10 Steps To IT Certification

By: Hugh Nguyen


Skilled network professionals are not going to be losing many jobs, no matter what happens to employment figures or prospects in other areas of the economy, and new IT jobs will always be available to properly educated, trained and prepared individuals. Notice the three different words there. Even after getting a degree (education), someone who wants to work in this area of continuing high demand needs the proper, current certifications (training). Before you begin accruing the various Cisco, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle and other certifications, you need to pass the exams, which is where the third concept, preparation, enters the picture.

Whichever expertise you seek to hone or add with any particular certification, you must enter the process with a serious commitment. There will be a considerable investment of time, energy and money if your goal is a quality certification that represents you as a leader in your field. There is a lot more to it than learning how to take a test, and there may be any number of between-the-lines sidesteps and detours on your journey, but the following 10 steps to IT certification should get you pointed in the right direction.

Step 1: A specialty means you’re focused

The old terms “engineer” and “programmer” do not say much about what a person does anymore. Today, even within Information Technology (IT) in general and network technology in particular, there are numerous areas of concentration. You can specialize in the core routing and switching components of networks, focus on network security issues like firewalls and hacker detection/prevention, and/or obtain certifications for dealing with telephony technologies. There are numerous certifications from which to choose and you will obviously do best in the areas you find most interesting and personally rewarding. After you get your first certification you may decide to work toward others, but consider focusing on a single area as your “specialty.”

Step 2: An investment means you’re serious

Don’t shortchange yourself if you make the decision in #1 above to get going on a particular certification, whether or not you have a plan to accrue more than the first one. One or 20, a certification requires a serious investment of time, energy and funds. Do your due diligence before you spend money on study materials, by talking to colleagues, reading book reviews on Amazon.com and checking the websites of the companies whose certifications you want to earn (Microsoft, Cisco and the others). User forums on the Internet, specifically dealing with the area of study, are another good source for information on the best study aids.

Step 3: Question authority

Do not be intimidated by people who tell you they are gurus or experts in “networks” or “networking” (which could mean they do a lot of Facebook postings, among other things). There really aren’t any IT gurus. The science is changing and advancing so quickly, and there is so much going on in so many areas, that just about any subject matter you picked to become “an expert” in would be obsolete before you finished your studies. The depth and breadth of network technology can positively overwhelm newbies and veterans alike. Just remember that you are not being certified as a “know-it-all,” but as having expertise in a particular area, expertise that you must work at maintaining. Whether it’s wireless, security or telephony, get grounded in that first, specialized IT area, then decide what you wish to add to your skill set. This will come naturally as you progress in your career.

Step 4: Be an Aristotelian (balanced)

If you are not careful, you can easily “bury yourself” under mountains of homework, practice tests, study materials and books. This is especially easy to do if you are trying to knock off a certification exam in an insufficient amount of time. You should certainly spend the time that is required to prepare well for your certification exam, but it is crucial to make enough time for the rest of your life, too. Take regular breaks, and also “break away” from computers, manuals and books for at least a few hours daily. Not only will you reduce the chance of burnout, you will give yourself the necessary time to digest what you have studied. This is an important step in changing what you studied into what you “learned.”

Step 5: Forget the Cliff’s Notes

Whether you opt for a “bootcamp” approach or a classic lecture-and-notes program, don’t fool yourself into thinking there is any shortcut one way or the other. If you have on-the-job experience and are not a newcomer to the field, then a condensed or accelerated program that rapidly covers the technical material can prepare you for exams without wasting unnecessary time. This may not be the best way for many newcomers, however, who would doubtless report that the longer-term study was certainly not “wasted time.”

Step 6: Create your study plan

You have to make a plan for when, where and how you are going to read, study and review your materials. Develop a schedule and follow it. If you had a method that worked well in school, by all means implement it. Do not study with the TV on, music playing, cell phones ringing or other distractions. One hour of quality, quiet study time is worth up to three hours of noise- and interruption-filled study. Two hours per day is a good minimum, but maintain your balance (see #4 above) whatever your plan.

Step 7: Assemble your study guide

Once you identify the information or areas that are the most challenging for you, compile a list of terms, questions, details and reminders as you progress through your studies (and your study materials). In this study guide, put things into logical sections so that related information is kept together for quicker reference. Be thorough but succinct, using no more words than are necessary. Keep your study guide even after the exam, since information covered in one exam is quite likely to reappear on the next one(s) you take.

Step 8: Study for the long term, not for the test

You must remind yourself that you are not studying simply to pass a test. You are studying to acquire and demonstrate expertise. The main place you will demonstrate that in the future, of course, is on the job. This is the goal, being a professional on the job. You will retain information better when you have a clear idea in your mind of what it is for. Memory studies clearly show that the more compelling the “narrative” or story in our minds concerning information we are processing, the more vividly it will be remembered.

Step 9: First things first

No matter what rationale you come up with, it is simply not a good idea to study for multiple exams simultaneously. Changing focus from one topic to a completely different one will interfere with your concentration on and retention of the material. No matter how high your IQ or how many exams you think you can study for (and take) at once, do yourself a favor and take one step at a time.

Step 10: Take the exam with confidence

The day of the exam, arrive early and spend an hour or so reviewing your study guide. Take all the good advice there is on calming down, focusing and doing your best on tests. There is plenty of material for you to review on that subject, so for now just remember that, if you studied properly, you will pass. In fact, don’t even worry about whether you will pass or fail, just focus on doing your best.

Certainly many of these steps may http://www.articletrunk.com/submitarticles.phpseem like common sense, but we can all use a little encouragement and motivation. If you truly love what you do, and are in IT because it fits your nature and you just “get it,” then that’s the attitude you should have about getting your certification. If you do fail a certification exam, analyze where you went wrong, correct your approach and take the exam again. However, if you put in the time and effort, initially chose an IT career because of your “built-in” interest, and have a natural gift for the science and the math, it is likely that you will do well. It could be the first step of many, too!

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