Standing out from the IT admin crowd

By Julia Anderson, assistant site editor

If VMware's slew of new virtualization certifications is any indication, the virtualization industry is highly competitive, and staying marketable as an IT administrator is increasingly demanding. But you don't even need to follow vendor trends to know keeping current with technology is paramount to job security. Many companies are still closely monitoring tight budgets; they not only want to get the most bang for their buck out of hardware and software, but from employees as well.

Earning virtualization certifications is a popular way to keep up with technology trends, compete with peers and embellish resumes. The certificates often help IT admins stand out from the crowd of other job applicants and increase their salaries. These are not universal truths, however. IT pros do not see eye-to-eye when it comes to the value of becoming a certified administrator, and as more of your peers become certified, the playing field starts to level off once again.

Nevertheless, these certificates still carry weight among much of the virtualization industry. What's more, they're not the only way to prove yourself as an IT admin. Gaining a broader knowledge base, which may include general IT certificates and experience with trending technologies, such as virtual network security, could be just as beneficial as becoming a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer.

Whether you're an experienced IT admin looking to further advance your career, or are just starting out in the virtualization industry, this guide will help you determine the best way to stay competitive.

Table of contents:

Choosing the VMware certification that's right for you

Once you've decided to pursue a VMware certification, the easy part is over. Now that VMware has expanded its virtualization certifications into both level of difficulty and virtualization specialization area, you can choose cloud, data center virtualization, end user computing or cloud application platform. Each certification could have a big payout, but each one also requires a big commitment. Do your homework before enrolling in any program to ensure you make the right choice and reap the benefits.

Prepping for the VCP exam

The VMware Certified Professional test is deceiving: You only need 300 of 500 points to pass, and you get 100 points simply for showing up. But the questions have been known to trip up even experienced IT pros. When prepping for the exam, be sure to focus on five main categories and study the VCP blueprint closely. But don't take our word for it -- we asked a VMware Certified Instructor to share his advice.

Alternative virtualization certification options

VMware Inc. recently unveiled plans to double the number of virtualization certifications it offers to IT pros. That fact, coupled with the vendor's dominance of the virtualization industry, often overshadows the alternative virtualization certifications available to admins. Though Microsoft doesn't yet offer a Hyper-V specific certification, virtualization is part of both the Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) programs.

Red Hat Inc. also offers its own virtualization certification that differs from the others in both cost and design.

A few general IT certifications exist, but as yet, there is no independent, industry-wide virtualization certification. If you work with a specific platform, passing that certification exam will further your understanding and prove your prowess to peers and employers. If you're simply looking to augment your resume, you have a multitude of virtualization certifications to choose from that can make you more marketable in the industry.

Are virtualization certifications worth the effort?

Many IT professionals, experienced or not, find applying to jobs a harrowing experience. You agonize over how to help yourself stand out from the crowd of applicants. Racking up virtualization certifications may seem like a sure-fire way to add depth to your resume, but will they guarantee you a place on the payroll? Before you dive into potentially costly classes and exams, read what some of our server virtualization experts have to say about the real value of getting certified in virtualization technologies.

Should you become a certified virtualization admin?

Virtualization certifications may be a requirement in some organizations, but not all administrators agree about how important or necessary they are. Successfully passing a certification exam can mean salary and billing rate increases. As exam popularity has increased, however, more and more IT pros have become certified. Though a certificate proves you are able to obtain and retain knowledge at a given time, is it a replacement for experience? We found two IT pros with comparable years in the industry and conflicting views on the subject.

Creative ways to boost skill sets

IT departments with virtual data centers want an employee base with strong virtualization skill sets. To manage a virtual infrastructure, you and your team need to stay up-to-date with technology changes. Earning a virtualization certification is only one way to stay on trend. Our Advisory Board offers advice on other methods you can use to stay relevant in the virtualization industry.

Determining your worth in today's virtualization industry

There's no getting around it: Many virtualization certification programs are pricey. Fortunately, adding a certification to your resume often translates to a salary increase. As much as companies value in-demand skill sets, however, they are still wary of investment and highly conscious of budgets. It's important to realize that your virtualization certification will pay for itself over time, but there are also other things you can do to make yourself more marketable.

Other certifications to consider

As virtualization creeps into more data centers, more admins are opting for virtualization certifications. Capitalizing on the trend, vendors have increased the size and scope of their certificate offerings. As virtualization spreads to encompass all facets of IT, however, admins may also need additional general IT certifications to keep up with technology changes and be truly competitive in the industry.