13 best IT certifications every sysadmin should consider getting

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa|Updated July 20, 2023
Best IT Certifications Image
Best IT Certifications Image

As a general rule, the best IT certifications to get are the ones that your company requires. For instance, if the company is looking to work on government contracts, it may need staff who hold specific certifications. However, if you want to start collecting credentials proactively, some certifications are more popular than others. 

We’ll share some of the most popular options for sysadmins and help you decide whether certification is the best route up your career ladder. 

This certification verifies a professional’s ability to implement cloud initiatives on Amazon Web Services (AWS). To take the Associate exam, participants should have at least 1 year of hands-on experience with AWS. The exam covers designing resilient architectures, high-performing architectures, secure applications and architectures, and cost-optimized architectures. 

For the Professional exam, participants should have at least 2 years of experience. Topics include continuous improvement, migration planning, cost control, design for new solutions, and design for organizational complexity. 

While AWS Certified Solutions Architect is one of the top-paying certifications, it’s also one of the most affordable. The Associate exam costs just $150, while the Professional option is $300.

As the cloud and cloud computing continue to become more popular, it’s no surprise that more sysadmins are leveling up their cloud knowledge. The CCSP cloud security certification is globally recognized and shows that you’ve mastered the advanced technical skills and knowledge to build and maintain cloud applications and infrastructure. 

To earn this certification, you should have at least 5 years of paid work experience in information technology. Three of those years should focus on information security, and 1 year should be dedicated in one or more of the six pathways of the (ISC)² CCSP Common Body of Knowledge (CBK). The exam costs $599, and to keep the certification, you’ll need to pay an annual maintenance fee of $125. 

CISM certification indicates competency in four main areas: information security program development and management, incident management, risk management, and governance. The exam requires 5 or more years of experience in information security management, though waivers are available for up to 2 years. 

The exam costs $760, but most CISM certification holders make more than the average sysadmin — the average annual salary of a CISM holder in the U.S. is $149,000. ISACA members enjoy a reduced exam registration fee of $575.

A cybersecurity-minded systems administrator may benefit from a CEH certification. This ethical hacking certification incorporates hacking challenges, case studies, malware analysis, and more to help participants understand the techniques of cybercriminals. In addition to the primary certification, you can also work towards CEH Practical certification and CEH Master certification. Individuals are eligible to take the exam if they’ve completed an official EC-Council training or have 2 years of work experience in information security.

Taking the exam typically costs around $1,200.

CISA is a privacy-focused certification that covers five domains: the protection of information assets; information systems operations and business resilience; information systems auditing process; governance and management of IT; and information systems acquisition, development, and implementation. You must have at least 5 years of relevant experience to take the exam. Waivers may be available for up to 3 years of experience. 

ISACA members pay $575, while nonmembers pay $760.

A CCNA certification validates that the recipient has critical networking skills, including the fundamentals of networking, network access, security, IP services, automation, and programmability. CCNA certification doesn’t require any formal prerequisites, but at least 1 year of administering Cisco solutions is beneficial. 

This exam costs $300.

If you’re just starting out, CompTIA A+ might help you get your foot in the door of system administration. The exam tests a broad range of skills and knowledge about hardware, networking, mobile devices, operating systems, troubleshooting, virtualization and cloud computing, security, and operational procedures. Since this is an entry-level certification, you don’t need experience to sit for the exam. However, 9 to 12 months in the field may come in handy. 

The CompTIA A+ exam costs $246.

If you hope to work in information security for the government, the military, or a business with government contracts, Security+ certification may be right for you. Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 8570 establishes approved baseline certifications. Security+ qualifies for Information Assurance Technical (IAT) level 2, which relates to network environment information assurance. Therefore, Security+ certification is required for some positions. 

Security+ helps validate information technology security skills, such as assessing the security posture, monitoring and securing hybrid environments, operating within applicable policies and laws, and identifying and responding to security incidents. CompTIA recommends that participants have at least 2 years in IT with a security focus. 

Taking the Security+ exam costs $392.

Server+ validates the recipient’s hands-on skills in installing, managing, and troubleshooting servers in any environment regardless of the platform. This includes data centers, cloud environments, hybrid environments, and on-site servers. Test takers should have at least 2 years of experience working with servers. 

There is a $358 fee for this exam. 

A Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect understands the ins and outs of Google Cloud. They should be familiar with cloud architecture and able to design solutions, analyze and improve processes, ensure reliability, and manage implementations of cloud architecture and solution infrastructure. Google suggests participants have 3 years of experience in the industry, including 1 year of Google Cloud design and management. 

As one of the highest-paying certifications, the registration fee of $200 seems like a bargain. 

If you’re looking to work extensively with Microsoft Azure, consider becoming a Microsoft Certified Azure Solutions Architect Expert. Before going for this Microsoft certification, you should know how to build both cloud and hybrid solutions that run on Microsoft Azure. You should know IT operations, such as networking, security, and disaster recovery like the back of your hand. And, of course, you should be incredibly familiar with Microsoft Azure, including its administration and development. 

Sitting for the exam costs $165.

If you have implementation, management, and troubleshooting skills in a vSphere infrastructure, VCP-DCV certification can validate them. Certification paths vary depending on whether you hold other VCP certifications. If you don’t, you’re required to take a training course, and you should have experience with vSphere 7.x or vSphere 8.x before sitting for the exam. The exam fee is $250.

While PMP makes the list of top IT certifications, it isn’t technically an IT certification at all. Instead, it’s a project management certification that includes predictive, agile, and hybrid approaches. Still, PMP is one of the leading certifications for IT professionals because it focuses on essential team leadership and process management skills. The requirements to take the exam are pretty steep compared to other options on this list: 

  • 4-year degree

  • 36 months of leading projects

  • 35 hours of project management training OR CAPM certification

— OR —

  • High school diploma OR associate’s degree

  • 60 months of leading projects

  • 35 hours of project management training OR CAPM certification

While this certification may be a little harder to get, sysadmins who hold it often earn significantly more than their uncertified peers. Members pay $405, and nonmembers pay $575. 

Common IT certification FAQs

How might a certification affect salary?

According to the Skillsoft IT Skills & Salary Report released in 2022, 91% of IT respondents hold at least one certification, with four being the average number of certifications each IT professional holds in the field. Around 19% of respondents claim that earning a certification led to a raise. 

Salary figures from this report also give insight into which certifications may be the most valuable. Here’s how some of the top-paying certifications compare: 

Certification category

Average pay in North America

Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control 


AWS Certified Developer 


Certified Information Security Manager 


AWS Certified Solutions Architect — Professional 


Google Cloud — Professional Cloud Architect 


Please note that these numbers simply reflect pay trends and are not a direct indication of how you can expect your salary to change. Additionally, other factors also influence how much a sysadmin makes, such as their experience level, location, and industry.

Why should sysadmins consider certifications? 

Certifications can provide several potential benefits for sysadmins. 

To enhance expertise 

Working towards certification can motivate you to learn more about IT. Even if you already feel you know an exam’s subject matter well, chances are you’ll pick up a few new tips and tricks while you study. 

To improve employability 

Holding certifications shows employers that you’re knowledgeable in certain areas, giving you instant credibility. While it may seem like your experience should speak for itself, it may be easier for an employer to trust your expertise if an independent third party has verified it through certification. Because of this, some employers require certifications to get the job. Even if the position doesn’t have such a requirement, certification may still give you a leg up on the competition. 

To fuel career growth 

At any career stage, a certification can help turbocharge your growth in the IT field. Earning certifications builds a powerful case for promotions and pay raises by showing your continued professional growth and commitment to your career. According to Certification Magazine’s 2023 Annual Salary Survey, the sweet spot seems to be holding eight certifications, as IT professionals with this many certifications top the list salary-wise at $134,530. 

How much do IT certifications cost? 

The cost of IT certifications varies from around $150 to over $1,500. Entry-level certifications generally have lower price tags than those that require a higher degree of expertise. Don’t forget to also budget for other potential expenses, such as training materials and courses. If you already work in IT, consider asking your employer whether a professional development budget might cover the costs.

How do I decide on the best IT certification? 

With dozens of IT certifications to choose from, you have no shortage of options. Unfortunately, that means selecting just one at a time may be nearly as difficult as the exam itself. 

Weigh your interests 

Unless your employer requires you to get one particular certification, you might as well learn more about a topic you actually enjoy. Consider what aspects of your job interest you most, what you wish you knew more about, and what IT topics you love enough to skip your nightly PS5 session in favor of studying. 

Assess your goals 

What do you hope to get out of your IT certification? Do you want to improve your skills, advance your career, impress your friends, or do you have some other goal? Understanding your main objectives can help you narrow down your choices. 

Consider your budget and time commitment 

In a perfect world, you’d have unlimited time and money to learn about whatever you please. But that’s not reality. If you have time and budget restrictions, you’ll also have fewer certification options. 

Research, research, research 

Before you commit to a certification, know what you’re getting into. Read up on what topics it covers, check out any documentation from the certifying body, and peruse Reddit for advice. Also, try attending some IT conferences to talk to IT professionals in the field. 

PDQ Connect and PDQ Deploy & Inventory can make your job so much easier, and you don’t even need a certification to use them. These simple solutions streamline patch deployment and systems management to make you look like the world’s best employee. Want more ways to impress your boss? Read the PDQ blog and watch our YouTube channel to keep your IT knowledge on point. 

Meredith Kreisa headshot
Meredith Kreisa

Meredith gets her kicks diving into the depths of IT lore and checking her internet speed incessantly. When she's not spending quality time behind a computer screen, she's probably curled up under a blanket, silently contemplating the efficacy of napping.

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