It doesn’t matter if you’re new to IT or an industry veteran—you still might not know if you need a certification or a degree to move your career forward.

Capella University information technology faculty share their perspective and advice.

IT Certification OR Degree?

There’s an on-going debate in the IT field about whether you need certifications or degrees to advance your career. Most of the time people will answer “it depends.” Specifically, it depends on:

  • How much experience you have
  • What area within IT you’re interested in
  • What specific job or role you want to move into
  • What career path you have in mind

IT Certification AND Degree

For many positions in the IT field today, the answer may be: get both. A certification and a degree combined may qualify you for a career path in which either one by itself won’t suffice.

For example, about half of the job openings for network engineers, project managers and security engineers posted between August 2017 and January 2018 and tracked by Burning Glass Labor Insights preferred both a certification and a degree in information technology.*

The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends a certification/degree combo for many IT positions, including network systems administrators, information security analysts and computer network architects.

*SOURCE: Burning Glass Labor Insights

Advancing Your IT Career with Certifications and Degrees

Follow these four steps to move your IT career forward.

  1. Earn an Appropriate Certification for Your IT Field. IT leaders, hiring managers, and job data from the BLS indicate that you have an advantage over your competition if you have a certification. More than that, certifications verify that you have the knowledge you need to do the job. Usually offered by product vendors or software firms, certifications can provide some assurance to employers that you have the set of skills required to code in a specific programming language, or to operate the company’s preferred security or networking systems. Certifications are meant as a “stamp of approval” that you know the “how” of accomplishing a technical task.
    It’s important to ensure that the certification you seek reflects current industry standards. For example, in the field of security, the standards are changing rapidly given new technologies and new threats. Make sure that the certification you choose is still relevant and valued in the marketplace.

2. Add a Degree in Your IT Field. While seeking certifications can help you build specific technology skills, a degree provides you with the foundational knowledge needed for your IT career. A degree can add the “why” or the business reasons technology is important to the organization.  A degree program may cover the business aspects of IT, particularly risk and reward implications, along with a broader understanding of technology and its uses. Plus, several education institutions (Capella included) may allow you to apply for course credit for the knowledge you’ve gained earning certifications. But what degree should you get? Just as you need to be sure that a certification is up-to-date, you need to know that the degree meets your career needs. A degree should not only provide you with business and technical skills, it should also help you understand how those skills apply in today’s IT environments.

3. Highlight Both the Degree and the Certification in Your Resume. Most organizations use either an HR professional or a technology solution to filter resumes and narrow the field of candidates. Make sure your degrees and certifications are clearly stated with industry-standard language on your resume to get past the system and human filters and into the potential candidate pool.

4. Rinse, Wash, Repeat. In other words, add certifications and degrees as needed for your career path. As you advance, the added certifications and degrees will help differentiate you as someone who not only wants to advance, but also as someone who’s curious and focused on mastering the latest industry standards and best practices. Technology is quickly evolving. Regardless of the format, IT professionals are encouraged to continue learning throughout their careers.

Learn more about Capella’s information technology degree offerings.

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