Top IT contractor certifications of 2015-16

'Get it in writing' is advice IT freelancers rightly follow for their contact work arrangements but it will also stand them in good stead on their skills, as clients are stepping up scrutiny of contractors’ credentials, writes Ed Jones of Firebrand Training.

The best answer to give increasingly clever but harder to convince end-users is a certification. But with the IT industry evolving at a breakneck pace, how are contractors meant to know which type of evidence of training is the most exemplary?

What qualification do you need to prove yourself as a System Architect? Or which certification is best to woo that client you’d love who’s after increased cloud security? The following are some of the most exciting and sought-after IT certifications this year, and they’re followed by what’s likely to be their replacements next year, in 2016.

Top IT certifications of 2015

1. The Open Group - TOGAF 9.1

The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) is a key player in the field of Enterprise Architecture, and is quickly becoming the ‘must-have’ certification for IT Architects to hold. As the demand for Senior Architects continues to grow, having the most up-to-date, provable skillset becomes increasingly necessary. TOGAF 9.1 certification is the cutting edge.

By achieving this qualification you will have proven your knowledge in several areas relating to Enterprise Architecture. You will have familiarised yourself with the Architecture Development Method (ADM) and have the confidence to adapt the ADM process in the field. If you are looking to compound the knowledge you have developed through hands-on work with a globally-recognised certification, TOGAF accreditation is an excellent place to start.

2. Microsoft Specialist: Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions

This is quickly showing itself to be one of Microsoft’s most popular certifications. As thousands of businesses continue to migrate on-premises services to Microsoft’s public cloud, Azure, the demand for contractors with the skills to do this is increasing to match the pace. The IT professional who holds this certification has proven that they are able to plan, create, configure and manage Azure virtual machines, as well as migrating existing systems to the online Azure infrastructure.

The fact that Microsoft is currently the second largest provider of Cloud Infrastructure services should be some indication of how useful a qualification this is, when putting yourself forward as a serious competitor in the cloud computing industry.

3. EC-Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH)

The demand we see for Ethical Hackers is at an all-time-high. The continued prominence of high-profile hacks keeps businesses looking to stay one step ahead of the perpetrators. Employers are more aware than ever before of the dangers of cyber crime and are continually raising security prerequisites to keep their information safe.

Contractors who have achieved this certification will possess the skills to help uncover and patch system vulnerabilities, so that the hackers can’t find and take advantage of them. The EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker course tackles a range of security issues head on, including DDoS attacks, Virus Creation and Intrusion Detection. This is an incredibly powerful qualification in the repertoire of any IT security professional.                                                                                                  

4. Cisco CCNP (Routing and Switching)

All businesses run on a network and demand among large organisations for Senior Technicians who can plan, implement and verify both local and wide-area enterprise networks is at a constant. As Cisco continues to dominate the routing and switching market, CCNP-certified contractors will be a step ahead of rivals not holding the credential.

With this qualification in your arsenal, an employer will know that you have proven your ability to maintain and monitor network performance, as well as troubleshooting Multi Protocol system networks. Cisco CCNP is a must for any Network Engineer or Architect who needs to be able to install, configure and manage Cisco routers and switches.

5. Professional Scrum Master

Scrum is an Agile software development methodology, for managing product creation and realisation. The business landscape is constantly changing, as priorities shift and new information comes to light. Because of this, IT professionals are realising that they too need to be adaptable, so that they are able to provide flexible, holistic support to their end-user.

This is the core principle behind Scrum, and Professional Scrum Master certification is for developers who want to be able to optimise productivity and efficiency during the development process, in spite of moving parameters and unpredictable challenges. What’s more; to an end-user, holding a qualification in Scrum shows that you are truly client-focused, and will work hard alongside a team to reach a common goal.

Top IT certifications of 2016

1. Microsoft Specialist: Windows 10

Around 1.5 billion people in 190 countries use Microsoft Windows to interact with their computers. As more and more businesses gravitate towards Windows 10, being able to prove one’s knowledge in the operating system’s Enterprise features should be a priority for any IT professional. Holding this certification will show that you can configure and control device and network security within Windows 10, install and manage desktops, devices and applications, and that you have a familiarity with Microsoft Azure, Intune and Active Directory.

This is really going to be a key requirement for System Administrators and Architects alike, and will serve as a foundation for any professional managing and maintaining systems within Microsoft Windows 10. This is not a certification to ignore.

2. Microsoft MCSA: Windows Server 2016

As the world’s most popular Server operating system launches a new version, demand for professionals to upgrade and utilise the platform will be huge. The MCSA Windows Server 2016 certification will teach you the fundamental skills needed to develop and manage systems within the Windows Server environment. Points of focus include planning and organisation of server storage, using PowerShell and Azure Stack, and security management.

Packed with new features and refreshing upgrades; both you and your engager will want to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of Windows Server 2016! This certification is likely to become an industry standard, so IT contractors should be looking to get ahead of the curve as soon as training becomes available.

3. (ISC)2 Certified Cloud Security Professional (CCSP)

As more organisations realise the power and versatility of cloud computing, the need for skilled cyber security professionals able to lock down and protect digital assets is on the rise. Developed by two of the field’s leading information security organisations; the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) and (ISC)2, the advanced CCSP certification will prove a contractor’s cloud security expertise at a global level.

Key points of focus on the course will include cloud data and application security, as well as compliance and operations. Any employer searching for peace of mind where the security of their business is concerned will be on the lookout for this robustly accredited qualification.

4. ISACA Certified Cybersecurity Practitioner CSX

Cybersecurity Practitioner CSX, from ISACA, is a brand new certification which looks set to be huge in 2016. This qualification focuses on developing hands-on practical skills in the five domains of ISACA’s CSX framework: Identity, Protect, Detect, Respond and Recover.

On achieving this certification, you will be able to prove your abilities in protecting and recovering systems from both failure and digital sabotage. Acting as a solid foundation of knowledge for IT professionals who need to be able to carry out vulnerability scans and implement security controls; this certification will also be a prerequisite for the more advanced Cybersecurity Specialist CSX and Cybersecurity Expert CSX credentials, also launching in 2016.

5. ITIL® Practitioner

ITIL® Practitioner is the hotly anticipated follow up to the ITIL® Foundation certification, and is the perfect qualification for contractors looking to support organisations applying ITIL® framework. ITIL® (IT Infrastructure Library) is the only consistent and comprehensive documentation of best practice for IT Service Management, and as such has worldwide recognition.

A professional with this certification in their resume will have shown their knowledge of ITIL concepts; an understanding of their practicalities and how to effectively incorporate the framework into an organisational setting. Importantly, accreditation proves that you are able to implement Continual Service Improvement (CSI), one of ITIL’s most fundamental life cycle stages.

Final thoughts

2015 has been an exciting year for cloud computing and there is no reason why 2016 won’t continue to push the envelope in terms of what businesses can expect from the technology. As mentioned at the outset, companies and organisations are now savvier than ever when it comes to knowing what to look for in IT personnel; whether they be architects or security specialists.

In order to stay on the crest of this technological wave, it is important that contractors keep their skills honed, and are able to prove their knowledge and abilities in the field. The way to do this is with accreditation in the form of IT certifications. But choose your qualifications wisely so they will become a solid investment for your future; securing your position in this competitive marketplace and giving you the confidence you need to excel.

Wednesday 23rd September 2015