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Your guide to desktop support certifications

There are many different certifications from Microsoft, Apple and other vendors. Admins can use these certs to validate their skills and make themselves more marketable to hiring IT shops.

Today's desktop administrators must combine traditional installation, configuration, support and account management skills with networking, virtualization and mobility know-how, and there are many certifications that help prove those skills.

Operating systems can go through several upgrade cycles where the enhancements seem fairly minor, and then out of nowhere a huge leap in technology drastically alters the playing field. The last major desktop-related milestones were the addition of touchscreen technology, the integration of mobile OSes into many IT shops and the creation of unified accounts across endpoints -- and those are all important topics for IT admins to stay up on.

There are many different types and levels of certifications that IT administrators can get to validate their skills, including certifications for Windows, Apple, Linux and Red Hat. Admins working in virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) shops can benefit from earning certifications in virtualization, too.

How Windows 10 will affect desktop support certifications

Many Windows 7 and 8.1 users can upgrade to Windows 10 for free, so a lot of people will likely end up using the OS. As a result, IT shops are going to be looking for qualified folks to support Microsoft's newest OS.

Candidates for the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) and Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) certifications can expect new certifications on Windows 10 or new questions in existing exams beginning in fall 2015. Some MCSA and MCSE certification tracks will test candidates' knowledge of all facets of desktop administration skills, including networking, mobility and -- to a lesser degree -- virtualization.

Perhaps more important to test-takers, Microsoft Learning announced that proctored exams for all Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) and MTA certs will be available online. Candidates can take a Microsoft exam at home, at their convenience, rather than heading to a nearby testing center. Either way, if they fail an MCP exam on the first try, they can take it again for free through Microsoft's Second Shot program (MTA exams are not part of the offer). The current program runs through January 12, 2016.

Linux, Red Hat and Apple desktop support certifications

For Linux aficionados, the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) offers four certifications (LPIC): Essentials, LPIC-1, LPIC-2 and LPIC-3. The Essentials certification is for true Linux operating system newbies -- it's on basic commands and foundational concepts -- and the LPICs start with basic system administration and move up to enterprise support.

Unlike most other IT certifications, LPI certs are valid for five years. Considering the longevity, relatively low price per exam (either $110 or $183), lack of training requirements and the universality of the certifications, achieving LPI certification offers a decent return on investment.

Red Hat offers a broader series of certifications and certificates, which focus on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution. The company's popular Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA) validates intermediate administration skills, such as system implementation and maintenance, local storage configuration, user and group management and more. Red Hat requires training and one performance-based exam to achieve the RHCSA.

On the Apple front, Macintosh OS X certifications have all transitioned from Maverick to Yosemite. Apple's certification offerings for the desktop include the Apple Certified Associate in Mac Management Basics 10.10 and Mac Integration 10.10. Apple Certified Support Professional 10.10. OS X certification recognizes the ability to incorporate OS X into a Windows-based or other network, manage a network comprised of OS X systems, and support users in those environments.

Hardware folks might be interested in the Apple Certified Mac Technician certification, which validates skills in troubleshooting and repairing Mac desktops and laptops, as well as troubleshooting common Mac OS X issues.

Preparing for virtualization

Some desktop administrators need to bring together traditional desktop knowledge with the skills to implement and support desktop virtualization platforms, such as those from VMware, Citrix and others. A desktop virtualization platform delivers Windows, Linux or Mac OS X desktop images from the data center to endpoints. Although many large shops with bigger budgets separate physical desktop administration from VDI implementation, that's not always the case. Good certification choices for admins in VDI shops include:

  • VMware Certified Associate - Desktop and Mobility (VCA6-DTM)
  • VMware Certified Professional - Desktop and Mobility (VCP6-DTM)
  • Citrix Certified Associate - Virtualization (CCA - V)
  • Citrix Certified Professional - Virtualization (CCP - V)

Overall, a desktop administration certification is a great way for anyone to start in IT, or to validate skills and knowledge while moving up the certification ladder and segueing to server or networking administration.

Next Steps

A 10-year plan for a successful IT career

Prepare yourself to administer VDI desktops

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Changes on the horizon for Microsoft certification path

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A guide to vendor-neutral security centertifications

This was last published in September 2015

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Which certifications are most valuable to your job as a desktop admin?
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I am starting to think this industry has gone certification crazy. When I graduated college back in the early 80's there were little if any.. Now it seems if you touch a computer you can get a certification course for it. Are these any better that a college/university degree ? Which is business most concerned you have ? 
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