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CompTIA Certification Path: A Comprehensive Roadmap
The CompTIA certification pathway can leave you with a lot of questions. Are you required to follow the order laid out by CompTIA? Do you need all the prior certifications before pursuing the one you’re really after? Is the experience listed truly necessary to write these exams?
These are all fair questions. CompTIA does have a recommended path to establish foundational knowledge before moving into a specialization. In many cases, it’s advisable to follow, though not always necessary.
We’ll break down the pathway, what each certification is about, what careers they prepare you for, and what you really need to know to be ready on exam day.
Overview of the Certification Paths
CompTIA certifications are primarily distinguished by IT segments and skill set. Some are intended for individuals with basic computer knowledge. Others are crafted for professionals with years of experience under their belts.
Certification exams can be taken in any order. However, CompTIA does recommend starting with branches that validate foundational knowledge before moving on to certifications that sharpen your skills in specialized IT fields.
Our CompTIA certification pathway article will examine its four certification programs: Core, Infrastructure, Cybersecurity, and Professional.
Core certifications cover the general bases of the IT field, focusing on areas that include, but are not limited to:
- Computer hardware
- Computer software
- Operating systems
- Cloud computing
- Mobile devices
- IT security
The Core certification program is divided into the following exams:
This entry-level exam validates knowledge of the core tenets of information technology. It covers elementary concepts such as operating systems, everyday software programs, web browsing, and computer security. Designed for individuals with little to no experience, CompTIA ITF+ may be useful in determining if a career in IT is right for you.
It should be noted that if you are comfortable making your own computer setting configurations, basic troubleshooting, setting up a home router or new cell phone, installing and uninstalling software, and updating drivers, you can likely skip this certification.
The next certification goes a step beyond the fundamentals. It covers the ins and outs of a Windows operating system, peripheral devices, network infrastructure, client-side virtualization, and how to safely navigate the web.
While it sticks to the basics, CompTIA A+ examines the aforementioned topics with enough depth to make it one of the most highly sought-after certifications among beginners. Its focus on hardware and operating systems makes it in demand for technical support positions and ones where hardware installation is a key part of the job.
If you’re preparing for this certification, be sure to check out our CompTIA A+ Cheat Sheet. This certification requires passing two separate exams, so study accordingly.
A CompTIA A+ certification will help you land an entry-level position in the IT field. These are typically support positions, such as:
- Technical support agent: Installs hardware and software, monitors IT systems and networks, responds to technical-related customer inquiries, evaluates new technologies, and performs other tasks to keep operations running like a well-oiled machine.
- Field service engineer: Installs and maintains IT-related equipment. Field service engineers require both technical abilities and people skills as they interact with consumers on a regular basis.
- Data support technician: Specializes in collecting, storing, managing, retrieving, and recovering information. Valued for their prowess at handling an organization’s most precious asset, data support technicians are every bit as important as IT managers and senior-level executives.
- End-user computer technician: Carries expert knowledge in installing, managing, updating, and repairing desktop computers and related components. While they may not deal with consumers directly, the hands-on tasks they perform make end-user technicians the front line of the IT support system.
This certification prioritizes the networking component of information technology. It shows you have a grasp of basic networking concepts such as network maintenance, configuration, troubleshooting, and security-related protocols.
There are no eligibility requirements for Network+, but CompTIA suggests a minimum of nine months of validated experience in the IT field.
In most cases, CompTIA’s recommended experience refers to the equivalent knowledge of someone who has worked in that field for the suggested amount of time. For most of the certifications on this list, a strong preparation course and study guide can substitute this recommended experience.
The CompTIA Network+ certification can help you land an entry-level position in the computer networking space. These positions may include:
- Network administrator: Handles configuration, installation, and maintenance of supporting components and other tasks required to manage the network on a day-to-day basis.
- Network analyst: The roles and responsibilities of a network analyst overlap with network administration in many ways. However, they may be required to apply analytical insights that solve problems on the business side in addition to the IT environment. This can include working with hardware vendors and procuring new hardware and software.
- Network support specialist: Provides maintenance and support services that optimize the health and security of the network. Duties may range from addressing customer support queries to implementing measures that safeguard the network from malware and other threats.
If you’re preparing for this exam, be sure to download a free copy of our Network+ Exam Cheat Sheet.
This certification is suited for individuals who are pursuing a career in cyber security. You’ll establish your ability to detect and respond to security attacks, monitor the network for potential threats, evaluate existing security measures, and provide insights that help organizations bolster their security efforts.
Cyber security is critical to every aspect of information technology. As such, the CompTIA Security+ certification can help you land positions in various IT segments, including but not limited to:
- Cyber security technician: Applies their problem-solving skills across the IT environment to improve security stature. They may be responsible for troubleshooting hardware, software, network infrastructure, and other components that could compromise security if not immediately addressed.
- Cyber security consultant: Provides expert guidance to protect organizations from information security threats. Their responsibilities may range from assessing and validating existing security procedures to designing and implementing security solutions.
- Systems administrator: Oversees application installations, hardware and software maintenance, user account management, and system updates – each of which has an underlying security component.
A Network+ or equivalent knowledge level is strongly suggested before pursuing this certification, as the material builds off of enterprise networking fundamentals. If you are preparing for this certification, see our free Security+ Exam Cheat Sheet and 10 tips to pass the exam.
Taking the aforementioned exams in the above order represents the most comprehensive CompTIA certification path. You can also base the decision on your skills, goals, and where you are in your personal journey.
Infrastructure is the backbone for any company that depends on information technology. Comprising data centers, network operations, and everything that goes into them, it requires a combination of established standards, streamlined procedures, and qualified specialists to ensure that the organization’s IT environment continues to run on all cylinders.
The CompTIA Infrastructure pathway is made up of the following certifications:
Linux is the king of server operating systems. Statistics show that roughly 96 percent of the top one million web servers are powered by Linux. Android phones, smart-home and IoT devices, and many other IT infrastructure components are Linux based.
Recommended for individuals with a minimum of 12 months in Linux administration, Linux+ validates the fundamentals of the world’s most flexible operating system. As we’ve said before, we’re discussing the skills and knowledge of someone who has worked with Linux for 12 months, not with provable work experience. Study and practice will get you there.
The exam covers day-to-day maintenance, configuration, security, and how to manage the system from command line utilities, deploying different Linux distributions and customizing them to your preference.
According to a LightCast study quoted by Dice, Linux is among the core skills you will need to secure a position in the cyber security field. A CompTIA Linux+ certification can also help you find work in the following positions:
- Linux system administrator: Responsible for managing Linux-based computers and servers. Duties include setting system configurations, installing software libraries, managing user roles, and evaluating security procedures.
- Linux engineer: In addition to administration, a Linux engineer handles conceptual elements such as designing software and guiding other departments in implementing solutions for the system. These additional responsibilities call for more stringent job qualifications, as most employers require a degree in computer science and advanced knowledge of the Linux platform.
- Linux database engineer: Designs and manages databases that run on a Linux operating system. As an engineer, you are responsible for allocating and managing storage requirements, optimizing performance, monitoring usage for adherence to established security and recovery practices, and documenting all database-related processes.
Server+ is geared towards IT professionals seeking to unlock a mastery of server administration. It delves into concepts such as server management, storage, and networking, in addition to troubleshooting, security, and disaster recovery.
An advanced-level certification, it is strongly recommended that you have a minimum of 18 months of experience in server administration before taking the exam.
CompTIA also recommends passing the A+ CompTIA exam as it is considered an unofficial extension of that certification program. We tend to agree.
CompTIA Server+ certifies that you have the knowledge and skills to tackle IT at the heart of the infrastructure. Obtaining a certification can help you secure a role in a broad range of positions, including:
- Server administrator: Manages the hardware and software components of a server. A server administrator is responsible for installing applications, solving technical problems, and enforcing established security policies.
- Data center technician: Provides hands-on support in a facility designated as a data center. Because the role calls for duties that stem beyond server administration, this position typically requires a Bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering.
This exam is crafted for IT professionals who want to spread their wings in the burgeoning cloud computing space. You’ll certify fundamental knowledge of the industry and its various market segments, as well as the systems and solutions designed to help it run with maximum efficiency and security.
The cloud is a complex concept dependent on multiple components working in harmony. As such, the certification requirements for CompTIA Cloud+ are more involved than others. For instance, you will be questioned on the major cloud providers (Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud) as well as other virtualization technologies.
CompTIA suggests a minimum of two to three years of hands-on experience in network or system administration prior to taking the exam and a working knowledge of the core concepts in its Network+ or Server+ exams.
In our experience, a networking background can help, but cloud is in many ways a self-contained subject. Time would be better spent practicing with AWS or Azure services to understand what cloud technology is capable of.
Cloud+ can increase your job eligibility for positions that include, but are not limited to:
- Cloud specialist: Applies their knowledge to help organizations transition to a cloud computing infrastructure. Duties range from choosing a suitable platform to actively managing data across multiple cloud environments.
- Cloud engineer: Applies creativity and technical skills to architect custom cloud infrastructures. A cloud engineer may design cloud-support software or help devise disaster recovery strategies that drive business continuity plans.
If you are at the beginning point of your journey in IT infrastructure, starting with Linux+, followed by Server+ and Cloud+, makes for an ideal CompTIA certification path.
Cyber Security Certifications
CompTIA addresses different fields within IT security in this stream. Built on principles that combine core knowledge and technical skills with forward-thinking strategies, the program includes three exams that cover the offensive, defensive, and management sides of security.
The PenTest+ exam takes an offensive approach to cyber security. Suited for aspiring ethical hackers, it establishes in-depth knowledge of the art of penetration testing. You will walk away with the tools necessary to identify gaps in cyber security and close them before they can be exploited.
While there are no specific prerequisites, CompTIA recommends a minimum of three to four years of experience in the IT security field. We believe studying the exam material and experimenting with hacking labs can fill in for that.
The PenTest+ exam builds on the principles covered in CompTIA Security+ and calls for you to demonstrate your knowledge in a broad range of scenarios. We agree with CompTIA on this point – Security+ is an excellent foundation before moving on to this certification.
PenTest+ can help you secure roles commonly held by penetration testers and security auditors. Examples include:
- Junior penetration tester: Test the security of a network, website, or other assets by running simulated attacks against it, followed by recommending remediations and security fixes.
- IT security analyst: Evaluates existing security stature to find vulnerabilities and recommend improvements.
The CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) exam taps into the sophisticated side of information security to highlight your skills. It delves into using intrusion detection systems to sniff out threats as well as the role data analytics plays in understanding malicious behavior and anticipating attacks.
Similar to PenTest+, CySA+ doesn’t come with prerequisites, but CompTIA recommends a minimum of three to four years experience in the IT security field. As with the Pentest+, our recommendation to you is having Security+ and spending time with strong study materials.
CySA+ can lead to many career opportunities, including:
- Security Operations Center (SOC) analyst: Monitors the IT infrastructure for potential cyber security threats. A SOC analyst is among the first to respond to an attack, tapping into responsibilities such as threat assessment, risk management and mitigation, and designing strategies that help avoid future attacks.
- IT Security Engineer: Applies their creativity and skills to foster a secure IT environment. Duties may include designing security solutions, defining organizational security policies, and addressing compliance or legal issues that impact IT security.
CompTIA CASP+ (CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner)
The CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP+) exam is for professionals looking to validate their knowledge at an expert level. It covers specialized enterprise security topics related to architecture, encryption, systems integration, and incident response.
CASP+ is recommended for professionals with a minimum of 10 years of experience in IT, and at least five years of firsthand experience in information security. This degree of familiarity is essential as the exam includes both multiple-choice and performance-based questions that will test your ability to tackle security-related issues in a real-world setting.In another article we compare CISSP and CASP+, covering the certification and suggested background in greater depth.
CASP+ certificate holders are highly sought after for positions that include:
- IT security risk analyst: Applies critical thinking and actionable insights to predict the likelihood of a security attack. Duties involve monitoring the greater threat landscape in search of trends, auditing the network for potential vulnerabilities, and designing organizational security standards.
- Security Operations Center manager (SOC): A SOC manager is the leader of the security operations team. They are responsible for all tasks related to threat monitoring and management, responding to security incidents, and facilitating communication, in addition to hiring, training, and recruiting team members.
The certifications under the Cyber Security umbrella represent specialized areas of information security. You can take the exams in the order presented above or factor your experience and objectives into the equation.
Additional Professional Certifications
CompTIA offers a suite of professional certifications designed for specialized IT segments. These exams include:
Geared for project managers, Project+ covers the project lifecycle from communicating with team members to documentation and resource management. You will validate your knowledge of the role project management plays in managing risks, time, cost, and other factors necessary to streamline projects across various branches of information technology.
CompTIA recommends you have at least six to 12 months of experience managing projects in an IT setting. Once you pass the exam, you will be eligible for a number of positions, including but not limited to:
- Junior project manager: Coordinates and oversees the fundamental aspects of IT projects. Duties include project planning, training project team members, and maintaining communication with other departments to ensure that projects are completed on time.
- Project lead: Responsible for leading the team through the completion of IT projects. While the role is similar to a project manager, project leads tend to have a greater focus on direct communication with team members and fostering a positive work environment.
- Project control analyst: Provides project-oriented guidelines for budget allocation, planning and coordination, and financial analysis, among other areas. Project control analysts often work directly with project managers and team leaders.
The Certified Technical Trainer exam is designed for professionals seeking credentialed validation in their area of specialty. Open to all experience levels, it validates that you are familiar with the tools and techniques needed to pass your knowledge on to others in structured learning environments. From preparation and presentation to facilitation and evaluation, it makes sure you are ready to train with the utmost confidence.
CTT+ has been embraced by the biggest names in IT. Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, and Adobe are among the tech giants that consider holders of this certificate qualified to run their respective training programs.
Earning a CTT+ certification can open job opportunities in virtual and traditional learning environments alike. These positions may include:
- Technical training instructors: Teaches IT-related programs designed to help trainees acquire specific knowledge and skills.
- Training program developer: Applies their knowledge and skills to design curriculum that enables instructors to deliver training resources to students.
- Training consultant: Lends their expertise to help organizations optimize training initiatives. Training consultants may develop learning programs, evaluate existing programs, or determine how those programs align with business objectives.
CompTIA Cloud Essentials+
As the name suggests, this exam outlines the fundamentals of cloud computing. It delves into market offerings, architecture, networking, security, and other topics relevant to the cloud.
While there are no prerequisites on the CompTIA side for the Cloud Essentials+, it helps to have six to 12 months experience working in an IT environment before taking the exam.
Cloud Essentials+ is ideal for anyone who is looking to secure work in the fast-growing cloud computing space. This certification can open doors for positions that include, but are not limited to:
- Systems architect: Develops technologies and standards for systems across complex IT environments. The analytical and first-hand design expertise a systems architect provides can benefit traditional and cloud-based environments alike.
- Senior network administrator: Responsible for managing the day-to-day tasks necessary to keep the network thriving. Their expert knowledge of basic and advanced networking concepts typically requires more validated experience than a network manager.
CompTIA’s Professional Certifications cover specialized areas with no direct correlation. We recommend taking these exams based on your personal experience and objectives.
CompTIA endorses stackable certifications that when combined, create a new credential. These hybrid certifications provide tremendous value for professionals looking to showcase a range of skills in the ever evolving IT realm.
As it relates to the stackable credentials, the CompTIA certification path is marked by two baseline categories: Infrastructure and Cyber Security. Distinguished by Specialist, Professional, and Expert experience levels, the certifications in these categories can be combined to forge the following stacks:
Whether you are targeting IT infrastructure or cyber security, CompTIA stackable certifications can ensure you have the credentials to validate your versatility and unlock more career opportunities than a single certification can provide.
Choosing the Right Path
The plethora of options at your disposal can make the CompTIA certification path a tad intimidating at first glance. You can take solace in the fact that there is no wrong way to get on the road to certification. The best path forward is dependent on your skill set, experience, and aspirations as an IT professional.
A pioneering architect of the digital space, CompTIA has achieved global acclaim throughout the industry. The suite of industry-recognized credentials in its portfolio measures an individual’s knowledge and prowess against vendor-neutral benchmarks to illustrate their expertise in various IT specialties.
By carving your own CompTIA certification path, you can jump-start your career, or unlock opportunities for advancement that help you stay a step ahead of the competition.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get a CompTIA certification?
The length of time required to receive a given CompTIA certification depends on your experience, the exam (some are longer and more involved than others), and how fast you are able to process the information associated with the test. As such, individual prep time may range from weeks to months.
Are CompTIA certifications enough to get a job??
Is Network+ better than A+?
How long are CompTIA certifications valid?
Which CompTIA certification is in the highest demand?