The Importance of Lifelong Learning in the Tech Industry

By Allen Graves

No tech professional would dispute the fluidity or diversity of the field, yet recent industry developments have exceeded even the most radical expectations for change.

Faced with strong competition from oftentimes well-funded startups, longstanding industry giants such as Hewlett-Packard, EBay and IBM, along with smaller but equally well-established hardware and software firms, are finding themselves forced to develop creative solutions for maintaining their market shares and profit margins.

Moreover, the increased industry competition has dramatically raised customer expectations. Today’s tech consumers want flexible, high-performance products with the newest features at the lowest price possible. As a result, mergers and acquisitions, as well as internal restructuring efforts, have become more and more commonplace.

For tech professionals, keeping pace with the industry – whose sole consistency is its capacity for change – almost always necessitates continuing education. Numerous industry certifications, notable for their diversity, are viable options for tech professionals and job-seekers alike.

For instance, the Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification, which tests user knowledge of one of the company’s various operating systems, is a solid choice for professionals experienced in a helpdesk or networking environment. Microsoft’s Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA) or Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) credentials give tech professionals within the respective specializations core knowledge and competencies while laying the groundwork for more advanced Microsoft certifications, such as Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA) or Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE).

Likewise, Cisco’s Certified Network Associate Security (CCNA) credential demonstrates mastery of foundational IT network security skills as applicable to Cisco’s systems. Other vendor-specific certifications, such as those offered by Oracle and IBM, are essential for the many IT professionals who handle those vendors’ products.

Red Hat currently offers more than 20 certifications in topics as varied as hybrid cloud storage; deployment and systems management; fast-cache application management; business process design; and Linux diagnostics and troubleshooting. The Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) certification alone offers five sub-specializations, from cloud to application development.

A surplus of vendor-neutral certificates, such as those offered by ASIS International and DRI International, are also available. The former is geared toward information security professionals in general, while the latter addresses business continuity and disaster recovery planning. Industry trade group SNIA offers a Storage Networking Certification Program (SNCP) that confers vendor-neutral, systems-level credentials that complement vendor-specific certificates.

Although much ink has been spilled about the relative value of IT certifications, even skeptics concede that certification, and continuing education units (CPU’s) in general, are never a detriment.

Certification at any level, in any skill or competency, demonstrates professional initiative, industry credibility and sheer determination. For those looking to break into the IT field or to rebound from company-wide layoffs, certification can differentiate them from the pack. For employees negotiating raises or promotions, certificates can be a key advantage, as well as a shield against salary cuts and lay-offs.

In fact, many employers require CPU’s for IT employees. Between three and nine hours every other year is the current norm. Many companies will reimburse the cost of CPU’s, and most certification program content changes frequently, given the industry’s ongoing flux.

Conference attendance in the field may also be an option for IT professionals, particularly when conference content focuses on emerging technologies and evolving best practices. However, certification remains the primary means by which IT professionals achieve CPU’s.

The bottom line is that employers are well-aware of the industry’s volatility, as well as the importance of integrating new technologies to maintain profitability. Industry standards and best practices shift so regularly that IT professionals simply must shift with them in order to remain relevant in their field.

 

Allen Graves writes about technology and business process improvement on behalf of Villanova University’s 100% online degree and certificate programs.