The Best IT Certifications To Study If You Desire To Change Career Paths

Best IT Certifications

In just about any career you pursue, obtaining a higher education seems like an absolute must to land a steady job. Perhaps, you’re making the jump in careers and don’t have the time to be in school for 2 – 4 years before getting a shot at working for a renowned organization.

Well, becoming certified in just about any industry makes you an asset to companies that may hire you in the future. In the world of information technology, having a certification, or some form of credibility like a diploma is a must when it comes to getting hired.

As you read on, you will have a deeper understanding of what it takes to break-in to the workplace as an indispensable IT worker, as this job is very much hot and in-demand.

This article is absolutely for anyone with a desire, or even mild skepticism of changing career paths. Even if you are a young up-and-comer, this article is just as equally meant for you.

Why get certified?

Firstly, getting certified helps you gain credibility. If you are someone who is making the jump between careers or are simply trying to establish yourself as an IT professional, then getting a certification provides you with a stamp of approval from a recognizable organization.

This helps if you haven’t attended a college or university for the 2 – 4 years, regularly needed to come away with any form of certification, like a diploma, or a bachelor’s degree for instance.  A certification shows that you know your stuff, and validates others that you have the tools to be successful in the field.

Secondly, it makes you more marketable. When you’re in the hiring process, whether you’re among 10 – 100 other candidates looking for the same job — it will give you a slight edge over the competition and help you stand out more.

It’s been proven by a survey at, “100 percent of the respondents concurred that certifications in the industry are preferred during the hiring process, this applies to both new hire and internal placement scenarios.

Certifications help bestow a certain status amongst those who have worked and obtained the education provided for that certification, giving employers a benchmark for measuring potential prospects.”

Thirdly, it gives you that “employer preference”. It’s important to note that employers will often list industry-related credentials as a “preferred” qualification on any job posting. This is, however, depending on the job, where it might be legally required to have one. This is only in-place, in the case where they don’t want to screen out too many potential candidates.

The important takeaway from this is that having a credential just makes you stand out and show that you might even want the job more, as you went through all the training and education necessary on your terms, to earn your credentials.

Another reason to become certified is you can earn more money. That’s right. Your hard work can pay off. This can also open more doors for you in the future, leading you to get a promotion, as you may already meet many of the requirements needed for that open position.

Inquiring about these openings, or what is needed to move up in the company with people who are already in this position is a good place to start!

Furthermore, you can obtain more skills and knowledge from becoming certified. If you’re looking for personal growth, or to enhance your knowledge around something you are genuinely interested in, getting certified could be an avenue to take for that validation. There are many online courses you can take to enhance your IT knowledge this way, through websites like Udemy, Coursera, or even Codecademy.

Lastly, it can simply give you personal satisfaction, or aid in the development of your skills in the workplace. Sometimes you need to fulfill your desire to improve and meet challenges to develop oneself.

A certification can help you validate that growth to yourself, that you have done the work needed, and you are knowledgable in the area of study. This can help, especially if you are feeling a little stale, or rusty to get the juices flowing again.

To summarize: Getting certified would be well worth your time.

Can I get a job in IT without a certification?

To answer this in a nutshell, “likely, no”. To be more specific, however, “yes, you sort of can!” — while we aren’t trying to discourage you from job searching for a career in IT, anything is possible even without proper education. However, to save you time it is highly recommended that you acquire some form of credibility on your resume.

This can be anywhere from a diploma or a degree of some sort, to a certificate of completion in a related field of study. Many employers are looking for candidates with at least some form of experience, and having a certification at the very least is the best way to demonstrate that.

What are the best IT certifications to have?

As mentioned, having an IT certification can open many doors for you throughout your career. This can be said especially when you’re seeking out your next opportunity. It comes to no surprise that employers like to choose the candidates that have the most experience.

Why? Because they require the least amount of training, they have some knowledge of what the job entails, and lastly, they are likely the best to perform the job’s duties. It doesn’t matter what your educational background is, having a certification will display some credibility and competence, allowing you to stand out from the crowd.

According to the 2020 IT Salary report from Robert Half, there are a top 15 certifications you should look at adding to your resume before putting yourself on the job market. Each of these popular certifications can give you a 5 – 10 % higher chance to earn more than your peers.

1. AWS Certified Solutions Architect

AWS is among the most popular cloud computing certifications one can earn. You’re essentially required to use your skills and knowledge around developing advanced cloud-based solutions, including the migration of existing workloads to the cloud. Sounds complicated to some of you? Let’s breakdown what a typical day looks like.

AWS Certified Solutions Architect
  • First, you will have meetings with sales and customers. This involves “architecting solutions” — which means you get to spend part of your days meeting with sales and/or customers. Now, depending on your company these meetings might be done in person or over a conference call. The work you complete for customers actually may vary based on where you’re working, what tasks you have to carry out, and lastly what level the customer is within the AWS adoption.
  • Second, you will have to face some problem-solving. Yes, much of the work done by an AWS Solutions Architect is serving the customer’s needs and designing technical solutions and meeting business goals as a team. To go a little more in-depth on what this “problem-solving” includes, we’re talking about formulating solution plans and providing guidance on AWS architectural best practices. Furthermore, you will calculate the costs and identify mechanisms for cost control, and selecting the appropriate AWS service that meets the needs of the customer, based on the database, compute, or security requirements. Typically, you’re expected to spend a good portion of your days fulfilling the arrangement and design of the scalable, highly attainable as well as fault-tolerant systems on AWS. You might even be called to provide some insight and direction on issues based around cost, performance, disaster recovery, or security-based concerns.
  • Thirdly, there is quite a bit of variety from day-to-day, as no two days are exactly the same. You’re pretty much expected to handle whatever might need immediate attention. For instance, you could be in a meeting somewhere, or traveling on-site to meet these customers, while the next day at the same time you could be writing scripts or troubleshooting. Between all of this change and variety, you will need to exercise time management skills. This means, planning your day as best as possible, and prioritizing your time on projects.
  • Lastly, you might have some time on your hands, in which case you want to spend it appropriately by, staying current with the technology. It’s constantly evolving, and you have to get with the times and understand what’s new, what’s outdated, researching new features and services launched by AWS, while trying to say on top of the best practices to improve AWS solutions that are already in effect. This is where things like “blogs”, “forums”, and “discussion boards” come in handy. More training might be required if you are already an AWS solutions architect, to keep up with these changes.

Annual Salary Average – $113,000

Exam Cost: $ 150.00 USD

2. Certified Data Professional (CDP)

Firstly, it’s important to note that the CDP is merely an update for the Certified Data Management Professional, otherwise known as the CDMP, which was offered from 2004 – 2015.

Earning this credential is awarded to those who fit the criteria of obtaining the proper education, experience as well as completing the examination at a professional level of understanding.

Certified Data Professional ​(CDP)

Those who wish to maintain this certification must pay the annual re-certification fee along with a 3-year cycle of continuous education and professional activity. This testing can be done anywhere in the world, provided you have an approved proctor to verify your physical identity and supervise the entire examination.

Now, when it comes to being a data professional, it comes in a few different flavors:

  • First, you have the data engineer, this is the sort of data professional who focuses mainly on data pipelines. (In other words, getting the data from point A to point B).
  • Then, you have your data analyst, which is a data professional who focuses on the production of reports which entail the trends/insights within the data.
  • Lastly, you have your data scientist. This is a data professional mainly focused on producing insights and predictions from the data.

Now, if you pay close attention, you should notice that each of these types of data professionals almost overlap each other. For instance, it’s fairly normal in the case of data professionals to extract data or shift it around, while it’s not abnormal for data engineers to produce reports and dashboards, while data analysts set up data pipelines.

While the lines that divide these roles of data professionals might be a blurred one, it’s a crucial one, you shouldn’t miss. Data engineers have more specialized experience and skills than data analysts, while the data engineers have more knowledge about databases and not so much on the statistics, whereas a data analyst would.

Ultimately, becoming a certified data professional will give you a range of domains to choose from, it’s just up to you in deciding, which is for you!

Annual Salary Average – $45,000

3. Certified Ethical Hacker

Your job in this role is to find vulnerabilities within computer systems to prevent future hackers from taking advantage of this. You basically get to play in the role of a malicious hacker, and really try to get in the headspace of what one might do!

This includes all of their skills, techniques, and knowledge to better the security of your systems to prevent future attacks from happening. This means finding all of the weaknesses within an organization’s networks and systems and supply that knowledge to the company to defend them from future threats.

According to Tutorialspoint the techniques required in order to be a successful ethical hacker include:

  • Password guessing/cracking
  • Session spoofing/hijacking
  • Sniffing network traffic
  • Denial of service attacks
  • Exploiting any buffer overflow vulnerabilities
  • SQL injection

Becoming a certified ethical hacker can require a lot of work and knowledge to truly master. However, once you get the hang of it, you need to keep up with all of the latest updates to technology, understanding new vulnerabilities as well as exploitation techniques.

This can require a lot of programming and computer networking skills, furthermore, you’ll need to control your mental state. This means having patience and perseverance to keep at it. It’s all trial and error. For us problem-solvers, however, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Annual Salary Average – $81,000

4. Certified ScrumMaster

Firstly, “what is a scrum?

Well, the scrum is an important thing to practice before starting any projects. You have your different roles, the ScrumMaster, Product Owner, Scrum Team, and lastly, the Stakeholders. 

In a nutshell, a ScrumMaster puts you in the position of being a “guardian” for the Scrum Team.

The scrum team is responsible for keeping the entire team on the same page throughout the project. This requires sharing important information with the group to produce the best results!

Certified ScrumMaster scrum team

This is more based around personal interaction with team members as opposed to technical. The success around the Scrum, in general, is dependant on the interactions between the process and the stakeholders.

The ScrumMaster sets the goals of the team and their deadlines. It is considered to be a “top dog” position, as their main role is to remove anything from hindering the team in achieving any goals. Lastly, any processes and ceremonies must be enforced by the ScrumMaster.

This differs from the Project Manager position, “as they are often synonymously called” because the ScrumMaster is like a coach for the team, who is responsible for the motivation and problem solving of the team. A Project Manager is typically responsible for the project’s delivery, and holding authority. 

Annual Salary Average – $105,000

5. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

The role of being a Cisco Internetwork Expert entails that you take care of routing protocols and features. You must identify and resolve any issues in regards to Layer 3 Overlay Protocols and manage the multicast protocols and monitoring services.

You must become efficient in planning, implementation, management, and the design of a highly-complex modern standard in what is the IT data center infrastructure. It’s important that you have a fairly good understanding of what a data center needs, including its device configurations.


You must have a fair bit of knowledge surrounding the automation of Layer 2 and Layer 3, including the connectivity, fabric infrastructure, planning network services, storage networking, and lastly, how it is orchestrated.

Known to be the highest level of certification within Cisco’s program. You can obtain a certificate by completing the CCIE exam on the topic of your choice. These topics include enterprise wireless, enterprise infrastructure, data center, security, service provider, and collaboration.

While it would be nice to try and go for your expert-level certification immediately, it is highly recommended that you have 5 – 7 years of experience within the subject of your choosing.

Annual Salary Average – $126,000

6. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

A Cisco Network Associate is like a hybrid mix between a network technician and network administrator. The main responsibility is to handle networking equipment like switches and routers but there is more to it than that!

For instance, it’s important to have a fair bit of knowledge around different network designs and topologies and how they come into play to form a secure IT network. It also helps to have a strong understanding of wireless networks and how they interact with other devices over the network.

Furthermore, you must be excellent at verifying, troubleshooting, and configuring VLAN and inter-switch communications — as well as implementing all of the necessary steps needed to create WLAN in other words, a Wireless Local Area Network Administration.

More on networks; setting up WAN links would also help if connected with the WAN Wide Area Networks. Additionally, being able to implement NAT Network Access Translation including ACLs Access Control Links, would be an asset.

These would typically be set up in office networks, which enable private systems that utilize unregistered IP addresses to connect to the internet for increased security precautions.

Annual Salary Average – $78,000

See how CCNA compares to:

7. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

Your role as a Cisco Network Professional is to plan, verify, implement, as well as troubleshooting Cisco-based networks.

The typical jobs you may land once certified may include being a network engineer, information technology manager, or a network administrator (the salaries of these may vary).

Best IT Certifications

To get certified:

First, you will need to take the ICND1 exam to become a Cisco Certified Network Technician, which consists of 45 -55 questions. Following this is the ICND2 exam consisting of 50 – 60 questions.

Once you have completed both the ICND1 and ICND2, you must take the CCNA exam, consisting of 50 – 60 questions.

To get certified once you are a CCNA, you will need to take three exams: ROUTE, SWITCH, and SHOOT — all of which can be difficult!

  • The ROUTE exam is defined as the most difficult of the three exams, consisting of roughly 45 – 55 questions.
  • The SWITCH exam covers your knowledge of switching, as well as integrating WLANs and VLANs in a secure manner. This consists of 35 – 45 questions.
  • The SHOOT exam covers your ability to troubleshoot network errors by answering roughly 35 – 40 questions. You’re expected to use a combination of routing and switching concepts, which are CISCO’s preferred process of troubleshooting.

Annual Salary Average – $95,000

8. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

The purpose of an Information Systems Auditor is to assess information systems in areas like physical security, access, logging, and lastly, the system’s continuity. Their role is to develop audit plans that can be implemented into diverse computer applications, as well as affirming the quality of information and the system’s reliability.

Furthermore, they are required to audit the team members and prepare audit reports of such, giving a proper analysis of information technology procedures, their business controls, and programs. Lastly, they are in charge of identifying risk factors that lie internally and recommending safe solutions.

It’s important for someone of this position to have knowledge of the proper auditing concepts and principles and keeping up with technological trends and developments in the field.

You must demonstrate the ability to gather data, prepare reports, and compiling important information. Furthermore, you must demonstrate your knowledge of federal, state, and local laws and standards that govern all aspects of computer systems and how they are utilized.

Annual Salary Average – $102,000

certified information systems auditor (cisa)

9. CompTIA A+

CompTIA A+ is an entry-level certification meant for Computer Service Technicians. This can lead you down the roles of technical support, and IT operational roles. From obtaining this certification, you can expect a better understanding surrounding the customization, installation, operation, and configuration of personal computers.

Furthermore, you are expected to have a broadened understanding of various technologies such as mobile devices and security to networks and operating systems. This enables you to have all of the resources to upgrade, configure, and support PCs.

When you’re searching for a career in the IT field, this certification provides a strong foundation for you to show what you’re capable of. This goes far beyond standard PC repair, and gives way for potential careers within cybersecurity, infrastructure, and more!

What can I expect to learn within the certification program? This provides you the necessary tools to identify, even solve issues with the network and operating systems.

Once certified, you will be able to configure all of the most diversified operating systems like OS X, Windows, Android, iOS, and even Linux! Even better, you will learn to identify types of backup media and other data storage devices.

This gives you the capability of working with various types of motherboard components. There is also much more you will learn, but for your time’s sake, we’ll leave it at that.

Annual Salary Average – $61,000

10. Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)

In a nutshell, you’re in charge of developing and evaluating security programs that are within an organization. Your job is to recommend the different assurance/security solutions to support the customer needs, all while operating in a fast-paced work environment.

In further detail, as a Global Information Assurance Specialist, your regular duties consist of performing analysis, design, and development of the security features built-in system architectures.

You will also perform analysis, design, and engineering of solutions that meet the requirements of the security, to be therefore implemented. Analysis of general information assurance-related problems, while providing technical support and generic engineering.

You will also examine the system’s vulnerability and risk throughout the development of the computer system’s life-cycle. You will make sure that the information systems are completely secure and functional.

Lastly, you will follow standard assurance/security procedures and reports security violations that have been identified. And more…

Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)

For those who are looking at this from an entry-level perspective, you’ll be applying the different procedures, concepts, and best practices on your assignments. Your work will be supervised, and it will require minimal practice and training to perform the expected duties.

Annual Salary Average – $91,000

11. Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) is meant to test and confirm your product knowledge and technical skills that are expected of entry-level IT professionals. This covers a broad spectrum of Microsoft products and careers.

You have your following list of exams, which regardless, of which one you decide to pursue, requires passing three exams.

  • MCSA: Bi reporting
  • MCSA: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for operations
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 Bi development
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 database administration
  • MCSA: SQL 2016 database development
  • MCSA: SQL Server 2012/2014
  • MCSA: Universal Windows platform
  • MCSA: Web applications
  • MCSA: Windows Server 2012
  • MCSA: Windows Server 2016

There are several different paths you may take, and several different ways that you can prepare for your certification exam. This can range from classroom training, on-demand training, or instructor-led training.

You can also get some experience with their practice exams, training materials, code samples… etc. It’s important that once you’ve identified the path you’re willing to take, that you make sure that you meet the requirements and prerequisites for that path.

You can find out through Microsoft’s website under the exam description. Luckily, however, since we’re talking about an entry-level certification, most entry-level IT workers will likely have no issue and can take their examination.

Annual Salary Average – $75,000

12. Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)

This certification is yet another entry-level credential you can earn that displays that you have some understanding and technology skills in the related field. This essentially covers the fundamentals of technology. You will understand the base foundations of IT infrastructure, databases, and development.

This certification, in particular, is meant for those who are looking for a transition into the tech industry — it’s very useful for those who are looking into Security Administration, or Junior IT Auditors.

Annual Salary Average – $55,000

best it certifications

13. Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)

Having an Oracle certification nowadays is an asset to not just yourself, but anyone looking to hire somebody like you! For instance, they help give you an advantage in the job market.

It tells employers that you are capable and willing to learn and grow. Second, on this note, it increases your visibility within an organization. What this actually means, is that as Oracle is growing in its usage amongst computer systems worldwide, you are increasing the competence of the IT department as a whole based on your efforts.

This doesn’t go unrecognized, as it is desired by many organizations and can allow you to move up within the company. On that same note of it being a growing demand within the industry, it is an often sought after skill that will increase your chances of getting hired, and showing you have a spark of interest for what the job entails.

This will also minimize any training required. It will be a stepping stone to a long and illustrious career within the IT department. There is room to grow and climb within organizations with this under your belt, perhaps allowing you to land that dream job you’ve been drooling over!

Furthermore, you increase your ROI/Return on Investment as you perform better and remain loyal to the company for longer! Lastly, it’s a nice permanent badge you can show off on social media, so people are aware of your status and capabilities.

Oracle Certified Professional (OCP)

Your essential duty as an Oracle Certified Professional is to be an administrator and to also troubleshoot complicated Oracle database systems that provide the foundation for the business or organization.

You will work with a team of professionals, providing your services to application development teams, database generation, coding, database design, including offering administrative support for production services. Like most IT jobs, nothing is the same from one day to the next.

Annual Salary Average – $107,000

14. Project Management Professional (PMP)

As a Project Management Professional, you’re the one who is overseeing and planning projects to ensure they are orchestrated to perfection in a timely manner and within budget.

Your job is to keep stakeholders in the loop as to what is going on during project execution, to completion, and designate the project resources, budgeting as well as monitoring the progress. All is to be done within the company’s vision, and these professionals are used across IT, HR as well as Marketing.

Some of the other responsibilities include determining and defining the project’s scope and objectives. Contract management amongst several vendors and suppliers about deliverables and deligating tasks amongst them. Measuring project performance. And providing project updates to stakeholders!

Annual Salary Average – $106,000

15. Salesforce Certified Development Lifecycle and Development Designer

The Salesforce Development Lifecycle and Development Designer career path falls under Salesforce’s architect certifications track. This is offered to you as a specialization you can take from the Certified Systems Architect certification path.

Salesforce Certified Development Lifecycle and Development Designer

This is ultimately meant for those who are IT pros and are responsible for inspecting the company/organization’s architecture environment and seeing that it meets the standards. This assures people that you are capable of implementing management solutions on the platform.

Annual Salary Average – $91,000

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best IT certifications to start with?

•Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)
•Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
•Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
•CompTIA Security+
•CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)
•CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+)
•Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA)

What are the best certifications to have in 2020?

•Agile and Scrum.
•AWS Certified Solutions Architect.
•CISSP Certified Information Systems Security Professional.
•Cisco Certifications.
•PMP – Project Management Professional.
•CompTIA A+.
•Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC)
•MCSE – Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert
•CEH – Certified Ethical Hacker

Are IT certifications better than a degree?

In your endeavors of seeking further education, certifications can most certainly enhance your technology skills, a degree, however, can provide you with the much-needed knowledge to enhance your IT career. Furthermore, having a degree will not only further your business skills and your technical skills, but it will also help you understand how those come into play within an IT environment. Certifications are not better than degrees by any means. Certifications can be earned much faster, giving you some credentials around the subject, however, a degree is something that says, “This institute’s reputation can vouch for me, that I know what I am doing”.

What certifications pay the most?

•Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
•AWS Certified Solutions Architect Associate
•Certified Information Security Manager
•Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)
•Project Management Professional (PMP)
•Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
•Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)
•AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner
•VCP-DCV: VMWare Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization
•Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)

What certifications can I get without a degree?

•Emergency Medical Technician
•Funeral Director
•Personal Trainer
•Medical Coder
•Air Traffic Controller
•Automobile Service Station Manager
•Real Estate Broker
•Margin Department Supervisor

The Best IT Certifications – Conclusion

By now you should have a rough idea surrounding the job market in the IT department. Which certifications are hot and which ones are not. In your endeavors towards landing a future career in IT, we hope that the information provided aids this desire.

IT may be a complex and ever-growing, ever-changing field — however it yields a lot of rewards, whether technology and problem-solving feed your soul or you are searching for financial gain and moving up the corporate latter. Thank you for reading, and best wishes moving forward.

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Ryan Mayberry
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