While I have been chasing Microsoft certifications for two decades, I never gave any real thought to CompTIA. I had nothing against them, I just never pursued them. And then a couple of years ago, a training broker reached out and asked me if I would deliver Network+ and Security+ courses for one of their customers. I was happy to, as I was between gigs at the time. I reviewed the material, and over the course of a few months, I delivered both courses several times. I only found out later that the training company provided me with third-party courseware, which seems to be similar to CompTIA, but not quite right. In January of 2020 I had a few days off, and I decided to try my hand at the Network+ exam (N10-007). It was not easy, but I passed. Hooray, I had a new certification.
Fast forward a year. I have been working with a training company that sells a series of courses together for nearly a year. Of those courses, two of them are Microsoft focused (which I have been delivering), and some of them are CompTIA courses. The last time I delivered the Microsoft classes, many of my students were vocal about their relief regarding my training style. It seems that while the CompTIA instructor was quite knowledgeable, he was also quite dry… something that no student in any of my classes has ever accused me of being. At one point during the week, I was on the phone with the training centre’s manager. I mentioned that if he ever needs it, I have delivered both Net+ and Sec+ several times, and doubted that A+ would be an issue. And so it came to pass, in mid-January of this year, that I was teaching the A+ class.
Leading up to the class I had a few days free, and I decided to sit the Security+ exam (SY0-601). Again, it was challenging… but I passed. Unfortunately, my experience with the Sec+ nor the Net+ exams would not equip me to answer my students’ questions regarding the A+ exams (220-1001 and 220-1002). I did not feel that was fair to my students, especially since I noticed a lot of discrepancies between the course delineation (there are two courses) and the questions on the practice tests (there are also two exams). It looked like, while all of the material is covered, there were a lot of questions in Exam 1 that were from Course 2, and vice versa. I booked the two exams (for the same week… don’t do that unless you know the material well enough to teach it!) and sat the first on Wednesday and the next on Friday.
Following the first exam, I got nothing. When I logged into my CompTIA account the next day, it listed that I had passed the exam. However, as you need to pass both exams to earn the certification, there was nothing in my inbox. That was more than made up for the morning after I passed the second exam… I received the following three e-mails:
- Congratulations! CompTIA A+ ce Certification – Important Next Steps
- Congratulations on Earning a CompTIA Stackable Certification!
- Congratulations on Earning a CompTIA Stackable Certification!
To be honest, I was aware that CompTIA had stackable certifications (as I had seen the tab on the website), but I had no idea what they were. I went to my computer to see what was up.
While I have never referred to the Microsoft equivalent as ‘stackable certifications,’ I know that if you pass MD-100 and MD-101 you earn one certification, and if you then pass MS-100 and MS-101 you earn another. While you can take the latter two exams without taking the first two, you do not earn a certification for it. With CompTIA you do…
When I passed N10-007 I earned the Network+ certification. When I passed the SY0-601 exam I earned the Security+ certification. But if you earn your A+ and your Network+ certifications you also earn your CompTIA IT Operations Specialist (CIOS). If you add the Security+ certification to those, you also earn the CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist (CSIS). So while I had already earned two CompTIA certs, by passing the A+ exams I effectively earned three more.
CompTIA introduced the stackable certificated in 2017, and they presently have two streams: Infrastructure Career and Cybersecurity Career.
CompTIA Infrastructure Career Pathway
Under the Infrastructure path there are two levels – Specialist and Professional. Depending on the path you wish to follow, you could get any of five additional certs:
- CompTIA IT Operations Specialist (A+ & Network+)
- CompTIA Systems Support Specialist (A+ & Linux+)
- CompTIA Cloud Admin Professional (Network+ & Cloud+)
- CompTIA Network Infrastructure Professional (Network+ & Server+)
- CompTIA Linux Network Professional (Network+ & Linux+)
CompTIA Cybersecurity Career Pathway
This path has three levels – Specialist, Professional, and Expert. Again, the path you want to follow will lead you to one of these:
- CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist (A+ & Network+ & Security+)
- CompTIA Secure Cloud Professional (Security+ & Cloud+)
- CompTIA Security Analytics Professional (Security+ & CySA+)
- CompTIA Network Vulnerability Assessment Professional (Security+ & PenTest+)
- CompTIA Network Security Professional (Security+ & PenTest+ & CySA+)
- CompTIA Security Analytics Expert (Security+ & CySA+ & CASP+)
- CompTIA Security Infrastructure Expert (Security+ & CySA+ & PenTest+ & CASP+)
It seems that, without realizing it, while passing the A+ exams I earned a Specialist certification in both streams.
All in all, there are currently twelve stackable certifications that you can earn, based on what your intended career path is. When my students are all done, if they pass all of the exams they will have earned:
- CompTIA IT Operations Specialist
- CompTIA Secure Infrastructure Specialist
- CompTIA Security Analytics Professional
This, in addition to the Microsoft and Cisco certifications that the other classes will bring them.
Why So Much?
I have had people ask me before why certifications are so expensive. There is a cost to certification exams, and they are not cheap. There are costs to creating and delivering the exams, and these have to be paid for. Also, there is value to the certifications. You may know what you know, but unless you are willing to take these exams to prove that you know what you know, then companies would have to take you at your word, or run you through long series of tests before hiring you. This is the better way, leveling the playing field for everyone. I know that (almost) every certification exam that I have paid for in my life has benefitted me financially.
So when you look at the CompTIA Security Infrastructure Specialist credential, you will be spending US$1,174 for the four exams. If having the logo for CSIS on your CV helps you land a job that pays $75,000 per year, then the original outlay was a good investment in your career… not to mention that in most jurisdictions, the cost of the exams would be a tax write-off. The cost of the Microsoft Certified 365: Enterprise Administrator (Expert) is only US$660, and can get you jobs that earn much more. However, as Microsoft is selling software and services, the income from certifications and exams is negligible, and the product teams pay for the exam creation.
It should also be mentioned that if certification exams were free, a lot of people would just continue re-taking them until they passed, either by luck or from repetition, rather than from knowledge. Paying for and sitting the exam is proof of the investment that you made in your learning and career advancement.
Certifications are not all that companies look for when hiring, but it is certainly a factor that they consider. While it is true that a brand new graduate from a program like this is still going to be looking at lower level positions than a candidate with 5-10 years of experience, credentials such as these will give them a leg up on candidates who might not have taken the time to learn, study, and pass the exams.