- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Not all IT Training can Lead to a Post-Military Career
by Heidi Russell Rafferty, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by: Vinnell Arabia

The television ads promise success in a hip, fast-growing field – Information Technology (IT).

Just attend a few courses in an “IT Boot Camp” and you can earn an IT certification that will brand you as a highly-desirable candidate and provide you with a big salary and long-term career stability.  But will these IT boot camps help you land a post-military career?

Unfortunately in many of these cases the old adage is accurate – if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

“I find these ads misleading,” says Dr. Bili Mattes, associate provost for strategic markets at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pa. The university partners with the SANS (SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security) Institute in offering boot camps.

“I worry about folks in the military. It’s important they know what they want and that they do their homework, not just listen to the ads on TV. Be sure that it’ll translate into a good credential and that you can actually use it. Don’t assume you’ll get an $80,000 job out of the gate. You probably won’t.”

Get the best return on your investment

IT certifications do help in the job search because they show you have achieved a baseline of industry standards, Mattes says. But boot camps can cost several thousand dollars. Even then you run the chance that your certification will not qualify you for the type of job you desire, she adds.

Ask yourself, “Where are you specifically in your military job and what do you specifically want to get into? There are certifications at all levels, from people who are brand new in IT, to the more sophisticated,” Mattes says.

On the job market front, IT certifications may or may not help you earn more money. Foote Partners, LLC, of Vero Beach, Fla., releases a quarterly IT Skills and Certifications Pay Index. The September 2008 report surveyed 22,000 IT professionals and covered 165 certifications. The firm found that the most valuable certifications were in enterprise architecture, which requires SAP skills.

“Employers are feeling more pain than ever in their search for skilled and experienced SAP talent,” according to David Foote, the firm’s co-founder, CEO and Chief Research Officer.

He added that those who are commanding higher pay have skills in SAP Web Application Server, Production Planning, Business Objects, Quality Management, Strategic Enterprise Management, Product Lifecycle Management, HCM and MDM.

But Foote also reported that “IT certifications are behaving differently.” The survey recorded eight straight quarters of consistently decreasing pay for 165 certifications, with exceptions in a group of security, networking, systems and database certifications, plus a few in architecture and project management areas “that are showing solid pay growth numbers.”

Steps to finding the right certification program

As you search for boot camps that offer certification programs, keep some key things in mind, Mattes says.  First, understand the requirements you need to obtain the certification.  The boot camp may not just involve training and testing, it may also require a certain level of experience.

“There are different levels of certification, also. In the database world, you are a technician, analyst and you go from there. It’s the same thing in the Microsoft world – certain certifications build one on another, from analyst, to engineer, to developer,” Mattes says.

Next, examine the job requirements or ask a recruiter or post liaison which certifications are of most value to your targeted companies.   “You may think a certification for networking would be the best thing, but you might look at several employers and find out that database administration is a better focus,” Mattes says.

Sometimes there are even big differences in certifications offered in the same field. Cisco and GIAC, which both provide information security certification courses, differ in their depth. Cisco’s course is broader, and GIAC’s is more specialized, Mattes says.

You may already have a transferrable credential that is industry-recognized which means you may not even need to go to a boot camp. The 8570 Directive by the Department of Defense says information assurance technologists must have a variety of certifications to ensure that their skills are up to date. Those can easily be applied to jobs at such companies as Martin Marietta, Mattes says.

To ensure that the boot camp is reputable, go to a mainstay source – many colleges and universities offer certifications. If you are a college graduate, start with your alma mater and see if it offers a program. Or, if you know the particular vendor, like Microsoft or Cisco, search its sites for its approved boot camps. You can also check with your post-education coordinator for recommendations.

Timing is everything

The worst mistake you can make is to assume you can achieve a certification in a few days. Start the process a few months before your military exit date, Mattes advises.

Duration and costs of boot camps differ based on the type of certification and level of specialization, Mattes says. Sometimes the certification preparation training is not set up in boot-camp style but is done over a period of months. “Get started as soon as possible. Don’t assume it’ll be a week, where you sit down and take the test and be certified.” She adds you also will be required to complete a significant amount of self study after a boot camp.

Program costs also vary widely. Those offered in Harrisburg usually run five to six days and are very intensive. They normally cost $2,000 to $4,000.  Some employers, such as many defense contractors may pay boot camp costs, but plan in advance so that you will have the money in case there are no grants or scholarship programs, Mattes says.

There are many areas to consider when researching a career in IT and the certifications that the industry requires.  But the most important is whether or not an IT boot camp can help you secure your post-military career?

Freelancer Heidi Russell Rafferty is a reporter with 19 years of experience, who writes about employment and business issues.


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