Get Certified

Along with experience and academic qualifications – product certification is essential for systems engineers AND software engineers in the modern IT world. I have worked a lot with Microsoft, Citrix and VMware in their partner programs over the last ten years for my company, for both individual staff requirements and partner status.

The latest Citrix certifications focus on XenDesktop/XenApp design, deployment and management. You can get certified on most of the Citrix product line but its best to start with products you work with every day, have just been trained on or are targeting a new career path. Starting at the bottom, Citrix Certified Associate – Virtualization covers XenApp/Desktop, some licensing and basic deployment. You can then add a few more separate exams for enterprise management, basic NetScaler and work towards the high end exam for Citrix Certified Professional (CCP-V) and Expert (CCE-V). Most recent additions are the Citrix Certified Professional – Mobility (CCP-M) which covers XenMobile design and deployment.

Why bother?

Throughout my career I have had to do certifications for PC’s, server operating systems and especially Citrix products, as well as mentor younger staff and colleagues and point them down the right certification track for their career development. In the last ten years for example, I have completed forty certifications. Some have expired, and some are very recent such as CCP-M, CCP-V. I would not be in my current job, earning a good salary if I had not kept my certifications up to date.

The disadvantages of certification are few. You will need to spend time, usually your own, studying and installing products, following training guides and best practice papers in order to pass any exams. You may not always get on a training course. Passing the exams also requires a certain amount of determination and calmness, along with exam technique.

A training course, if you need one is usually not free – and exams cost between £100 and £250 in the UK. Another disadvantage is that certifications expire, hence  it is important to keep up to date. To do this, you should target 2-3 exams per year as a minimum. That way, you will be refreshing exams every year, gaining new knowledge and keeping ahead.

The advantages are plenty. For one, you will gain more in depth knowledge of the products and maybe one or two products you don’t use if you are following a “track” system like Citrix and Microsoft’s where you must complete 5-6 exams to become a Citrix CCP-V, or Microsoft Certified Professional Developer , MCPD.

A typical “track” may take you down the MCPD :“Design and Development of Web Applications in .NET Framework” for example. If you’re considering a Citrix path – start with a single product like XenApp server, then XenDesktop. You can then try the enterprise exams and work your way towards CCV-E and CCP-V for Virtualisation.

Most partner companies will also provide study guides, access on online training and videos and special partner programs with a specialist contact that can assist you and your team with certifications in their “tracks”. You may even get exam vouchers. There are many good exam preparation books availably, study guides and “brain dumps”. I often recommend

Microsoft, Adobe and others are constantly updating products, and often require certification in order for your company to sell the new products or retain your status. This may mean that a team of developers may need to have 10-15 certifications as a minimum just for the company to be a Gold Partner. In a few years, this may change and a new product release will force an update to the certifications.

When applying for jobs, a person with certifications will almost certainly be in with a better chance of employment than a person without. Your current employer should also recognize your studying and reward you financially. Indeed, your whole career path should be based on experience, project success, work competence – and your certifications.

When I interview for staff – I also think the person with more certifications is more interested in their career, in IT and in developing themselves than someone who hasn’t bothered. If you are really “into” IT – you will be keen to get certified in products you are working with.

Product certification is essential for the employer.

Partner status with Microsoft come in different levels –Core,Silver,Gold etc. These are partly based on sales, but also on the number of certified engineers or developers you have. This in turn can impact your companies’ discount purchasing and reselling in the supply chain. You may also be given sales leads, and involvement in new product releases ahead of non-certified companies.

Partners often get free partner licenses. This not only saves your company money, but gives them access to nearly all the partners’ products for free, as well as getting beta releases and access to software “api”’ that non-partners won’t get access to.

Partner status is an important status symbol. Potential customers will compare company certifications and individual CV’s to award contracts. Certifications for staff could make the difference between your company winning the business – or closing down!

I don’t see too many areas where certification is not possible. You can be certified in developing, Prince II, Ethical Hacking, security, HP hardware, EMC storage, VMware, Citrix,ITIL, ISO Auditing – the list is almost endless.

The one area you can’t be certified in is your own communications skills, personal interaction, and ability to talk to customers and present your solutions. This really comes with experience and practice – so get some colleagues together and practice on them to hone your presentation skills.

Certification is not a replacement for great experience, but in my opinion is essential for IT staff, engineers and developers alike – if they want to progress their career, keep skills up to date and be regarded as subject matter experts in their field or specialist area. Having both, means you know the products in depth.

In terms of actually doing exams, these are typically done in exam centers with monitored rooms in industry approved organisations. Pearson-View and Sylvan Prometric are two such companies, and will have an office or training partner in most countries and big cities. Individual product exams typically have about 60 multiple choice questions. The Citrix Professional and Expert have a split of about 30 multiple choice and the rest are based on a scenario or analysis report and you then have to make choices, and backup your design. Good luck!