Three Must-Have Skills for IT Professionals

By Keith Barker

Several decades ago, it was fairly easy for people to get into the world of IT. In those days, with a little curiosity and a little tinkering, a person could land an entry-level job. That employee could then continue to learn and improve skills at work, while supporting the networks and systems of the company.

Today, there are still plenty of IT positions, but employers can choose from a huge pool of competing candidates with varying technical skill sets. As a result, it has become more crucial than ever for candidates to prove their competency even before applying for a job.

To illustrate why, it’s important to understand that employers increasingly look at IT certifications when evaluating skill sets. In the past, certification exams asked for facts and details that the candidate could memorize by reading a book. The problem with this type of testing is that memorizing a fact from a book does not equate to having the skills required for a specific job, nor does it guarantee that the job will be done well.

Therefore, to create certification exams that more accurately test candidates’ skill levels, vendors and certification companies are taking a different approach.

For example, CompTIA’s most recent version of its Network+ certification (N10-006) exam was introduced in February. Instead of focusing on memorization of facts, many of the exam questions are scenario-based.

With troubleshooting scenarios, candidates are required to take their knowledge of the various technologies involved, combine that with critical thinking skills and any hands-on or real-world experience they’ve had with that technology, and determine the best solution presented in the exam. In short, candidates need to know the technology well—and be able to demonstrate it on the test.

In-Demand Tech Skills

With that in mind, it’s important for IT professionals to know which skill sets are most in demand today. Let’s look at three: software-defined everything, security and networking. By exploring these topics, you can arrive at a short list of certifications that may be most valuable for you to pursue.

· Software-Defined Everything

The world is turning to virtualization for just about everything. Software-defined data centers and software-defined networking offer significant advantages, such as cost savings, time efficiency, and manageability.

IT professionals are expected to understand the concepts of virtualization—and for many, virtualization is their core area of focus or specialization. Among the biggest players in the virtualization space are VMware, Citrix and Microsoft. If you are new to virtualization, a great place to start is to pursue the VMware Certified Associate option (VMware’s VCA).

· Security

Security concerns and the reduction of vulnerabilities should be part of any software, system or network. They should also be part of the design, implementation, management and monitoring processes for those systems.

Security is going to involve penetration testing and ethical hacking to validate that proper security measures exist to mitigate risk. Cloud security is also a large concern, because sensitive data that is moving through a network or sitting in storage needs to be protected, regardless of whether it is local or hosted in a cloud. If you are new to security, CompTIA’s Security+ certification is a good starting point.

· Networking

Understanding the physical and logical network topologies, as well as the protocols in use, is critical to troubleshooting today’s systems. Many networking functions, including routing, switching, firewalls and load balancing, are now defined in software—which is why it’s important to keep virtualization skills up to date.

Protocols such as IPv4 and IPv6 will be around for a long time in both our physical and virtualized environments, so skills—which include subnetting and understanding the TCP/IP protocol suite—are important to have and to keep current. If you’re new to networking, CompTIA Network+ certification is a good place to start.

While these three IT skills are currently among the most in demand, expect scenario-based questions designed to test deeper understanding—regardless of your particular area of focuson future certification tests. CompTIA’s Network+ test may be an early adopter of this line of questioning, but it certainly won’t be the last. It indicates a growing trend that affects the entire spectrum of people who are entering a new field in IT.

Keith Barker, CCIE, provides hands-on training for the new CompTIA Network+ certification (N10-006) exam. He is a CBT Nuggets trainer and consultant, and the author of numerous technical books and articles, including several Cisco Press certification guides.