to new heights.

It is important to remember there is no one "magic bullet" when it comes to your career. Landing a job is a mix of experience, credentials (e.g. certifications), soft skills, and initiative. Paying your dues in the help desk likely enabled you to refine your soft skills and gain experience. Earning a cert can help show employers you're qualified for the next step in your career. Now, it's up to you to get started.

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