The IT job market is red hot, but vying for the best-paying, most rewarding jobs is still extremely competitive. Perhaps more than most careers, IT jobs require employees to be up on the latest technologies, trends and techniques. For many employers, it's not enough to graduate with a master's degree in computer science. IT professionals are expected to continuously build on their academic knowledge base through on-the-job learning, professional development courses and certification programs.
Many IT certification programs are tied to a specific company or vendor. Microsoft, for example, offers a host of professional IT certifications, many of them tied to specific Microsoft products. You can become a Microsoft Certified IT Professional as a database developer using Microsoft SQL Server 2005. Or you can earn your Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator certificate on Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
Since these certifications are designed for busy professionals, they only require a few courses and final exams. Each course runs only 3 to 5 days (or the equivalent amount of hours) and can be taken in the classroom, via distance-learning (live video broadcasts), e-learning (self-paced online instruction), CD-ROMs and even books.
In addition to Microsoft, Oracle and Cisco run two other popular professional certification programs. Oracle University classes are available in dozens of languages and offers certificates in all of the company's products, including the popular Oracle Database, Oracle E-Business Suite and the Siebel CRM tool. Cisco offers equivalent certifications in its areas of expertise, namely networking, network security, routing and switching, and VoIP.
These certification programs are popular for a reason. According to the Robert Half Technology Report, the top three IT skills most desired by employers in 2007 are:
- Windows administration (Windows Server 2000/2003)
- Network administration (Cisco, Nortel and Novell)
- Database management (Oracle, SQL Server and DB2)
[source: Certification Magazine].
In addition to the big-name certification programs, there are also several "vendor-neutral" certification programs offered by companies like CIW (Certified Internet Web professionals) and the Computing Technology Industry Association (CTIA). For some employers, these vendor-neutral certifications are more attractive because they give students a more well-rounded, unbiased approach to the software and methods that get the IT job done.
Now that we have an idea about all of the IT education options available, let's look at some of the most popular IT careers.