Certification Zero: Where to Start on Your Path to a Dream Certification

Any good epidemiologist, or zombie movie aficionado, can tell you that if you want to solve a seemingly overwhelming problem you need to start at the beginning.

With matters that spread throughout a population, “the beginning” is commonly referred to as “patient zero.” Getting high-level certifications can seem as complicated as saving the world from endless hungry hoards—especially when you start to explore what your peers and competitors have already accomplished—but all you need to do is break the pricess up into manageable steps, starting with the beginning.

What you need is your “certification zero”—a starting point to guide you down the path toward your ultimate goals.

Today, we’ll look at a step-by-step approach to build your skills and bring you in the direction of that coveted, career-changing certification.


Getting Started with the CISSP Certification

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional, or CISSP, is a great certification to take the long approach on. It requires five years of related work experience before you can even sit the test. There are, of course, 10 “domains,” or subject areas within the CISSP certification, so the experience required can cover a lot of different job roles.

Many people find the CISSP daunting as a starting point. In that case, your “certification zero” can be an associated certification (or two) that will build toward your ultimate goal.

CompTIA offers several certifications that you might want to start with on your path toward being an IT security guru. Network+ would be a smart choice, because five of the ten domains are directly related to IT Network Security, which makes the Network+ a great place to begin getting the skills, practice, and job experience you will need in order to eventually pass the CISSP exam as well.

The Security+ certification, also offered through CompTIA, is a great starting point in the slightly more general field of security. It will build on the skills you gained with the Network+ if you started there, and it is one of the certifications that will reduce your wait time to take the CISSP exam by a year.

GIAC Information Security Professional (GISP) is similar to the CISSP, but with a little bit less in terms of cache outside of the industry. This will bring you to a test that touches on all of the same domains of study, but without the experience requirements. It will be a good way to get you into a position that will give you a lot of the direct experience that you need. The big difference is when it comes to hiring professionals—the CISSP is more well-known, and it does convey a level of experience that many other certifications cannot.

There are several places to start, of course, but if you focus on one or more of the excellent certifications above first, you will find by the end of it that you are well on your way to earning a CISSP as well.


Getting Started with the MCSE Certification

The MCSE, or Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert is an update of the Microsoft Certified System Engineer certification path. It takes a few of possible paths including: Server, Desktop, Applications, Database, and Developer. While this does cover a lot of territory, one good place to consider starting—if you have no prior credentials or work experience in IT—is the Microsoft Technology Associate.

Where you begin is going to depend on where you want to end up. Where do you want to specialize your skills? Say, for example, you want to specialize in development. In that case, you will want to consider the Microsoft Certified Solutions Developer as your target certification.

For software specializations, consider the Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist, which allows you to become certified in a specific piece of software or area of expertise.

The options for this certification include:

  • Exchange Server
  • Project and Project Server
  • Share Point and Share Point Server
  • SQL Server
  • Virtulization
  • Visual Studio
  • Window’s Client
  • Window’s Server
  • Microsoft Forefront Identity & Access Management

Which software you want to get certified in will depend on what you use, and what you think will make you the most marketable in your area. Always consider not just what your job duties currently involve, but also where you want to go with your career.

From here you can move onto your MCSE, but remember that you will need to study up. Understanding one specific piece of technology will give you a good look at the application portion, but you will still need to be able to answer your theory-based questions.


Getting Started with the CCDA Certification

The Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA) is a great choice if you are looking to work with networks in a non-security capacity. Your first step on this journey is the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), because you will need to have earned either this certification or the next one on the list in order to take the CCDA exam. Either way, this is solid start.

If you’ve passed your CCENT, or if you have some solid work experience in the field, then you can move onto the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) Routing and Switching. This is a very popular certification, and one of the other mandatory prior certificates you need to take before you can move onto the CCDA.

Once you have one, the other, or both you can move onto the CCDA.

By now hopefully you’re get the idea. It’s about stacking your skills, and credentials, in order to get to your goal. Even if you feel like the certification of your dreams is years away, starting now is what makes all the difference.

Focus on the areas that you can attain, and the skills you already have, to start earning credentials. But never lose sight of your end goal—where do you want to be in 10 years? Hopefully the answer is more detailed than “a person with this one certification.” You should be thinking of the skills, jobs, and experience you want to have throughout your career.

This concept holds true throughout the IT industry—start building your list, starting at certification zero and ending at your goal. Map out the order of succession and visualize your journey.

Remember, starting at the right place does not mean that you need to spend an exorbitant amount of time or money. Sometimes “certification zero” is only one or two exams before you reach your ultimate goal.

Katie Gatto

Katie Gatto is an IT security analyst and freelance writer covering the security industry. Her work has appeared in The Street, Security News Daily, and a variety of other publications.

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