Certified for success
Do certifications spell success in the ICT sector, or are employers looking for more? And which mix of certifications offers the best chance for success?
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Qualifications are central to the network professional’s life. Achieving the highest standards in industry certification and keeping them topped up is a proven way to boost value and earning potential in a market where skills are often at a premium – particularly at the high end.
To a great extent, desirable qualifications in the Middle East are dominated and driven by vendors, who will usually only deal with partners who commit to their education programmes. At the same time, IT companies are increasingly required to show that their staff have the skills to deliver services in order to become accredited suppliers.
So here, as in the rest of the world, if you are a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) or a Juniper Networks Certified Internet Associate (JNCIA), you have a fast track to the shortlist when it comes to applying for your next job or promotion.
“CCNP and MCSE qualifications are regarded as highly valuable in the Middle East as they are from global companies which are recognised anywhere and have the same processes worldwide,” says Charlie Sell, technology manager at specialist recruiter Arrows Group.
“Qualifications like A+ or Network+ [the Computing Technology Industry Association’s comprehensive, vendor-neutral certificates] are more Western-centric so not as relevant to the Middle Eastern market.
“This area of the world is heavily contract-based as there is so much work that needs to be completed quickly, so many contractors are brought in from the West to set up large networks and infrastructure. This means that they need strong knowledge of the processes, and qualifications prove that: hiring people with these qualifications allows companies to ‘hire blind’ – without meeting the candidates – as the qualification shows that they’ll be competent.”
Alex Shelton, head of telecoms recruitment, Middle East, at UAE consultancy SNS, agrees that CCNP is the hottest networking qualification in the region.
“In networking more than in any other area of ICT, qualifications are essential, a benchmark of how good a candidate is, and employers are very specific about the qualifications they want,” Shelton says.
“For example, if they are looking for someone with CCNP, then they will only consider candidates who have that certification on their CV. No-one else will do. However, employers also realise the importance of experience: a qualification in isolation is not enough.”
This point certainly rings true with one anonymous, jaundiced senior IT consultant, who says that whenever anyone gets too enthusiastic or insistent about qualifications, he tells them to look down on the streets of Dubai. Thousands of people clearly have a driving qualification – otherwise they wouldn’t be on the road. But how many of them actually have the skills to drive? When it comes to networking, he says he always looks at the experience rather than the qualification, because it’s so much harder to replicate than a certificate; a seasoned IT manager will always do due diligence on candidates’ claimed qualifications.
“In a region where technical skills in the IT sector are hard to find, I believe a number of fundamental soft skills are often highly-valued – sometimes, more so than with a candidate who may have a list of technical experience that matches what the company asks for in its job description, but does not have the capacity to ‘think outside the box’,” says Khaled Hawas, head of technology service and delivery at outsourcing company eHosting DataFort.
“For candidates who are already equipped with technical qualifications and are geared to move their way up the organisation’s ladder, it is important that they have the ability to apply technological experience and knowledge into a business application.”
Hawas agrees with the strong reputation of Cisco and Microsoft’s certifications, but says more generic qualifications are also highly relevant. Employers are looking for candidates who are able to wear the hats of the IT nerd and the business-savvy entrepreneur, he says.
“To put it into practice, they need to understand how networks are configured, how computers can be debugged, and how servers can be synced up with new mobile technology on the one hand, while being able to provide sound advice to their team on new application trends with the other,” he says.
Hawas says there are four ideal qualifications that will prepare candidate for this brave new world: CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, the vendor’s highest level of certification); MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional, which offers complete expertise in the Windows environment); a professional Project Management certification, which will allow them to perform risk management and focus on customer satisfaction as much as technical expertise; and VCP (VMware Certified Professional), which offers lab experience in preparation for a future likely to be strongly focused on virtualisation.
“Having a balance of both experience and technical expertise would make the ideal candidate since, without a basic understanding of technology, it would be difficult to grasp concepts of how things work together,” he says.