IT professionals can pursue several different educational and experiential paths to achieve IT leadership roles. However, it’s not always clear to someone early in their career how they can set themselves up for future opportunities. While many paths forward in an IT career start with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a relevant field, the people who tend to progress most quickly into leadership roles are those who find relevant hands-on experience and certification opportunities.
Certifications help IT professionals demonstrate applied skillsets in niche subject matter and build concrete evidence of their growth-oriented goals. If you’re interested in building out a plan for your future technology career, review this sample IT certification roadmap and learn how a certification strategy helps you round out both IT and leadership skills.
Also read: Which IT Certifications Are Worth Getting?
IT certification roadmap visual
There is no right or wrong way to map out your IT certification journey, especially if you develop a balanced set of skills through your chosen coursework. If you’re unsure where to start, the sample roadmap below gives an overview of specific milestones you might work toward. Consider using this sample roadmap and the explanations below to guide your planning process.
Start with basic comprehensive IT certifications
Whether you have several years of formal technology education or are coming from a less technical educational background, your IT certification roadmap needs to start with the fundamentals. Comprehensive beginner certifications help you develop a basic grasp on a variety of IT concepts, and more importantly, they help you determine if IT is a good career fit.
Our sample roadmap shows an IT professional who has decided to start with CompTIA ITF+, one of the most popular entry-level IT certifications that helps you determine if a technology career is right for you. Some other top foundational certifications include:
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Focus on an IT specialization
Now that you’ve completed some foundational IT certifications, it’s a good idea to determine your specific technology passions. Perhaps your formal educational background makes you a clear candidate for a certain IT specialization, or maybe your first round of certifications introduced you to an interest you want to explore further. Consider focusing your next round of certifications on the IT specialization you’ve identified. Discipline-specific IT certifications will help you to develop more strategic knowledge to become a subject matter expert.
In our sample roadmap, the IT professional is interested in pursuing an IT career focused on cybersecurity. They have decided to study for the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) certification, a certification that focuses on the lawful application of hacker tactics for determining computer vulnerabilities. Other commonly pursued cybersecurity certifications include CompTIA Security+, Certified Information Security Manager (CISM), and Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), which is often considered the most prestigious security certification.
Learn more about security certifications: IT Security Certifications You Need Today
Become a platform expert
Now that you know more about the skillsets and tasks that interest you most, find top platforms and companies that focus on your IT specialization. In many cases, these vendors offer specialized certifications for their platform solutions.
In our roadmap sample, the IT professional knows that Cisco is a widely recognized networking and security company. They’ve decided to move forward with the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification, which emphasizes network security knowledge-building. This individual now understands how their cybersecurity knowledge applies to a specific IT ecosystem and will be able to use that deeper understanding when companies want Cisco experience from their employees.
Look for project management certifications
Middle managers and executive leaders alike need project management skills to move IT projects forward. Project management is a complex discipline that equally focuses on product development, agility, and change management, and many different organizations have released certification paths to help technologists sharpen this difficult skill.
The IT professional in our roadmap has decided to start with Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), which is considered a beginner or intermediate project management certification. Many professionals choose to follow this certification with Project Management Professional (PMP) to develop more advanced PM experience.
Find tools to support your project management goals: Best Agile Project Management Tools
Bolster your weakest IT skillset
To progress beyond specialist roles into IT leadership roles, you’ll need to prove your abilities outside of that specialization. Let’s say you’ve done a lot of work on security, like our sample IT professional, but maybe you’re not as comfortable with other aspects of the cloud infrastructure you’ll be managing. It might be valuable to bolster your skills with a cloud or infrastructure certification like AWS Certified Solutions Architect or AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner. The three largest cloud providers—AWS, Google, and Microsoft Azure—all offer different cloud certifications that could be valuable to an aspiring leader who wants to learn more.
Learn more from Datamation: 10 Top Cloud Computing Certifications
Find business and leadership development opportunities
IT leaders need skills beyond IT expertise. They’re not just managing the daily functions of business technologies; now, they’re also managing people and strategic initiatives for the greater organization. IT professionals who don’t demonstrate these greater leadership qualities are less likely to move from a task-driven team role to a strategy-driven leadership role.
To increase your business acumen and interpersonal skills for management, consider a management certification like the one our sample IT professional has selected: AMA Certified Professional in Management. At this point in your career, take the opportunity to find one or several certifications that teach and test the leadership skills that matter most to your company’s business model and culture.
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Choosing the right IT certifications for you
Although the IT certification path illustrated above is a viable way to move toward IT leadership roles, these certifications may not be the best fit for the specific leadership role you want. Whether you’re interested in becoming a CIO, a CISO, a CTO, or some other kind of tech executive, use a framework like this one to guide your certification plan, address your skill gaps, and increase your knowledge of what it takes to achieve an IT leadership role.
Read next: 7 Best IT Certifications