With technology never standing still, it's crucial to keep up with the latest IT qualifications - discover the leading professional certifications and how they can be achieved by taking a relevant IT course

A degree or apprenticeship will get your foot in the door as you begin your information technology (IT) career, but gaining additional knowledge through postgraduate study, a short course or online learning is a great way to keep up with the most recent developments in technology.

This is especially important as employers in the IT industry generally expect candidates to have professional certifications to show their expertise in particular programming languages, software packages or methodologies.

After graduating, consider gaining some highly regarded industry certifications, such as those from non-profit industry bodies like CompTIA and (ISC)2, which demonstrate your technical skills to potential employers.

Agile for IT project management

To find a job in IT project management, you don't need a Masters degree, but it's a good idea to gain professional qualifications in the best practice methodologies used in the industry. The most popular of these is Agile.

Agile courses are available throughout the UK, such as through BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT. The foundation level certificate is assessed through a one-hour multiple-choice exam, while to achieve practitioner status you'll need to complete a three-hour written scenario-based test.

Training towards the exam is offered by BCS-accredited providers. Foundation-level courses typically take three days of classroom-based learning, cost around £1,000 and have no specific entry requirements.

Meanwhile, BCS also offers Agile Scrum courses for project managers and others interested in implementing Agile practices across their organisation.

Other project management certifications available from online training providers include PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) Agile courses for those who already use the PRINCE2 methodology for managing their projects.

Learn more about the role of a project manager and discover how to become a project manager.

Cisco certifications

Providing the most popular certifications for network engineers, market-leading technology firm Cisco offers four different technology pathways depending on where you're up to in your career.

These are the four main levels of Cisco certification:

  • Entry - Cisco Certified Technician (CCT).
  • Associate - Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), CyberOps Associate, DevNet Associate.
  • Professional - Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Enterprise, CyberOps Professional, DevNet Professional.
  • Expert - Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless, DevNet Expert.

The CCT certification demonstrates you have the skills to carry out onsite support and maintenance of Cisco networking devices. The short modules prepare you for higher level qualifications, for which you'll need more experience. The exams are taken online.

Find out more about Cisco certifications at The Cisco Learning Network.

Meanwhile, if you're a network engineer looking for a certification that's globally recognised but not provided by a particular IT firm for its own products, consider the CompTIA Network+ qualification.

Cloud computing courses

If you're interested in becoming an expert in cloud computing, one option is to take a postgraduate course. You'll first need to have studied computer science or a related subject at undergraduate level, although applicants with relevant professional experience may also be considered.

Masters programmes typically take one year to complete when studied full time, and course fees are generally between £5,000 and £12,000 for UK students. For example, the full-time MSc Cloud Computing at the University of East London involves one year of study followed by an industrial placement, which also lasts for a year. The course costs £10,320 plus a placement fee of £3,500.

Search for cloud computing courses.

While this will give you a strong grounding in the topic, recruiters look for candidates with an understanding of the specific cloud platform their company uses. Therefore, working towards professional qualifications may be the best way to develop your skills, especially if you aren't interested in the research element of postgraduate study or are put off by the cost.

Online or short courses lasting one to three days usually cost hundreds (rather than thousands) of pounds. To see what's available, visit the training websites of major cloud providers, including:

Cyber security courses

For those who want to work in a cyber security analyst role, further study and professional qualifications in cyber security are available.

In most cases, postgraduate courses at UK universities take one year to complete if studied full time. Entry requirements tend to include a degree in a computing-related subject, but your application may be considered if you can demonstrate your interest in cyber security through work experience. Masters-level study will prepare you for a career in the industry or further study in the form of a PhD.

Search for postgraduate courses in cyber security.

The UK intelligence agency GCHQ, through its National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), certifies a number of Masters and Bachelors courses. By successfully completing an accredited programme, this will help you to stand out when applying for jobs.

Once you begin your career, gaining professional qualifications will enable you to progress. For example, the NCSC offers its Certified Professional (CCP) assured service at practitioner, senior practitioner and lead practitioner levels. This is the UK government's approved standard for cyber security professionals.

There are six pathways for different job roles:

  • IA accreditor
  • Security and information risk advisor (SIRA)
  • IA architect
  • IA auditor
  • IT security officer
  • Communications security officer.

You can find out more, including entry requirements, fees, assessment and how to apply, by visiting BCS - NCSC CCP Scheme, a licenced provider of the certification.

Alternatively, a range of cyber security certifications are available from (ISC)2, an international membership association for industry professionals.

Another widely recognised qualification is the CompTIA Security+ certification. You can study this and other CompTIA courses through an accredited learning provider such as ITonlinelearning.

Read more about cyber security training.

ITIL 4 for IT service management

A career in IT service management (ITSM) is about ensuring an organisation's IT services are delivered effectively, efficiently and reliably to customers.

In addition to a degree in an IT-related subject, employers expect you to have, or be willing to work towards, professional qualifications.

The most popular and globally recognised best practice certification in this area is ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) 4 from Axelos.

ITIL certifications are available at foundation, managing professional and strategic leader levels, with two extension modules available to prepare you for the future. The ITIL 4 exams can be taken in the UK through an approved training provider.

ITIL 4 may prove useful for IT technical support officers and information systems managers.

Learn to code

If you want to work as an applications developer, you'll need qualifications that demonstrate your ability to code. Employers look for at least an HND (Higher National Diploma), foundation degree or a degree in IT, computer science or a related subject.

The key to becoming a software developer is to learn and practice one or more of the most in-demand programming languages, including:

  • C#
  • C++
  • iOS/Swift
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby
  • SQL.

You can get started with coding courses using a free learning platform such as Codecademy.

Once you've secured an entry-level job, you may want to work towards professional qualifications, such as Oracle's Java certifications.

Postgraduate courses are available, particularly in the rapidly growing field of mobile app development. On these programmes you'll learn about programming for Android, iOS and HTML5 for the mobile web, and get hands-on practice at developing your own apps.

You'll typically require a degree in computer science or a related subject to get a place on a course, and in some cases, you'll also need to demonstrate existing programming skills.

See below for web development courses. Alternatively, if you're considering becoming a game developer, explore video game careers in greater detail.

Microsoft courses

Products made by Microsoft are used by countless organisations around the globe, and official Microsoft certifications demonstrating expertise in one or more of these are looked on favourably by employers.

Microsoft certification categories are now role-based, with beginner, intermediate and advanced levels available according to the fundamental products required for each learning path. For instance, Azure certifications are linked to job roles such as administrator and developer.

Oracle certifications

Oracle offers globally recognised qualifications in the use of its products through the Oracle University portal.

Oracle is best known for its database software and for owning the Java programming language. The Oracle certification programme includes options for the following exams:

  • Database
  • Engineered Systems
  • Industries
  • Java
  • Middleware
  • MySQL
  • On-Premises Applications
  • Oracle Cloud Customer Experience (CX)
  • Oracle Cloud Enterprise Performance Management (EPM)
  • Oracle Cloud Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
  • Oracle Cloud Human Capital Management (HCM)
  • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI)
  • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Oracle Cloud Supply Chain and Manufacturing (SCM)
  • Oracle Database
  • Servers
  • Storage.

Well respected in the IT industry, Oracle certifications are available at a number of levels, including:

  • Associate - To achieve the foundation and intermediate level of an Oracle Certified Associate, a technical background is required along with an understanding of Oracle technologies. The training will prepare you for roles such as an administrator, developer or data scientist.
  • Professional - Focusing on advanced skills and a strong foundation in Oracle, to attain the Oracle Certified Professional you'll need to be skilled in Oracle concepts and be able to apply these to real-world scenarios. You could use the certification to become a consultant, architect or administrator.
  • Master - Advanced problem-solving skills are expected of those looking to gain the Oracle Certified Master credential and become an administrator. You'll already need to hold multiple certifications as well as boasting a high level of experience in Oracle.

Software testing courses

By finding bugs and other issues through manual and automated tests, software testers ensure that products created by developers are fit for purpose.

Postgraduate study isn't necessary, as launching your career in this area is usually possible with a diploma or degree in a computing-related subject. However, taking professional qualifications will allow you to make further progress and demonstrate your skills to employers.

BCS offers a number of software testing certifications at foundation and higher levels. The foundation qualifications are aimed at anyone involved in software testing or just moving into this field. For the more advanced certifications, it's recommended you first undertake the ISTQB Certified Tester Foundation as well as accredited training.

Web development courses

When looking to become a web developer, you'll need to decide on an area of specialisation and the programming language(s) you'll focus on.

Working on front-end code like HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS will give you the basic knowledge of website structures, but you'll likely want to move on to back-end languages such as Python and Ruby on Rails. To get started you may wish to consider the Front-End Web Developer Professional Certificate from W3Cx.

If you're more concerned with the aesthetics and usability of a website, you could take a web design course. There are many online course providers offering introductions to this field.

There's some overlap with the marketing sector, so discover how to get into digital marketing.

Online IT courses

Once you know which IT certification you want to work towards, you can take online (as well as classroom-based) courses to get up to speed with the theoretical knowledge you'll need to pass the exams. These typically take one to five days to complete. Exams are often multiple-choice and last one to two hours.

Your employer may be willing to fund these IT training courses. The fees may include the cost of taking the exam itself, or you may have to pay for the assessment separately through the official provider. Be sure to check this before committing.

Both free and paid-for online courses in IT are available throughout the UK with organisations such as:

Find out more

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