10 Most Difficult IT Certifications

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What makes an IT certification valuable? The value placed on individual certifications is driven primarily by market needs, including what technologies are hot and how common is the certification.

Another factor is market perception as to how difficult the certification is to obtain, the requisite experience, the difficulty of the certification exams, and the duration of the certification process.

We did an informal review to identify the IT certifications that are viewed as difficult to attain. We found that cloud computing, virtualization, and security were all well represented, as well as project management. So let’s look at the 10 toughest IT certifications to obtain and the CBT Nuggets training courses that can help you prepare for the certification exams.

Ten Tough Certifications

10. Certified Associate in Project Management

This credential, granted by the Project Management Institute, is designed for newer project managers who can demonstrate an understanding of the basics, terminology, and processes of effective project management.

Candidates must have at least 1,500 hours of project management experience, or 23 credit hours of project management education. The certification is seen as a means for IT professionals to add project management to their technical credentials. The CAPM certification exam is a 3-hour test with 150 multiple choice questions. In order to maintain your certification, you will need to retake the exam every five years.

9. AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate

As more organizations adopt Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), there is increasing need for qualified technicians. Introduced in 2013, the AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Associate is becoming a valuable — and valued — certification. To go for this certification, Amazon recommends that you have at least one year of hands-on experience with AWS, plus knowledge of at least one high-level programming language. AWS certifications are reported to be “challenging” and real-world experience of how AWS services work and interact is essential to passing the certification exam.

The exam is an 80-minute multiple-choice, multiple-answer test, covering four areas: designing highly available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, scalable systems, implementation/deployment, data security and troubleshooting.

8. Cisco Certified Network Professional – Security (CCNP Security)

The certification focuses on the skills related to securing Cisco-based networks, including identity management, authentication, authorization, firewalls, anti-malware programs, and security policy development. Professionals with the CCNP – Security credential are typically employed in IT security groups and systems administration.

Candidates for CCNP – Security must first pass, or have passed, — CCNA – Security exam.

They then must pass four additional exams to obtain their CCNP – Security certificate.

Once you have your CCNP – Security certification, you must recertify every three years.

7. VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV)

This credential is for IT professionals who work in data centers that have moved to, or are transitioning to, private clouds. Candidates for VCP6-DCV certification need a thorough understanding of networking (DNS, routing, database connectivity, etc.), as well as a minimum of six months experience in configuring, deploying, and managing VMware vSphere 6 environments.

Candidates who are new to VMware technology are expected to pass two exams — the vSphere 6 Foundations exam and the VMware Certified Professional 6 – Data Center Virtualization (VCP6-DCV) exam. vSphere 6 Foundations is a 90-minute on-line exam with 65 single and multiple choice questions. The VCP6-DCV exam is a proctored test taken at a local VMware-authorized testing center. This exam is 100-minutes long, with 85 single and multiple choice questions.

VMware certifications are no longer valid for life! You’ll have to recertify every two years by taking the then current exam. — so look forward to vSphere 7 or 8 or maybe 9 in 2018!

6. Certified Information Security Manager (CISM)

The CISM credential is granted by ISACA, an independent, nonprofit, association. CISM is focused primarily on information security management and on professionals such as information security professionals or chief information officers. The CISM certification demonstrates that the holder can develop and manage an information security program in line with the goals of the organization.

Candidates must have five years or more experience in information security management before they take the 4-hour, 200-question exam. The exam focuses on information security governance, information risk management and compliance, information security program development and management, and information security incident management.

If they pass the exam, aspiring CISM candidates must then satisfy subsequent work experience requirements, before they can actually use the CISM credential. But wait! There’s more. In order to maintain the certification, holders are required to take a minimum of 20 hours of continuing professional education per year.

5. Certified Information Systems Auditor (CISA)

This certification, as the name suggests, is targeted at practicing IT auditors, rather than those professionals who are involved in the security of systems, networks, and information. The CISA certification is granted by ISACA, the same body that grants the Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) credential.

CISA candidates must have a minimum of 5 years IT auditing, control, or security experience in order to take the 200 multiple choice question exam. As with CISM, CISA candidates who pass the exam must then satisfy subsequent work experience requirements before they get to display their CISA badge. And, of course, they are required to take a minimum of 20 hours of continuing professional education per year to maintain it.

4. Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)

The CISSP is granted by the non-profit security consortium known as (ISC)2. Whereas the CISM credential is aimed at management professionals, CISSP is more technical and covers a broader and deeper range of topics. Introduced in 1994, the CISSP is a respected, vendor-neutral security certification. Candidates for CISSP would have roles such as security consultants, security auditors/analysts, security managers, network architects, etc.

The certification exam is a monster! It’s six hours long, with 250 questions focused on eight domains: security and risk management; asset security; security engineering; communications and network security; identity and access management; security assessment and testing; security operations; and software development security. But in order to take the exam, you must have worked at least four years as a security professional, and you must subscribe to the (ISC)2 code of ethics. Once you’re a CISSP, you must recertify every three years through at least 120 hours of continuing professional education. And there’s more. You must pay a yearly $85 (USD) fee to maintain your certification.

3. Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert – Private Cloud

With the popularity of Microsoft private cloud computing, Microsoft’s MCSE – Private Cloud is gaining respect as a required credential for server admins, systems programmers and network managers. After reports of cheating on MSCE exams, Microsoft has “raised the bar” by replacing multiple-choice questions with more difficult performance-related scenario questions and also by increasing the number of exams required.

MCSE: Private Cloud candidates must now pass five separate exams and recertify every three years to maintain their private cloud certification.

First they must pass the three exams for MCSA: Windows Server 2012 certification:

Followed by two additional exams to obtain MCSE: Private Cloud certification:

2. Project Management Professional (PMP)

The PMP is another certification granted by the Project Management Institute. They claim that it’s “the gold standard of project management certification” — but maybe they’re biased!

The PMP demands some serious, real-world experience as a project manager before you can even apply to take the certification exam. If you don’t have a four-year degree, you’ll need to have 7,500 hours leading and directing projects, plus 35 hours of project management education! If you are the proud graduate of a four-year school, then you’ll only need 4,500 hours as a project leader or manager and, of course,  35 hours of project management education!

The PMP exam is a 4-hour test with 200 multiple-choice questions that cover the five life-stages of a project: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing. Once you’ve gained your PMP certification, you’ll have to earn 60 professional development units (PDUs) every three years.

1. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)

Here’s our vote for #1 toughest certification! It’s Cisco’s top level certification and a highly valued “badge of competency” in the industry. Less than 3% of Cisco certified engineers obtain the CCIE certification, which translates to less than 1% of the networking professionals worldwide. Certainly, it’s not easy to become a CCIE. And once you become one, you must re-certify every two years or your CCIE will be suspended!

CCIE certifications are available in a number of specialist areas: Collaboration, Data Center, Routing and Switching, Security, Service Provider, and Wireless. Each CCIE certification stands alone. You need to pass a 2-hour, written qualification exam on the specific topic before you proceed to an 8-hour, hands-on lab exam. CCIE Routing and Switching is one of the most popular tracks. Candidates for CCIE Routing and Switching must have in-depth, hands-on knowledge in Infrastructure Services, Network Principles, Layer 2 Technologies, Layer 3 Technologies, VPN Technologies, and Infrastructure Security.

In Conclusion…

Well, we tried our best to rank some of the toughest IT certifications. It’s not easy to compare them, but we tried! What do you think? Is CCIE tougher than PMP? Who’s voting for MCSE: Private Cloud or maybe the CISSP? Let us know! Whichever one gets your vote, CBT Nuggets will have the online training courses to help you clear the certification hurdle!

Start preparing for the hardest tests out there with CBT Nuggets training!