Best IT Certifications for 2014

The IT world is getting more complex and landing a top-notch job requires certifications in some of today’s hottest areas like security and cloud computing architecture. You may want to start with what IT certifications pay the most or what IT certifications are in demand for 2014, but there’s also the option of starting with the basics, such as CompTIA A+. We’ll walk through some of the most popular IT certifications for 2014 and note some of the pay for top-line certs, but you’ll also find a great resource at the bottom of this page for getting started in your IT certification process.

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control (CRISC)

One of the rising stars in IT certifications is the CRISC badge offered by ISACA because of the increasing importance in data governance and risk management. Foote Partners says that pay based on this ISACA certification – both general pay calculations and those based on certification raises – has increased 9.1 percent in the first six months of 2014. According to Global Knowledge, current CRISC professionals earn an average of $118,253.



Employers like CRISCs because you have to agree to a code of conduct after gaining your certification, and it is also a symbol of your understanding of the impact risk has on many IT operations. CRISCs tend to have an enterprise focus, so it also speaks to your ability to comprehend at a large scale. The CRISC certification may be among the more difficult to attain, since you’ll need three years of cumulative work experience in data governance, risk management and the information systems lifecycle from design through implementation and maintenance. After passing the CRISC exam, you’ll also need to take part in continuing education programs offered through the ISACA and its partners. The ISACA used to operate under the Information Systems Audit and Control Association name, so discuss both this and the acronym when talking to co-workers or employers about the benefits you may see from a CRISC certification.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)

If you’re looking for the best IT certifications to land a job, the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) may be the best place to start after you have your basic IT certifications.



The average salary of those with an MCSA is nearly $83,000, and 91 percent of IT hiring managers consider this certification part of their hiring criteria, according to a survey from Western Governors University. One reason for this certification’s popularity is that it is viewed as a bridge to more advanced certifications from Microsoft, so it provides a broad base of understanding. The focus of the MCSA is on network and systems administration, typically with a technical support bend, though some training for the certification exam will also walk you through general analytics around operational effectiveness and deployment. Microsoft has split its current MCSA offerings into a variety of different sections, including:
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows Server 2008
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 7
  • SQL Server 2012
  • SQL Server 2008
  • Office 365
These represent a shift for Microsoft toward credentials that focus on designing and building technology solutions and services. The company’s previous Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator certifications were tied to specific job roles. Since many enterprises have Microsoft and SQL deployments, these certifications are always valuable. With more operations shifting to computer work and more enterprises deploying remote workforces, integration and server access verified by the MCSA are a big boon to your career. Getting your MCSA and then using that credential to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer can bump your salary into the mid-$90,000 range, according to Global Knowledge.

Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)

CWNA (Certified Wireless Network Administrator) is a vendor-neutral certification that is considered the standard for wireless networking. This is the certification to get for wireless networking as you start your career.



Since it’s the entry-level certification, you won’t need to have any other licensing or certifications to obtain it, but it can still bump your salary above the low $70,000 mark. To pass the certification exam, you’ll need a basic understanding of a variety of networking infrastructure, equipment and concepts. Items you’ll be tested on include:
  • 802.11 network architecture
  • Antenna concepts
  • In-field troubleshooting
  • Performing site surveys
  • Network design, installation, and management
  • RFID and radio technologies
  • Wireless LAN hardware and software
  • WLAN security
  • Wireless standards and organizations
Since CWNA is a foundational certification, it’s required for you to pursue higher certifications, such as CWSP, CWAP, CWDP, and CWNE. It’s a relatively easy test with just 60 questions administered over a 90-minute period, and a 70 percent is good enough for your certification.

CWNP’s Certified Wireless Security Programs

This may be a new certification company to you, but it’s one of the best IT certifications that you’ll come across this year thanks to a pay growth of 35 percent over the past 12 months – more than half of that bump has come in the second quarter of this year. The Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP) badge you get from CWNP’s certification signifies that you can securely set up and manage enterprise wireless LAN networks. The security aspect focuses on platform-agnostic deployments of safe Wi-Fi networks and verifies security protocol training for multiple devices. Education focuses on new tactics that may be used in corporate espionage defense, such as wireless intrusion prevention system (WIPS) implementation and authentication infrastructure design models. The CWSP requires two exams, and you’ll need an understanding of terminology that CWNP uses across all of its implementations, tests, and teachings. To earn a CWSP certification, you must hold a current and valid CWNA credential to establish that you have the proper baseline understanding and can deploy new systems adequately. If you have many years of experience in the wireless field, you may instead opt for the Certified Wireless Network Expert credential offered by CWNP. In the second quarter of 2014 alone, the demand value for this certification has risen 30 percent. The CWNE tier is the highest level of certification you can obtain from CWNP, and it proves that you can understand and protect just about any enterprise Wi-Fi deployment under the sun. CWNE testing covers protocol analysis, intrusion detection and prevention, spectrum analysis, and several types of security analysis of networks. To obtain a CWNE, you’ll need valid CWSP, CWAP, and CWDP certifications, and you’ll have to verify at least three years of 802.11/WLAN experience with specific projects and clients or co-workers to speak about your deployment and protection knowledge. The CWNE can be a complex license to attain, but it is worth it when it comes to securing some of the top IT certifications and a long-term career in wireless networking. Salary estimates for CWNE jobs from put the average position earning between $75,000 and $100,000.

CompTIA A+ Certification

The CompTIA A+ is perhaps your best bet when leaving behind basic IT certifications and moving into the top IT certifications to get your career started The CompTIA A+ certification exam has essentially become the industry standard in terms of proving you have sufficient technical knowledge of hardware and software for the IT sphere. It’s a great place to get started and to learn the basics that you’ll need for enterprise deployments. One nice thing about getting the initial CompTIA A+ certification is that you can turn it into a salary bump compared to non-certified positions. It’s a step that roughly 85 percent of IT professionals use to further their careers. Professionals also like it because you can study via many IT certification programs online. Think of the A+ as the basic steps for you to learn a wide range of skills that require IT proficiency. It prepares you for a growing career as a help desk technician, general PC tech, a field service technician, a manufacturing and control technician, or a repair person for entry-level work and consumer PCs. The CompTIA A+ certification is recognized and accepted across almost all subsets of IT, and it can be a big benefit since it is vendor-neutral. It also makes you able to apply to more companies. The IT departments of many major employers, such as IBM, Microsoft, Apple, and HP will want the CompTIA certification and may even want to put you on a CompTIA continuing education program. The U.S. Department of Defense recognizes CompTIA A+, and the Department of Homeland Security requires it as part of their computer forensics program. CompTIA’s own research found that 86 percent of employers consider IT certifications like CompTIA’s A+ certification to be a high priority. To get your CompTIA A+ certification, you must pass two exams:
  • CompTIA A+ 220-801 covers the fundamentals of computers and IT, with topics such as installing PCs, configuring new PCs, installing laptops, computer hardware understanding, and basic systems networking.
  • CompTIA A+ 220-802 tests you on the skills needed to install and configure a PC operating system plus many of the features that people use every day, such as connecting to a wireless network or setting up an e-mail service. You’ll also be tested on common features for Android and the iOS mobile operating systems. Certifications are valid for three years and can be maintained through existing continuing education programs from CompTIA.

CompTIA Certification: Server+

The CompTIA Server+ certification covers the basics of understanding server software and hardware, as well as related technologies you’ll need to manage and maintain servers. Specifically, the exam will cover system hardware, storage, software, best practices, disaster recovery, data management and troubleshooting in the event of a loss or error. CompTIA recommends that you have 18 to 24 months of experience in managing server technology and get a CompTIA A+ certification first, but you can get Server+ certified without these. Server+ certification is used as a prerequisite for many careers in server sales, solution development, software development for servers, systems engineering, IT server administration, and server service technicians. One of the chief reasons to get your Server+ certification is because Dell, HP, IBM, Intel, Lenovo, and Xerox recommend or require it for their server technicians. Since it’s platform/vendor-neutral, you’ll get a solid foundation that these, and many other companies, recognize on an international basis. Going through the Server+ program to get your certification will also fulfill many of the secondary education requirements to obtain or maintain your other certifications. For example, the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) certification can use both CompTIA A+ and Server+ to fulfill exam elective requirements. It’s a great stepping stone to get you started, though its universal-requirement nature means you won’t typically see a significant bump in pay form getting your Server+ certification, unless you use it to move into your first true IT support position.

CompTIA Cloud+

CompTIA has offered various cloud certifications since 2011, and its most recent addition is the Cloud+ platform that provides a vendor-neutral exam on networking, storage, and data center administration with a cloud focus. You’ll need two to three years of experience in these cloud arenas to test for your certification. Because this builds on existing CompTIA efforts, you’ll have to get various credentials beforehand, including the CompTIA Network+ and/or CompTIA Storage+ certifications. Cloud+ will prepare you for a variety of cloud deployments and maintenance. Its exam covers:
  • Cloud concepts and models
  • Business continuity in the cloud
  • Infrastructure
  • Resource management
  • Security
  • Systems management
  • Virtualization



With 90 percent of all companies using some form of cloud computing in developed markets, you can bet that this certification will provide a very solid path for growth and improvement in your career. According to researcher Chris Talbot, cloud-related jobs grew 30 percent in 2012 and likely exceeded that growth rate in 2013 and so far in 2014. Cloud+ also touches on more topics than the current MCSE Private Cloud, which means its vendor-neutral approach may give you more flexibility for taking new jobs.

CompTIA Certification Path

When you’re asking yourself “What IT certification should I get?” you may want to start by defining your career path. Understanding where you want to go will give you a great way forward and a smart roadmap to follow. One reason professionals like CompTIA certifications so much is that they all line up somewhere along the CompTIA certification path and roadmap that the company develops. The company has built out an interactive feature that allows you to select your destination or career field and then walks you through the certification requirements, knowledge and experience needed, and secondary considerations for your specific CompTIA certification path. There’s also a lot of branded CompTIA continuing education, which can help you with certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and many other companies. The tool is great and will give you a solid understanding of where to begin, plus it helps you find IT certification programs online and in-person or just study materials for you to peruse at your leisure.

IT Certification Programs Online

Now that you’ve got a handle on what IT certifications pay well, are in demand, and lead to future growth, there’s one important question you need to ask yourself: What IT certifications can I take online? The great news is that you can take just about all of them thanks to courses from professional development networks like Vista College. The most useful certifications we described are available online and can even come as part of a degree course where you’re specifically prepared for certification examination. You want to find the right partner to teach you the skills you need for working in the field and passing certifications to improve your existing opportunities. Check out our great IT programs to make sure you get all you can out of your IT future.

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