How to Determine Which CompTIA Certification Path Is Right for Me

CompTIA is a leading creator of certifications for the IT industry, offering fourteen in total. Certifications are a great way to demonstrate the skills you have and stand out from other candidates for jobs in tech. With so many to choose from, though, it’s easy to be left wondering which certifications would be helpful to earn and in which order.

Fortunately, CompTIA has grouped its certifications into pathways you can follow as you build your career. That still might leave you wondering, however, which CompTIA certification path makes the most sense for you. 

We’re going to help you answer that question by giving you an overview of CompTIA’s certification pathways and five questions you can ask yourself to guide your decision.

 

What Are CompTIA Certification Pathways?

CompTIA created its certification pathways to make it easy to know which certifications you should earn, and in which order, to move forward along a career path in a particular area in IT. 

Some certifications function as entry points — in other words, earning them forms the basic qualification to get an entry-level job — while others are designed to assess the knowledge you have gained after perhaps several years of experience on the job.

Each of the pathways draws from CompTIA’s set of fourteen certifications, so it will be useful to start with a brief overview of what they cover and then describe the pathways that are built from them.

 

Which Certifications Does CompTIA Offer?

Certifications are earned by completing an examination designed to assess both skills and knowledge in a particular area. Here’s a list with a brief description of each of the ones CompTIA offers.

  • ITF+: The most basic certification, IT Fundamentals+ covers beginner-level knowledge about IT topics.
  • A+: A common first certification for careers in IT, A+ assesses foundational knowledge in the main areas of the field.
  • Network+: This is the foundational certification for everything related to networks.
  • Security+: This certifies knowledge of best practices and core concepts in cybersecurity.
  • Cloud+: Earning this certification demonstrates the knowledge and skills needed to implement and maintain cloud computing solutions.  
  • Linux+: Linux is an operating system used for most servers and is important in IT infrastructure. This certification shows competence with this essential OS.
  • Server+: This certification is earned by demonstrating the technical skills and knowledge needed for installing and managing servers.
  • CySA+: The Cybersecurity Analyst certification is an advanced certification in cybersecurity focused on cutting-edge techniques to prevent, detect, and address security threats.
  • CASP+: The CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner certification shows that the holder possesses the skills necessary for the most senior positions in cybersecurity. 
  • PenTest+: Another advanced certification in cybersecurity, it assesses competence in performing simulated cyberattacks on an organization’s systems to test the adequacy of the security measures in place.
  • Data+: An introductory certification, it assesses basic abilities to process, analyze, and visualize data. 
  • Project+: This certification validates basic skills in project management. 
  • CTT+: The Certified Technical Trainer certification can be earned by instructors to show their professional competence.
  • Cloud Essentials+: Designed for professionals who might not have technical expertise in IT, this certification demonstrates the basic knowledge needed to make informed business decisions about cloud computing resources.


That’s a lot of certifications. Keep reading to find out how they fit together into coherent career pathways.

 

Which Pathways Are Available?

Something that can be a bit confusing is that CompTIA has created two slightly different versions of its certification pathways. One is focused on an area of IT while the other is focused on a particular job in that sector. 

While there is a lot of overlap between the two, one key difference is that the job-focused pathways also include recommendations for certifications offered by other vendors, like IBM or Cisco. For that reason, here we’ll stick to the certification pathways oriented around a particular domain in IT and made up entirely of CompTIA certifications. 

For each, we’ll start with a brief description of the pathway and then list the recommended certifications in the order they should be earned.

Core Skills

Description: As the name suggests, this set of certifications is designed to attest to basic competence in the key areas of IT. 

Certifications

  • ITF+
  • A+
  • Network+
  • Security+

Infrastructure

Description: These certifications are focused on the skills and knowledge needed to manage the components of IT infrastructure.

Certifications:

  • ITF+
  • A+
  • Network+
  • Security+
  • Server+ and/or Linux+
  • Cloud+

Cybersecurity

Description: The skills assessed here equip you to protect an organization from threats to its IT systems and data.

Certifications:

  • ITF+
  • A+
  • Network+
  • Security+
  • PenTest+ and/or CYSA+
  • CASP+

Data & Analytics

Description: The modern workplace relies upon drawing actionable insights from data to make informed decisions. This assesses basic abilities in this domain.

Certification:

  • Data+

Professional

Description: The certifications in this path assess non-technical abilities that can be helpful as you advance in a career in IT.

Certifications:

  • Project+
  • Cloud Essentials+
  • CTT+


Now that we’ve covered CompTIA’s certifications and the career pathways they have created to organize them into useful groups, we can turn to the key question. How can you decide which of these certification pathways may be right for you?

 

How to Choose a CompTIA Certification Path

We can narrow down the options by first making an observation. The Professional pathway isn’t really a set of certifications you can earn to build a career in a particular area. Instead, it is a group of three certifications that could serve as useful supplements for someone pursuing a career in one of the other domains.

Another of these, Data & Analytics, consists of just one certification. It is a path of a single step. As such, it may serve as a good first credential for those who want to focus on analytics or supplement their career with basic competence in this area. Like the Professional path, however, it doesn’t constitute a set of certifications that trace a recognizable career journey.

So that leaves three true career pathways: Core, Infrastructure, and Cybersecurity. Here are five questions that can help you narrow that down to one.

1. What area are you most interested in? When you pick a field that interests and even excites you, you’re going to do better work and find it easier to maintain motivation over the long haul. 

2. What are you best at? Take an honest look at your abilities. You’ll be happier in your job when you feel confident about your capacity to do it well. Are you, for instance, a numbers person who delights in minute details and analytics? Or are you a people person who excels at teaching, helping, and communicating with others?

3. Which particular jobs appeal to you? Take some time to explore the kinds of jobs available in each of these areas. For example, Core certifications could lead to work as an IT Technician and the Infrastructure pathway provides credentials for positions like Network Specialist. (We mentioned above that CompTIA has a version of career pathways focused on particular jobs. They provide some useful information about how the certifications we’ve been discussing connect to specific positions in IT.)

4. What are your income goals? Some areas within IT pay better than others. According to salary data from Indeed, the average pay at the time of writing for an IT Technician was $67,345, while the average for a Network Specialist was $61,222. The average for a Cybersecurity Analyst was $107,320.

5. Do you have any relevant experience? Your experience is important for two reasons. One, it can form part of your qualifications that might make it easier for you to move forward in one area rather than another. Moreover, reflecting on your experience can give you valuable information related to questions one and two above.

You might need to take some time with these questions and investigate further to find out about things like the kinds of roles available, the pay, and the competitiveness for each of these areas. Hopefully, though, you are much closer to figuring out which CompTIA certification path makes the most sense for you.

 

How to Get Started on Your Journey

Something you may have noticed about the Core, Infrastructure, and Cybersecurity pathways is that they share a set of certifications in common, specifically, the ITF+, A+, Network+, and Security+. In other words, whichever pathway you select, CompTIA recommends you start with these certifications as your foundation.

If you are a complete novice to the world of computing, preparing for the CompITF+ can be a useful grounding in the big picture. If you’re like most people, however, you have been using computing technology for years and are already familiar with the basics. You should probably begin with the CompTIA A+.

The great thing about the A+ certification is that it is one of the most widely-recognized credentials in the industry. You can use it to launch your career in IT with an entry-level position. As you gain experience and knowledge on the job, you can earn further certifications in the career direction that most appeals to you. 

No matter which certification path you’re considering, then, the CompTIA A+ is the place to begin. We have built the IT Ready Technical Support (online) program to give you everything you need to pass the certification exam and to develop the kinds of soft skills employers are looking for. You’ll also receive expert support in finding your first IT job and get connected to a network of graduates already working in the field.

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