Many job openings ask that candidates have formal training and some work experience. Several may also require additional things like a license, a certain educational level, a certification, or a combination of those things. Many jobs in the information technology field fall into the formal training and some experience category but certification is often what sets candidates apart.
The IT field has an abundance of certifications in many areas ranging from Web design, to computer repair, networking, security, and systems administration to name a few. Various entities sponsor certifications with a number of them being proprietary vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, and VMware. There are also vendor-neutral organizations like CompTIA. Some certifications expire after a period of time and others simply age out due to technology advancement. Most certifications are earned by passing an exam.
There are many paths that lead to passing a certification exam. An individual may take formal classes from a college or trade school, self-study using one or a combination of information sources, or attend high-intensity training aimed at a particular certification.
The formal class route is self-explanatory. Self-study usually involves printed material, video materials and often a personal training lab. The personal training lab is something I routinely emphasize to the kids in my classes as it's an interactive way to learn and apply textbook concepts and maintain their knowledge too. It doesn't have to be an expensive setup; older but still serviceable equipment is easily obtainable with a little research. I scour eBay for deals occasionally finding some very good ones.
The high-intensity training isn't for anyone. Often referred to as "boot camp" it's a training style where information in large volumes is covered in repetitive fashion during a relatively short period. The end game is successful exam passing and ultimate earning of a particular certification.
Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in computer repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.