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Making it in IT: Climbing the Networking Career Ladder

Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel

In response to a regular correspondent’s request, I lay out a career and certification path that lets him stay in networking, but also ensures long-term career growth and advancement opportunities. Because his interests involve virtualization and cloud-based computing this turns out to make for an easy recipe for success! 

If you're considering a career in networking, make sure to consider virtualization and cloud computing on your path to success.

Dear Ed,

My question -- namely, "Should I follow a specific career path, or dab into a little bit of everything?" -- is a little bit broad, but that's normally how I roll.

I want to be a System Administrator in 5 years' time. As you know, with my recent advancements I'm determined to make this a reality. However I've heard from numerous people in the industry that a person should specialize. In my own mind, I believe that if I want to be a Senior System Administrator I need a strong understanding of networking (Network Administrator), Virtualization (VMware Administrator) and NOS (MCSE). To me, it also makes sense to throw in a little Project Planning and some "entry-level" knowledge like that found in the CompTIA buffet.

I'm writing to ask for your take on all of this. Is my focus on getting all of these something within my reach or should I specialize further and not try to cover so many topic areas?



Dear Trevor:

Your question is a good one, but since it’s impossible to know more than a little about most topics, I’d recommend crafting a path for yourself to follow as your work your way up the food chain. You ask about the following topics:

  1. Networking/network administration
  2. Virtualization (VMware administrator)
  3. Network OS (MCSE)
  4. Project planning (and presumably, other essential soft skills like people management, oral and written communications)
  5. The CompTIA buffet (by which I presume you mean A+/Network+/Security+, and so forth)

I think you're onto something good, but you should also factor cloud-based computing into your overall big picture planning efforts, too. That will round out your skill and knowledge sets, and make you a very appealing candidate for the kinds of jobs that appear to interest you the most, today and into the future.

Here's what I'd recommend for you:

  1. Networking: Network+ en route to CCNA (and more, if Cisco makes sense for your long-term career planning and growth, including at least CCNP and possibly CCIE in the much longer term)
  2. VMware/Virtualization: VCP5 and beyond, plus something on Hyper-V for Windows Server 2012 (R2)
  3. Network OS: I’d suggest MCSA Windows 2012 en route to MCSE: Server Infrastructure (or better yet, MCSE: Private Cloud as I explain in point 6 following)
  4. Project Planning: PMI PMP
  5. CompTIA A+/Network+/Security+: the A+ is probably too easy for you, but Network+ is a good starting point for networking, and Security+ isn't a bad place/way to start learning security either, after which you'll want to pursue CISSP or perhaps CISM
  6. Cloud Stuff: CompTIA Cloud Essentials en route to MCSE: Private Cloud and also VCP-Cloud en route to VCAP-Cloud Administration and further down the road VMware Certified Design Expert -- Cloud (VCDX Cloud)

By pursuing cloud and virtualization (and they really do belong together), you will provide yourself with several serious "growth paths" along which you can advance your career. You will also increase your value to current and future employers significantly (and may even help your current employer find ways to keep you around to remain your future employer as well).

Between what you’ve already figured out on your own, and the small missing piece I've added, I think you've got something with which to keep yourself occupied and employed for the foreseeable future, with plenty of opportunities for learning, enjoyment, and advancement, all rolled up into one interesting package.

Image Credit: Computer code image via Shutterstock
Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written and blogged for numerous publications, including Tom's Hardware, and is the author of over 140 computing books with a special emphasis on information security, Web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.