This post is part three to Why We Love Continuing Education and Certifications and How I Study for IT Certification Exams

There’s a genre of movie that’s usually predictable, sometimes corny, but always endearing.  These are the movies where a group of misfit kids are put together on a sports team with a coach who’s a has-been or out of his/her element.  At first the team drowns in their weaknesses and they are the joke of the league.  They lose over and over again until somehow they learn what their individual strengths are, and that they can rely on each other.  Eventually they overcome huge odds to best the braggartly star team and win the final big game!

Every IT team has its players and positions.  One of the jobs of a leader is to organize the team in the best way possible to so that the end-users they support are empowered by technology to be successful in their work.  Determining and filling the positions is only the start.  Every tech should be on a path of continuing education that will help them serve their clients more efficiently.

Our team mostly supports Microsoft, Cisco, Fortinet, and VMware, so our cert path is geared for those vendors.  The following sections outline our teams and the certs that we encourage for those teams.  Your organization is different, so tell us in the comments what is important to you and what certs you find valuable.

Service Desk / Reactive Services

There’s no team more critical than the one that handles inbound requests from end-users.  They show up everyday, put on their capes and rescue clients that can’t do their work.  These techs need to work fast, which means they need to clearly understand IT fundamentals.  Clients can tell when they’re talking to someone that doesn’t know how to solve the problem and this will frustrate them.

The A+ certification is often referenced as the very first cert that someone should obtain in order to get their foot in the door.  I personally skipped over it due to my lifelong experience of working on computers. Every member of the team should already know the components of a computer and how to troubleshoot hardware, so we typically ignore this cert.

  1. Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate
    Instead we start with a Windows desktop cert.  Microsoft has dramatically overhauled their certification program to focus on M365, so the landscape is changing.  Their current desktop certs are MD-100: Windows 10 and MD-101: Managing Modern Desktops.  Combined these create the “Microsoft 365 Certified: Modern Desktop Administrator Associate” certification (what a mouthful)!  These courses will ensure that the finer details of workstation management are covered and will start to delve into leveraging policies for consistency.
  2. Network+
    A good frontline troubleshooter should also have a strong comprehension of networking.  The Network+ is a great place to start, but often we encourage techs to dive right in to the CCNA because it combines network fundamentals with hands on know-how.


Escalation Tiers

When problems are escalated, it’s necessary to have specialists that are experts in specific technologies or disciplines.

  1. Cisco CCNA
    At this level we consider the CCNA as a must-have for most techs.  The network fundamentals, plus the hand-on training make this one of the best introductory certs.
  2. Fortinet NSE4
    We are big fans of Fortinet firewalls, so we turn to their Network Security Expert (NSE) courses.  The NSE4 focuses on basic operation and troubleshooting of Fortigate firewalls and is the place to start for someone wanting to learn Fortigate.
  3. 3CX Certification Program
    We work on many 3CX phone systems and 3CX has their own online training courses.  Their Basic, Intermediate and Advanced certifications build on each other to ensure that the learner has a thorough understanding of the basics of SIP and the operation and troubleshooting of the 3CX cloud phone system.
  4. Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert
    Because Microsoft 365 is becoming increasingly more complex, techs that have gone through the MS-100 and MS-101 courses are good to have on the team.  Those courses cover managing identity, devices, and security.  Combined they create the Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert cert.
  5. VMware VCTA
    For virtualization needs, the VMware Certified Technical Associate (VCTA) covers managing vSphere solutions.

Project Team

These techs need to be able to implement solutions from scratch and be experts in migrating from legacy systems.  This team should posses advanced certifications because there isn’t another escalation tier!

  1. Cisco CCNP
    For networking the CCNP is the best track I know of and is one of my favorite courses of all time!  The materials will level-up the learner in routing and switching.
  2. Fortinet NSE7
    Unfortunately Fortinet doesn’t teach general networking as well as Cisco does, but the Fortinet NSE7 will teach Fortigate-specific topics for the advanced firewall expert.
  3. Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert
    This cert has many options, but our top pick is MS-203: Microsoft 365 Messaging which is perfect for techs doing Exchange migrations and Exchange Online deployments.
  4. VMware VCP
    For those deploying virtual workloads with vSphere, the VMware Certified Professional VCP materials will have you covered.
  5. LPIC-1
    For those specializing in Linux, the Linux Professional Institute courses ensure expertise in the open source OSes.
  6. MCSA / MCSE
    Yes we know they are retired, but there are still loads of on-prem Active Directory workloads and these courses cover all the bases!
  7. SSCA
    This vendor-agnostic cert from the SIP School will teach all things VoIP and how to troubleshoot voice issues.


Strategy Team

The techs on the strategy team need to be able to translate business needs into technical solutions.  They perform gap-analysis reviews, risk assessments and assist in creating policies.  Although some work is administrative, there is still a good portion of technical work involved and so certs aren’t off the table!

  1. CCNA
    Notice a theme?  We like this cert!
  2. Security+
    This course doesn’t cover hands-on technical material but does introduce the learner to best security practices in IT.
  3. CISSP
    This cert is the big brother to the Security+.  Much of the material is the same, only deeper in depth and wider in scope.  There also isn’t any hands-on technical material in the CISSP.
  4. Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert
    M365 user identity and roles are covered in this course.

Closing Tips

This list isn’t 100% comprehensive, nor is it etched in stone.  Cert programs change regularly and technology will always keep moving.  Certs can also go to higher levels than what we’ve listed.  If you have a budding CCIE or Solutions Architect then you’ll need to determine if your team’s workload is large enough to require the specialized depth that comes with top-end certs.

Here are a few tips to help your team succeed in continuing education:

  • Unless you really need a specific cert for a vendor partnership, allow the techs to choose their own path.  Learning is more fun and more likely to get done if they’re interested in the material.
  • Pay for the training materials and the exams.  Don’t let those minor costs be the obstacle holding your team back.  CBT Nuggets and/or PluralSight are worth the investment.
  • Make certs part of your culture.  You might say, “but if they get this cert then they’ll just pad their resume and go work somewhere else!”  True that might happen, but isn’t your team better off being well educated and visionary than ignorant and stuck?  Better educated techs are better techs!
  • Celebrate the victories!  When a team member passes an exam, treat the group to lunch or let them take possession of the office cert crown.  Their knowledge is going to be a benefit to the entire team and that should be recognized.
  • As a leader, don’t ignore continuing education.  Perhaps you’re not in the trenches anymore, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of learning opportunities.  Find something that interests you and show the team that you’re still willing to learn!

Your IT team might have weaknesses, but they can be overcome!  Best of luck to you as you and your team take the field each day, train regularly, and rely on each other.  Go team!

Bonus points if you can identify all of the misfit kid sports movies on this page!  What movies are missing?