COMPUTER CERTIFICATIONS

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1 COMPUTER CERTIFICATIONS

2 AUTHOR Bilal Iqbal is a student of Electrical Engineering & Management, Level III at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. He holds several computer certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, CIW and CompTIA. Some of the certifications are Network+, A+, i-net+, Linux+, MCT, MCSE+I, MCDBA, CCNA, Master CIW Designer, Master CIW Administration, Master CIW Security Analyst and CIW Certified Instructor. Bilal Iqbal has worked as a system administrator, lab instructor, trainer and network administrator in the last few years. He has recently completed a research project with McMaster Engineering during Summer 2005 and now, he is working as a Student Consultant with University Technology Services at McMaster University.

3 INTRODUCTION Like any other academic education program, certification programs have become very famous in the last decade. Unlike a degree program, certification programs normally do not have an age or educational background pre-requisite. A certification program is usually focused on a specific product or a specific field. More or less, certification program provides a way to prove your skills on a particular product or field. Employers usually use these certifications to find the candidates for available positions and also validate their abilities to support the technologies being used. Certification programs are not meant to compete with any other educational program like a 4-year bachelor degree or a 2-year diploma. Normally, all these programs complement each other. So basically, to progress further, skills need to be refreshed, improved and you have to enhance yourself and that s why all these educational programs are in place. This article will briefly describe a few certification programs and the market analysis on these programs. Recent surveys have revealed that IT (Information Technology) professionals are in high demand and they are being paid the highest salaries for their skills. The surveys also show that computer certification plays an important role in the selection process and salary decisions. It has been concluded that people with computer certifications are paid higher salaries than those who are not certified. This is because the certified professionals hold certifications from the same vendors whose technologies are being used in the companies showing adequate knowledge of the vendor s products and services. Here is a salary survey conducted by MCP Magazine. There is a myth that computer certification is all a professional needs to get a job and get the ball rolling. There is no doubt that a certification will get you a job but on the other hand, it will limit your expansion and promotion opportunities. As described above, computer certification provides very specific skills but on the other hand, an educational program like a degree or a diploma provides more general skills. So a comprehensive education program like a degree or a diploma will provide an overall knowledge about computers catering all the fields like networking, development and security etc. This provides a chance to start working in any of these fields and then specialize in the preferred field whereas certification program will force you to work in one specific field or maybe a specific product like Windows NT 4.0. Therefore, it must be understood that these programs are supposed to complement each other and enhance the skills of a professional at different levels and not to compete with each other.

4 CERTIFICATION PROGRAMS: There are a number of computer certification programs offered by different companies like Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and others. Some of these certification programs are based on specific products like Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Exchange Service. On the other hand, there are some certification programs which are based on specific fields like security or network administration. These kind of certification programs are mostly offered by vendorneutral certification companies like CompTIA. Vendor-neutral companies are those which are formed by collaboration of a number of vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, CompTIA and they are aimed to provide certifications in a more general area instead of a specific product or service. There are a huge number of computer certification programs offered by different vendors but some of them are more well-known than others. This article will focus on a certification path for professionals interested in computer networks. It is one of the most high-demanding careers in the world of Information Technology. COMPUTER NETWORKS The simplest definition of a computer network is an interconnected group of computers. These computers are connected together in order to share different resources such as files, printers and even a modem. There are two most commonly used classifications of networks called LAN (Local Area Network) and WAN (Wide Area Network). LAN is a network which is restricted by geographical boundaries such as the network at your home can be called a LAN whereas WAN is not restricted by geographical boundaries and a network between Microsoft s USA office and Microsoft s Canada office will be called a Wide Area Network. At this stage, it is safe to say that internet is also a huge WAN that connects a huge number of networks together. So basically, networking comprises of implementation, maintenance and administration of a network. Each kind of network requires different skills and expertise. There are a number of network devices that are being used in the networks like hubs, bridges and routers. Networking is all about learning how a network is formed and how it is maintained. NETWORKING CERTIFICATIONS Here are a few certifications that will get you started in the field of networking:

5 o CompTIA Network+ This certification program focuses on network support and administration. It provides a brief overview of how networks are formed and how they operate. It provides an introduction to basic concepts of networking. It is highly recommended for beginners. o CompTIA i-net+ This is another entry-level certification offered by CompTIA. It is focused on Internet and Online Technologies. It covers a wide range of topics from internet, extranet and e-commerce technologies. It is not a must for Networking Certification path but it surely complements your skills. o Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) This is one of the most well-known certification programs. It is based on Microsoft Windows operating system but it provides extensive training in the field of computer networks. The certification program consists of seven courses and four of them are focused on networking. This program is highly recommended for individuals who are interested in system administration, network administration and network support. Number of exams: 7 o Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) This is the most basic certification program offered by Cisco which deals with computer networks. This certification program is focused on installation, configuration and operation of LAN, WAN and dial access services using Cisco network devices. It is recommended for people who are interested in network support and administration. They can further enhance their knowledge and credibility by pursuing other Cisco certifications like Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) with specialization in network support area. o Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) This certification program requires the CCNA level knowledge. Though, CCNA certification is not required to pursue this certification. CCDA certifications focuses on the design of routed and switched network infrastructures involving LAN, WAN and dial access services

6 for businesses and organizations. One can enhance his/her network design career by pursuing other Cisco certifications like Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) with specialization in the field of network design. This certification path will get you started in the field of networking and make you a part of information technology. It is always advised to continuously update your skills as information technology is rapidly changing and one needs to keep up with the trend. CERTIFICATION PREPARATION INFORMATION It is not required to attend a regular school to achieve any of these certifications. Anyone can attain these certifications by passing the certification exam anytime. However, there are a number of preparation sources available online and offline. Some of the suggested preparation sources are as follows: Classroom training It is highly recommended to attend a course at an institute. This will give you a chance to learn the concepts interactively and also provide you with hands-on experience. Most of the classroom training sessions are divided into lectures and labs so both theoretical and practical aspects of the training are covered. Official curriculum provided by vendor Many vendors like Microsoft provide an official curriculum for preparation of the certification program. Therefore, it is recommended to browse the certification vendor s website and look for preparation material. Sometimes, this material is also available for download. Third-party study guides There are a number of third party study guides available for preparation of different certification programs. One of the most famous and useful series of study guides is Sybex. Sybex study guides are easily available at local bookstores. Online sources There are a number of websites that provide useful information and preparation material for certifications. There are a number of forums available for people to discuss their questions and share their experiences. Some of these online sites are: o Examnotes ( o BrainBuzz (

7 o UCertify ( o StudyNotes ( Practice Tests There are a number of companies which provides practice tests for different certifications. These practice tests provide you a chance to evaluate your skills and help you prepare for the real exam. This will also help you familiarize with the real testing environment. Some of the vendors of practice tests are: o Transcender ( o SelfTestSoftware ( TESTING INFORMATION All certification tests are conducted in designated test areas worldwide which are operated by either Thomson Prometric or Pearson VUE Testing Centers. Both the companies offer a comprehensive search to find local testing centers. The site also provides information about the certification exam fees in a particular region. Exams can also be online from these websites or one can call the local testing center after getting the contact information from the website.

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