Headquartered near Chicago, CompTIA is a nonprofit trade association made up of more than 2,000 member organizations and 3,000 business partners. Although the organization focuses on educating and certifying IT professionals, CompTIA also figures prominently in philanthropy and public policy advocacy.
CompTIA certification program overview
CompTIA’s vendor-neutral certification program is one of the best recognized in the IT industry. Since CompTIA developed its A+ credential in 1993, it has issued more than two million certifications.
In early 2018, CompTIA introduced its CompTIA Infrastructure Career Pathway. While you’ll still see the same familiar certifications that form the bedrock of the CompTIA certification portfolio, this new career pathway program more closely aligns CompTIA certifications to the real-world skills that IT professionals need to ensure success when managing and supporting IT infrastructures.
CompTIA certifications are grouped by skill set. Currently, CompTIA certs fall info four areas: Core, Infrastructure, Cybersecurity and Additional Professional certifications.
- Core Certifications: Designed to build core foundational skills, CompTIA offers four Core certifications: IT Fundamentals+ (a pre-career certification focused on IT foundation framework), CompTIA A+ (focused on user support and device connectivity), CompTIA Network+ (targeting core system connections with endpoint devices), and CompTIA Security+ (focused on entry level cybersecurity skills).
- Infrastructure Certifications: Designed to complement the Network+ credential, you’ll find three Infrastructure certifications: CompTIA Server+ (focused on issues related to server support and administration), CompTIA Cloud+ (covering hybrid cloud, virtual system administration and deploying network storage resources), and CompTIA Linux+ (focused on Linux operating system administration and management).
- Cybersecurity Certifications: CompTIA offers three cybersecurity credentials: CompTIA CySA+ (CySA stands for Cyber Security Analyst, and targets IT security behavioral analysts), CASP+ (CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner; focuses on professionals who design and implement security solutions), and the CompTIA PenTest+ (Penetration testing, targets professionals who conduct penetration and vulnerability testing).
- Additional Professional Certifications: This category includes several credentials which don’t readily fit into any of the foregoing CompTIA career paths, including: CompTIA Project+, CompTIA CTT+ and CompTIA Cloud Essentials.
CompTIA Core Certifications
CompTIA IT Fundamentals+
CompTIA IT Fundamentals+ is ideal for beginners with a basic understanding of PC functionality and compatibility as well as familiarity with technology topics, such as hardware basics, software installation, security risks and prevention, and basic networking. It’s also ideal as a career planning or development tool for individuals beginning their IT careers or those seeking to make a career change. A single test is required to earn the credential. CompTIA launched a new IT Fundamentals+ test (Exam FC0-U61) in September 2018. This new test focuses on computing basics, database use, software development and IT infrastructure. The English version of the prior test (Exam FC0-U510) retires on July 15, 2019. Exams in other languages retire on December 1, 2019.
The CompTIA A+ certification has been described as an “entry-level rite of passage for IT technicians,” and for a good reason. This certification is designed for folks seeking a career as a help desk, support, service center or networking technician. It covers PC and laptop hardware, software installation, and configuration of computer and mobile operating systems. A+ also tests a candidate’s understanding of basic networking, troubleshooting and security skills, which serve as a springboard for CompTIA networking or security certifications or those offered by other organizations.
According to CompTIA, more than one million IT professionals hold the A+ certification. The A+ is required for Dell, Intel and HP service technicians and is recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense. CompTIA released new “Core” exams for the CompTIA A+ credential on January 15, 2019. These new exams provide additional focus on operational procedure competency and baseline security topics. Candidates must pass the Core 1 (exam 220-1001) and Core 2 (Exam 220-1002) exams. The Core 1 test targets virtualization, cloud computing, mobile devices, hardware, networking technology and troubleshooting. The Core 2 exams focuses on installation and configuring operating systems, troubleshooting software, operational procedures and security.
Many IT professionals start with the A+ certification. While the A+ credential is recommended, if you have the experience and don’t feel a need for the A+, you can move directly to the CompTIA Network+ certification. It’s geared toward professionals who have at least nine months of networking experience. A candidate must be familiar with networking technologies, media, topologies, security, installation and configuration, and troubleshooting of common wired and wireless network devices. The Network+ certification is recommended or required by Dell, HP and Intel, and is also an accepted entry-point certification for the Apple Consultants Network. The Network+ credential meets the ISO 17024 standard and just like the A+, it is recognized by the U.S. DoD. A single test is required to earn the certification.
CompTIA Security+ covers network security concepts, threats and vulnerabilities, access control, identity management, cryptography, and much more. Although CompTIA does not impose any prerequisites, the organization recommends that cert candidates obtain the Network+ credential and have at least two years of IT administration experience with a security focus. To obtain the Security+ certification candidates must pass on exam, SY0-501.
The CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI certification is aimed at Linux network administrators with at least 12 months of Linux administration experience. Such experience should include installation, package management, GNU and Unix commands, shells, scripting, security and more. The A+ and Network+ certifications are recommended as a preamble to this certification but are not mandatory. Candidates must pass two exams (LX0-103 and LX0-104) to earn this credential. The exams must be taken in order, and candidates must pass test LX0-103 before attempting LX0-104. In 2018, CompTIA began testing a new beta test (XK1-004). The beta test offering ended October 22, 2018. New exams generally follow beta test tests so interested candidates should check the Linux+ web page for updates.
As the cloud computing market continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the CompTIA Cloud+ certification has been keeping pace. This certification targets IT professionals with two to three years of experience in storage, networking or data center administration. A single exam, CV0-002, is required. It tests candidates’ knowledge of cloud technologies, hybrid and multicloud solutions, cloud markets, and incorporating cloud-based technology solutions into system operations.
CompTIA Server+ aims at server administrators with 18 to 24 months of experience with server hardware and software technologies, and the A+ certification is recommended. The Server+ credential is recommended or required by HP, Intel and Lenovo for their server technicians. It is also recognized by Microsoft and the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). A single exam, SK0-004, is required to achieve this credential.
CompTIA Cybersecurity Certifications
CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+)
As cybercrime increases, the requirement for highly skilled information security analysts will continue to increase as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports anticipated growth of 28 percent for information security analysts between 2016 and 2026, the fastest rate of growth for all occupations. One of the newer additions to the CompTIA certification portfolio is the Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+) certification. The CySA+ credential is specifically designed to meet the ever-growing need for experienced, qualified information security analysts.
CySA+ credential holders are well versed in the use of system threat-detection tools, as well as the use of data and behavioral analytics to secure applications and systems from risks, threats and other vulnerabilities. CySA+ certification holders are not only able to monitor network behavior, but analyze results and create solutions to better protect against advanced persistent threats (APTs), intrusions, malware and the like.
CompTIA describes CySA+ as a bridge cert between the Security+ credential (requiring two years’ experience) and the master-level Advanced Security Practitioner Certification (CASP), which requires 10 years of experience. To earn a CySA+, candidates must pass a performance-based exam.
CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner+ (CASP+)
While CompTIA no longer uses the “master” designation, the highly sought-after CASP+ certification is most certainly a master-level credential. Targeting practitioners, CASP is the only performance-based, hands-on certification currently available from CompTIA. This certification is designed for seasoned IT security professionals who plan, design and implement security solutions in an enterprise environment.
Although this certification doesn’t impose any explicit prerequisites, it’s not a bad idea to earn the Network+ and Security+ certifications before tackling the CASP exam. You should also have 10 years of IT administration experience plus a minimum of five years of technical security experience (thus securing this certification’s place as a “master” credential).
Booz Allen Hamilton, Network Solutions and Verizon Connect, among other companies, require CASP+ certification for certain positions. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy also accept CASP+ as an industry-based certification required by employees and contractors who perform IT work in DoD data centers. The CASP+ certification requires that candidates pass the CAS-003 exam, which consists of 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions.
The existing additional to the CompTIA certification family is the CompTIA PenTest+. An intermediate-level credential, PenTest+ is designed to complement the CySA+. While CySA+ is defensive in nature (focusing on threat detection and response), the PenTest+ credential is offensive, focusing on using penetration testing to identify and manage network vulnerabilities across multiple spectra.
There are no mandatory prerequisites, but the Network+ and Security+ (or equivalent skills) are highly recommended, along with a minimum of two years of information security experience. Candidates pursuing the cybersecurity career path may take the PenTest+ or CySA+ credential in any order.
The test was released in July 2018, and is focused on communicating and reporting results, analyzing data, conducting penetration testing and scanning, and planning assessments. The test also tests a candidate’s knowledge of legal and compliance requirements.
Additional Professional Certifications
The CompTIA Project+ certification focuses exclusively on project management and is ideal for project managers who are familiar with project lifecycles from planning to completion, who can finish a project on time and under budget. Project managers interested in this certification should have at least one year of project management experience overseeing small- to medium-sized projects. The Project+ credential requires that candidates pass a multiple-choice exam, PK0-004.
CompTIA Cloud Essentials
The CompTIA Cloud Essentials certification is geared toward individuals who understand the business aspects of cloud computing and how to move from in-house to cloud storage. In addition, they should be familiar with the impacts, risks and consequences of implementing a cloud-based solution. A single test is required to earn the credential.
The CompTIA Certified Technical Trainer (CTT+) certification is perfect for anyone interested in technical training. It covers instructor skills, such as preparation, presentation, communication, facilitation and evaluation, in vendor-neutral fashion. Adobe, Cisco, Dell, IBM, Microsoft and Ricoh all recommend CTT+ to their trainers and accept it in lieu of their own in-house trainer certifications.
Two exams are required for the CTT+ credential: CompTIA CTT+ Essentials (TK0-201) and either CTT+ Classroom Performance Trainer (TK0-202) or CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer (TK0-203).
The CTT+ Classroom Performance Trainer and CTT+ Virtual Classroom Trainer are performance-based exams. In this case, you must submit a video or recording of your classroom (or virtual classroom sessions), and complete a form that documents your training preparation, delivery and student evaluations.
In addition to certification levels, CompTIA groups its certifications into several career paths:
- Information security
- Network and cloud technologies
- Hardware, services and infrastructure
- IT management and strategy
- Web and mobile
- Software development
- Office productivity
The CompTIA Certifications page lets you pick a certification level and/or a career path and then returns a list of certifications to focus on. For example, one of the most popular career paths in IT is network administration. CompTIA’s Network and Cloud Technologies career path offers numerous certifications that can help you advance your network administration career, such as IT Fundamentals+, A+ and Network+ (Core certs), along with Cloud+ and Linux+ (Infrastructure certifications) and Cloud Essentials.
Those interested in network security (one of the fastest growing fields in IT) should consider the certifications in CompTIA’s Information Security career path. This includes all four of the Core credentials (IT Fundamentals, A+, Network+ and Security+) along with all cybersecurity certifications (CySA+, PenTest+ and CASP+).
CompTIA provides a comprehensive IT certification roadmap that encompasses certifications from CompTIA as well as a variety of other organizations, including Cisco, EC-Council, Microsoft, (ISC)2, ISACA, Mile2 and more.
Because CompTIA credentials do not focus on a single skill (such as networking or virtualization), CompTIA credential holders may find themselves in a variety of job roles depending on their experience, skill levels and areas of interest. Here are just a few of the possible careers that CompTIA credential holders may find themselves engaged in:
- A+: Typically, A+ credential holders find work in support roles, such as support administrators, support technicians or support specialists.
- Network+: Network+ professionals primarily work in network-related roles, such as network analysts, administrators or support specialists. Credential holders may also work as network engineers, field technicians or network help desk technicians.
- CySA+ Security Analyst: Common roles for professionals interested in cybersecurity, information security and risk analysis may engage in roles that include security engineers, cybersecurity analysts or specialists, threat or vulnerability analysts, or analysts for security operations centers (SOCs).
- Security+: Security spans a variety of jobs, such as network, system or security administrators, security managers, specialists or administrators, and security consultants.
- Server+: Roles for server professionals include storage and server administrators, as well as server support or IT/server technicians.
- Linux+: Linux professionals often work in roles such as Linux database administrators, network administrators or web administrators.
- Cloud+/Cloud Essentials: Cloud+ credential holders typically work as cloud specialists, developers or system and network administrators. Cloud Essentials professionals tend to work in areas related to cloud technical sales or business development.
- CASP+: Common roles for CASP+ credential holders include cybersecurity specialists, InfoSec specialists, information security professionals and security architects.
- Project+: Project+ credential holders typically engage in project leadership roles, such as project managers, coordinators and directors, or team leads.
While the examples above are by no means exhaustive, they provide an overview of some available careers. Your career choices are limited only by your interests, imagination and determination to achieve your personal goals.
CompTIA training and resources
CompTIA provides various and extensive training options, including classroom training, study materials and e-learning. A wide range of CompTIA Authorized Training Provider Partners (CAPPs), such as Global Knowledge, Learning Tree International and more, operate all over the world. Classroom and online/e-learning offerings range in cost from $2,000 to $4,000, depending on the particulars. Visit the CompTIA Training page for more details.
CompTIA works with third parties to offer self-study materials (the search tool is available here). Content that has been through a vetting process is branded with the CompTIA Approved Quality Content (CAQC) logo. Other materials that allow you to study at your own pace, such as audio segments, lesson activities and additional resources, are available through the CompTIA Marketplace.
Finally, every CompTIA A+, Linux+, Network+, Server+, Security+ and IT Fundamentals+ certification candidates must check out CertMaster, CompTIA’s online test prep tool. CertMaster helps you determine which syllabus you know well and those you need to brush up on, and suggests training to help you fill in the gaps.