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IT Certification Essential for Maintenance of Valuable Skills
Author // Eamonn Gormley
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For technically skilled people living in technology heartlands like San Francisco, this is Gold Rush 2.0, making the one in 1849 look like nothing. These latter-day forty-niners are raking in massive salaries because of a skills shortage in technology fields that has driven up labor costs, as employers are forced to compete ever harder for the brightest and best engineers. A pattern of IT salaries outpacing other industries is found in multiple cities across the country. A report published in August by JLL, a commercial real estate services firm, shows astounding growth in computing salaries nationwide, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area. The figures, which are taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows the average high tech annual wage in the city by the bay to be $156,518, growing at 18.9 percent per year. Silicon Valley sports an average of $195,815 per year with annual growth at 8 percent. Even removing Mark Zuckerberg’s personal windfall from the figures still yields an average of $210,000 for San Mateo County.

A seasoned professional in today’s job market knows that graduation is only the beginning of a journey of continuous education that has to be maintained for the length of one’s working life. In the 1950s a college graduate may have had a sense of education ending and work beginning, but it is no longer true in today’s world of fast-moving technology, rapid-fire innovation, and disruption of long-established industries.

The accelerated pace of change in industry can sometimes make it difficult for government-sponsored education systems to keep up. Criticisms of the US education system as being outdated are an almost daily occurrence. A committee at MIT has published a report arguing that the concept of large “courses” is as outdated as musical albums (consumers now buy individual songs) and newspapers (consumers now read individual articles). They argue that it may be time to rethink how education is structured and move to a more modular pattern in which students learn the specific skills that they need, a structure that is most definitely suited to technology and engineering subjects. On a more practical level, the limited budgets of traditional educational institutions can make it difficult for them to keep up with the latest hardware, sometimes resulting in high school and college students learning technology that is already on its way out, and certainly will be by the time they graduate.

For anyone eager to break into this latter-day gold rush, it is one thing to be able to put "familiarity with Unix" on one’s résumé, but unless one has a considerable amount of experience of working on that platform, proving expertise sufficiently to get as far as the job interview stage can be tricky. This is where certification comes in. Today’s fast pace of technological change means that a degree alone is no longer enough to satisfy employers; indeed a degree is no longer a prerequisite for getting hired at Google. Certification in specific IT skills has therefore never been more important.

It is in the interests of large technology firms that they ensure the existence of an educated user base with sufficient skills. To that end, companies have formed consortia such as CompTIA which manages the certification and testing of candidates, and accredits training centers and study materials. Subject areas include cloud computing, IT security, Linux administration, mobile app security, networking technologies, server troubleshooting, and storage administration. CompTIA training content and testing vouchers can be purchased through partner organizations like TrainTestCert.

Being directly sponsored by the firms that create the hardware and software, the standards measured by CompTIA certifications are frequently updated to take account of changes in technology. The result is a series of vendor-neutral certifications that are respected and recognized by employers as current and having real-world relevance. When it comes to interviews for lucrative jobs, a candidate with a certification will be at an automatic advantage over someone without it.

While getting the job is one thing, staying competitive enough to keep it is another. IT professionals do not stay ahead by standing still, and would be well advised to keep their qualifications up to date through regular re-testing. Certification is therefore just as important many years after leaving college as it was during a graduate’s first full time job search, and unlike a degree course it does not have to come bundled with study in multiple unrelated subjects.