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How Seriously should You take Certifications when Hiring Network Personnel?

What’s the hardest job in running an enterprise LAN?

To me, it’s not balancing the network load, or fine-tuning application servers, it’s finding the right people to support the network. You can have the best equipment in the world, but if your staffers don’t know what they’re doing, your CEO is still going to want your head on a platter.

One popular way to avoid this is to hire network administrators and technicians with certifications like Cisco Certified Internetwork Engineer (CCIE), CompTIA’s i-Net+; Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE); or a Certified Novell Engineer (CNE).

Simply hiring someone because they have a certification isn’t good enough though. Bala Swaminathan, business development manager for certification giant CompTIA, explains “certifications present CIOs with confusing choices.” That’s both because there are more certifications than ever and they keep changing.

For example, CompTIA’s Net+ was a very basic network certification suitable for technicians or entry-level administrators. The i-Net+, though, according to CompTIA’s Jonathan Thatcher, a certification development manager, adds in gigabit network management and AppleTalk interoperability.

It’s still a beginner’s certification, but its holders can be expected to handle more than just the basics.You also need to know exactly what’s behind a given certification. For example, say you need someone to manage your firm’s move from a NT primary domain controller (PDC) network to one that uses Windows 2003’s Active Directory. Is that a job you that any MCSE can do? Hardily!There was a time when you could get an MCSE without ever taking a class in directory services infrastructure . For a job as big as a directory shift though you also need someone with vast experience.

You also need to consider the certification level and the workload.

Thatcher and I agree that there are three levels of network employees and certifications. At the bottom strata, you find the technician or entry-level administrator. They handle such jobs as manning the help-desk, clearing the printer queue, and adding new users to the network. For this level, you want someone with a i-Net+, a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or a Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA).

Next up, you find senior administrators and network engineers. These are the people who do work like designing the network, attacking security breeches, and managing the overall network. It’s at this level that you should be looking for people with a MCSE, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), or CNE.Above that, you need a few people to do network architecture and make long-term strategic decisions. For this level, you need someone with a CCIE.All that said though, for my money, I’d take someone with years of hands-on work over someone with a newly printed certification any day of the week. Ideally, I’d hire someone with both.Don’t make the human resources mistake of thinking that the right alphabet soup certification, even a CCIE, is the be-all and end-all of network staffing. A certification is important, but so are experience, work ethic, and willingness to be a team player. It’s only when you find someone with all the right stuff that you’ve really found the right person for your job.

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