Becoming a computer technician is a great point of entry into the IT field. In addition, computer hardware certifications can help demonstrate your knowledge and competency in maintaining computers, mobile devices, printers and more. Below, you'll find our pick of six computer hardware certifications to help you get your IT career off the ground.
Although we cover our favorite hardware certifications here, the idea that hardware can operate independently of software (or vice versa) isn't true. If you dig into the curriculum for any specific hardware-related certs in any depth, you'll quickly realize that software is in control of hardware.
Software comes into play for installation, configuration, maintenance, troubleshooting and just about any other activity you can undertake with hardware. The hardware label simply indicates that devices are involved, not that hardware is all that's involved.
Differing factors, such as specific job role, locality and experience level, may impact salary potential. In general, hardware professionals can expect to earn somewhere in the mid-$60,000s. SimplyHired reports average earnings at $71,946 for IT technicians, with highs reported at almost $116,000. The average national salary for computer hardware technicians ranges from about $31,000 to more than $53,000. However, some certifications command higher salaries. Certification Magazine's "Annual Salary Survey" ( Salary Survey 2018) average salaries for CompTIA Server+ at $98,060 and the A+ credential at $97,730.
The CompTIA A+ certification is the granddaddy and best known of all hardware credentials. For anyone serious about working with PCs, laptops, mobile devices, printers or operating systems, the A+ should at least be on their radar, if not in their game plan.
Since the first A+ credential was awarded in March 1993, the program continues to draw active interest and participation. With more than 1 million IT professionals now possessing the A+ credential, it is something of a checkbox item for PC technicians and support professionals. It also appears in a great many job postings or advertisements.
A+ is also ISO 17024 compliant and accredited by ANSI. Thus this credential must be renewed every three years in keeping with concomitant requirements for continuing education or regular examinations to maintain certification currency. Some 20 continuing education units (CEUs) are required for renewal.
Earning an A+ from CompTIA involves passing two exams: 220-901 and 220-902. Exam 220-901 focuses on hardware, networking, mobile devices, connectivity and troubleshooting. Exam 220-902 draws on knowledge of installing and configuring common operating systems (Windows, Linux, OS X, Android and iOS). It also covers issues related to cloud computing, security and operational procedures. Candidates will find a variety of question formats, including standard multiple-choice, drag-and-drop and performance-based questions on these exams.
Candidates who earn the A+ often find themselves in job roles that include technical support specialist, field service technician, IT support technician, IT support administrator or IT support specialist. The A+ is recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense (in DoD Directive 8140/8570.01-M). Also, technology companies, such as Ricoh, Nissan, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Dell, HP and Intel, require staff to earn the A+ certification to fill certain positions.
The A+ certification encompasses broad coverage of PC hardware and software, networking and security in its overall technical scope.
Given the popularity of Apple products and platforms, and widespread use of Macintosh computers in homes and businesses of all sizes, there's demand galore for Mac-savvy technicians.
The AppleCare Mac Technician (ACMT) 2018 credential is Apple's latest hardware-related ACMT certification. (The credential was formerly called the Apple Certified Macintosh Technician or Apple Certified Mac Technician.) Per Apple, the ACMT 2018 "qualifies a technician to repair all the Mac products that were covered by prior ACMT certifications, plus all other Mac products that were produced before April 2018." Technicians with the ACMT certification who work at an Apple-authorized service facility are allowed to perform service and repairs.
The ACMT's two required exams are the Apple Service Fundamentals and the ACMT 2018 Mac Service Certification. Service Fundamentals focuses on customer experience skills, ESD and safety, troubleshooting and deductive reasoning, and product knowledge. The Mac Service exam covers troubleshooting and repair of Mac hardware (mainly Apple iMac and MacBook Pro systems). Note that the Apple Service Fundamentals exam is also required for the Apple Certified iOS Technician (ACiT) 2018 certification.
The ACMT 2018 is a permanent credential and does not require annual recertification. However, as new products are added to the Apple portfolio, AppleCare will make associated courses available through Apple Technical Learning Administration System (ATLAS). You must complete these courses to service new products.
BICSI is a professional association that supports the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, mainly in the areas of voice, data, audio and video, electronic safety and security, and project management. BICSI offers training, certification and education to its 23,000-plus members, many of who are designers, installers and technicians.
BICSI offers several certifications aimed at ICT professionals, who mainly deal with cabling and related technologies. Two credentials, the BICSI Technician and the BICSI Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) are pertinent (and popular) in this story.
The BICSI Technician recognizes individuals who lead an installation group or team, perform advanced testing and troubleshooting of cable installations, evaluate cabling requirements, recommend solutions based on standards and best practices, and roll out new and retrofit projects. Technicians must be well versed in both copper and fiber cabling.
Candidates need a good deal of knowledge about the hardware, networking devices and communications equipment to which they connect cables.
To earn the credential, candidates must pass a single two-part exam consisting of a hands-on practical evaluation and a written exam. In addition, candidates must possess at least three years of verifiable ICT industry installation experience within the past five years. Credentials are valid for three years. Certification holders must earn 18 hours of continuing education credits (CECs) in each three-year credentialing cycle and pay the current renewal fees to maintain this credential.
Interested candidates should also check out other BICSI certifications, such as the Installer 1 (INST1), Installer 2 Copper (INSTC) and Installer 2 Optical Fiber (INSTF).
An advanced credential, the Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) is so well respected that the Department of Defense Unified Facilities requires RCDD for all telecom-related design projects. The RCDD is geared toward experienced ICT practitioners with at least five years of ICT design experience. Alternatively, candidates who do not have the requisite experience but who possess at least two years of design experience plus three years of knowledge "equivalents" (combination of approved education, certifications or education), may also sit for the exam. All experience must have been within the preceding 10 years.
RCDD candidates should be able to create and prepare system design specifications and plans, as well as recommended best practices for security design requirements, for business automation systems. RCDDs are also well versed in data center, cabling systems and design for wireless, network, and electronic security systems.
To earn the credential, candidates must meet the experience requirements, submit the application plus credentialing fees, along with a current resume. In addition, candidates must submit four letters of reference two of which much be from current or former clients. One reference may be personal while the remaining references must come from the candidate's employer.
Other advanced BICSI certifications include the Outside Plant (OSP) Designer, Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC) and Registered Telecommunication Project Manager (RTPM).
Cisco certifications are valued throughout the tech industry. The Cisco Certified Technician, or CCT, certification is an entry-level credential that demonstrates a person's ability to support and maintain Cisco networking devices at a customer site.
The Routing & Switching credential best fits our list of best computer hardware certifications, and it serves as an essential foundation for supporting Cisco devices and systems in general.
The CCT requires passing a single exam. Topics include identification of Cisco equipment and related hardware, such as switches and routers, general networking and service knowledge, working with the Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC), and describing Cisco IOS software operating modes. Candidates should also have a working knowledge of Cisco command-line interface (CLI) commands for connecting to and remotely servicing Cisco products.
CompTIA also offers a server-related certification, which steps up from basic PC hardware, software, and networking topics to the more demanding, powerful, and expensive capabilities in the same vein usually associated with server systems.
The CompTIA Server+ credential goes beyond basic topics to include coverage of more advanced storage systems, IT environments, virtualization, and disaster recovery and business continuity topics. It also puts a strong emphasis on best practices and procedures for server problem diagnosis and troubleshooting. Although Server+ is vendor-neutral in coverage, organizations such as HP, Dell, Intel, Microsoft, Xerox, Lenovo and HP use Server+ credentialed technicians.
Those who work or want to work in server rooms or data centers, with and around servers on a regular basis, will find the Server+ credential worth studying for and earning. It can also be a steppingstone into vendor-specific server technician training programs at such companies as those mentioned above, or with their authorized resellers and support partners.
Note that the CompTIA Server+ exam is still listed on that organization's website as "good for life," meaning it does not impose a renewal or continuing education requirement on its holders. The SK0-004 launched on July 31, 2015. Typically, exams are available for at least two years. If CompTIA's revision history for Server+ is any guide to future updates and revisions, then it's likely that we'll see a new exam making an appearance sometime before the end of 2019.
There are many more hardware-oriented certifications available that you might want to consider. As you get into IT and start to develop a sense of your own interests and observe the hardware systems and solutions around, you'll be able to dig deeper into this arena.
You can investigate all the major system vendors (including HP, Dell, IBM, and other PC and server makers) as well as networking and infrastructures companies (such as Juniper and Fortinet) to find hardware-related training and certification to occupy you throughout a long and successful career.
Although ExpertRating offers many credentials, we rejected them after viewing several complaints regarding the general quality of the courses. Obviously, such complaints are from disgruntled customers but were enough to make us proceed with caution.
This is also an area where constant change in tools and technology is the norm. That means a course of lifelong learning will be essential to help you stay current on what's in your working world today and likely to show up on the job soon.