The Information Technology (I.T.) sector is growing rapidly, despite the tremendously negative effects that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world economy. If anything, the coronavirus has done nothing other than further accelerate the need for I.T. and computer science in both the business world and in everyday life. It’s important to remember that, even before the appearance of COVID-19, the I.T. industry was already suffering from a lack of qualified workers. Today, however, with all sorts of social distancing measures put in place, telecommuting, eLearning, and online shopping are at an all-time high. As a direct consequence of this increased internet activity, cybercrime has also skyrocketed, putting even more strain on the already severely understaffed cybersecurity sector.
As such, getting employed in the industry will not only provide you with job security but will also offer you a hefty paycheck and the possibility to advance through the ranks at a relatively fast pace. This is equally true for those that are already working in the field, as well as those just starting out. It also applies to those looking to change their careers that may be affected by the coronavirus or the more long-term threat of automation. Whatever the case, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the field if you want to thrive in a tech career. To that end, we’ve put together this complete guide to getting certified in information technology and information systems security.
Why Should You Become I.T. Certified?
Based on the findings of CompTIA, one of the largest vendor-neutral certificate program providers, 91% of all employers consider I.T. certifications to be a critical deciding factor during the hiring process. In fact, over 90% of employers say that an I.T. certificate provides credibility, sets a knowledge baseline for certain positions, and saves money and time when screening candidates for hire. They also mention that certified employees will receive a higher starting salary if they have a certification to back up their skills. The survey also shows that around 72% of employers will require at least one such certificate for certain job posts, while 67% will use them to measure a candidate’s determination and work ethic.
In addition to these statistics, earning an I.T. certificate will also benefit candidates in several other ways. For starters, it will provide them with more promotion opportunities down the line. This is true whether they are looking to advance in their current organization or start working for a different company altogether. In the end, online certification is a means of personal and professional development by maintaining ongoing relevance in the field.
What Does Online Training Mean?
If you decide to further your education in the field of Information Technology and explore certification options, you basically have two learning options available. You can either choose on-campus degree programs set in a traditional classroom environment, or you can choose to receive your certificate of completion online. In the majority of cases, online learning is the more cost-effective option, allowing students to learn from the comfort of their home and at their own pace. There won’t be any issues or additional costs of commuting or living on-campus for a period of time.
This higher degree of flexibility also opens up the possibility to renounce the concept of formal and organized education and start learning by yourself. This is what’s known as non-accredited training, which means that the course materials you’ve been studying have not been reviewed or approved by a certification vendor. However, you will also not be able to gain a certificate if you decide to go down this road.
Statistically speaking, around 27.4% of all software developers have had informal training. In other words, they are self-taught. Also, around 37.7% have supplemented their formal education with an online course or have taught themselves certain skills. However, in doing so, many have missed out on the many benefits that online certificate programs have to offer. Aside from the advantages mentioned above, earning a professional certificate implies that you will spend less time acquiring the right knowledge than is the case with individual learning. In the majority of cases, you’ll also have access to an instructor to ask specific questions and receive answers to your inquiries.
What Are the Best I.T. Certifications?
Depending on who you ask, you may receive a different answer to this question. However, there are several I.T. certifications that tend to come up over and over again. Among these, we can include the following:
I.T. Certifications for Newcomers
- CompTIA I.T. Fundamentals (ITF+) – For those who are interested in tech but don’t know where to start, the ITF+ is a perfect place to do so. It acts as a sort of pre-career certification that will help determine your competency in I.T. The exam covers basic knowledge and understanding of all IT fields, helping choose between different careers in the sector. The ITF+ will lay the groundwork in terms of basic skills, concepts, terminology, applications, database fundamentals, security, infrastructure, etc.
- CompTIA A+ – This is another stepping stone on your way to an I.T career. The A+ certification will provide a deeper understanding, as well as some hands-on skills, as compared to the aforementioned ITF+. This is a great certificate to have for when you’re getting an entry-level job in tech support and helpdesk.
- CompTIA Security+ – As mentioned in the beginning, cybersecurity professionals are in extremely high demand. If you are interested in I.T. security, then this certificate is the perfect place to start. As a vendor-neutral certification, it deals with a variety of key security issues, such as data and host security, networks, compliance, threats and vulnerabilities, identity control, cryptography, etc.
- Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT) – This is an entry-level certification for Cisco for those interested in networking. It offers the necessary skills and knowledge in regards to installing, operating, and troubleshooting small-scale networks.
- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) – This certificate is a sort of continuation of the CCENT, providing even more information on similar topics, as well as wireless networking and how to reduce security threats.
Other In-Demand I.T. Certifications
Aside from the examples above, there are several other certificates that are in high-demand today. Among these, we can include the following:
- Microsoft Certifications – Being the leader in the OS market, Microsoft certifications are also in high demand. For entry-level professionals, the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) certification will provide you with the fundamentals in operating systems, Networking, and Security. A more advanced certification is the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE), which can be aimed at Private Cloud Platforms, Server Infrastructure, or Application Lifecycle Management.
- Linux Certifications – Like Microsoft, Linux is also a leader in the OS market. But Linux’s focus is predominantly on cloud infrastructure, as well as governmental agencies and large organizations. The different types of Linux certifications provide knowledge and skills in Systems and Server Administration, Network Engineering, Security, or Virtualization, among others.
- EC-Council Certifications – The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification will qualify you as an ethical hacker. This certification is reserved for experienced security professionals as it requires extensive prior knowledge of the subject.
The Difference Between Vendor-Specific and Vendor-Neutral Certifications
Another important thing to take into account when looking to take an I.T certification online is that there’s a difference between vendor-specific and vendor-neutral. On the one hand, vendor-specific certifications refer to the expertise provided on a specific tool provided by that vendor. For example, the Microsoft MTA – Operating System Fundamentals proves your knowledge of Microsoft’s Windows OS.
On the other hand, a vendor-neutral certification shows you have a broader understanding and skillset on products and technologies that are universally applicable. These vendor-neutral certifications include all the CompTIA certifications, the EC-Council Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), Global Information Assurance Certification (GIAC), or Certified Information Systems Manager (CISM), among others.
How to Get Funding for Online I.T. Certifications
The cost of I.T. certifications can vary significantly and can, in some cases, be quite expensive. Nevertheless, the benefits of earning a certificate in Information Technology will almost always outweigh the price, especially given the fact that most employers are willing to pay a higher salary to those that have them as opposed to those that don’t.
That said, paying for them may sometimes be easier said than done. If you are unable to pay for them out of pocket, there are several other options that you can try. In most cases, your financial aid options come from state, federal, and other educational institutions. There are also private organizations, such as foundations, that can help you pay for your education.
Federal Financial Aid
In the United States, one of the most common types of student financial aid comes from the Federal Government. Whether in the form of loans or grants, federal financial aid usually offers a lower interest rate and better repayment plans than private student loans. Federal financial aid is typically approved more easily to students, regardless of their financial situation and/or credit score. For these reasons, federal student loans are among the most commonly used to pay for I.T. certificates and diplomas. To be approved for such a loan, you will first need to fill out a Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is essential if you want to gain access to the financial aid you need to pay for your certificate program.
Among the most common types of federal student loans, we can include the following:
- Direct Subsidized Loans – These loans are available to underprivileged students who are able to prove they need financial aid.
- Direct Unsubsidized Loans – These loans are not based on financial need and are, therefore, open to more people.
- Direct PLUS Loans – The eligibility for these loans is not based on financial need but on the student’s or their family’s credit score. It’s used to cover any additional costs that are not covered by other financial aid packages.
- PELL Grants – These grants will be granted to undergraduates with an exceptional financial need who have not yet earned a higher education or professional degree. Pell Grants do not have to be repaid, except under certain circumstances.
Private Student Aid
While private student loans are not as profitable or as flexible as federal aid, it can still be a good way of paying for your certificate program. The key to it, however, is to shop around and determine which private student loan lenders will provide you with the best option for your situation. This may include flexible repayment options at competitive rates, interest rate reductions, or deferment in case of financial hardship.
If you are lucky, you may even get your online I.T. certification through a scholarship. Plenty of online colleges and accredited learning institutions provide scholarships. And since these don’t have to be repaid, they are an excellent option to take into consideration. There are also several platforms, such as FastWeb and Scholarships.com, where you can discover and apply to different scholarships across the country. There are plenty that don’t have any requirements, while others demand certain specifications. MyComputerCareer, for instance, offers scholarships to military veterans.
It’s also possible to ask your employer whether he or she will be willing to pay for your online certificate. While some organizations, usually larger ones, have such tuition or education reimbursement programs put in place for their employees, others do not. This doesn’t mean that your employer won’t be willing to pay for your education, especially if your business will gain from your newfound knowledge and skillset. The key is to make your case by explaining why they should pay for your I.T program certificate and how it will benefit their bottom line.
Flexible Payment Plans With Your Program’s School
Depending on the school you choose to take your undergraduate certificate with, you may also have the possibility to work out a personalized payment plan. At MyComputerCareer, both federal and public funding programs are available, as well as state and federal assistance under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act and Veterans Administration programs. And together with our Admissions Director and Financial Aid Specialists, you will be able to find the best financial solution that will fit your needs.
How Online Education Programs Work
Since earning your certifications online means that you will be studying remotely, you will also have the possibility to set your own hours of study, not being constrained by actual class hours. Yet, this high degree of flexibility also comes at a cost. It means that you may be subject to procrastination and other distractions that can keep you away from studying and even dropping out of the course altogether. As such, you should take into account the following:
- Have a Distraction-Free Environment – If you’re studying from the comfort of your own home, you may also have plenty of temptation all around you. Social media, video games, or simply browsing the net are only a click away at all times. If you’re attending live-streaming classes or setting your learning hours, you should refrain from such distractions.
- Good Time Management – Similarly, you will need to know how to manage your time effectively. This is particularly true if you also have to juggle other responsibilities, such as a full-time job and/or a family. Even though this is an online course, you will still have deadlines and assignments, and without good time management, you won’t be able to fulfill them. The same thing can also be said about developing your own personal learning management system.
- Remaining Motivated – There will be periods during the several month-long course where you may become frustrated and overwhelmed and may be thinking about quitting. It’s at times like these when you need to push through and remain motivated until the end.
- A Stable Internet Connection – This is particularly important when you’re taking part in live online classes, as these are specifically created to mimic a traditional classroom as much as possible. If your internet isn’t working well, you may be missing out on important information or may miss your chance of asking an important question.
- Create To-do Lists – As simple as they may be, to-do lists can actually do wonders when it comes to keeping you on track with your tasks throughout the day.
- Use Time-Tracking Apps – For an added level of responsibility and time management, time-tracking apps are incredibly useful to keep you productive, efficient, and organized.
- Learn to Communicate – Just because you are studying from home, that doesn’t mean that you are learning in a vacuum. Communicating with your instructors and fellow students is critical to your success. In addition, networking with your peers and teachers is essential in providing you with future opportunities down the line.
What to Expect From an Online Course
While each school is different in the way it teaches its students, we here at MyComputerCareer have designed our online programs to be anywhere from seven to eleven months, depending on our students’ availability. We also provide several innovative instructional methods to ensure that you will get the most out of your course. Among these, we can include the following:
- Live Streaming Classes – With the majority of other online courses, you will have to deal with pre-recorded classes. However, with MyComputerCareer, you will have access to live-streaming classes, which means that you can directly take part in discussions and interact with your instructors in real-time. This way, you can ensure that you will understand everything with every class. There will be, on average, between 8 to 16 hours per week of live streaming classes with the added benefit of choosing which ones you will be able to attend, based on your already-existing schedule.
- Hands-On Labs – Here, you’ll be able to put your newly acquired knowledge and skills to the test. This is the practical section of the course and probably the most important one. Practice makes perfect, after all. As with the live-stream classes, you can take part in these labs on your own time and get immediate support from instructors if and when you need it.
- One-On-One Mentoring – Besides your lead instructor, you can also work together with our other mentoring instructors. They will provide you with a personalized touring and mentorship based on your current level of understanding. You can interact with these instructors during regular hours, as well as outside class time.
Based in Holly Springs, North Carolina, MyComputerCareer is an innovative adult technical school that provides training for 13 highly valuable I.T. Certifications in areas such as Operating Systems, Computer Networks, and Cyber Security. If you want to find out more about the program, feel free to contact us today and land your dream job before you know it!