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UC training, certifications are mostly vendor-specific

The industry may lack vendor-neutral certifications, but hands-on UC training can help workers master products, advance their careers and boost their salaries.

Unified communications (UC) integrates voice (telephony), video, messaging, audio, email, presence, and social and collaboration features across a network. Originally designed for the enterprise, small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are adopting UC as well, due to the efficiencies it brings to the workplace and the affordability of hosted plans.

The uptick in UC implementations means higher demand for people who sell, install and support UC, and UC certification is an excellent way to provide for properly trained and knowledgeable workers and consultants.

Employers like UC training and certifications because they help staff master products more quickly and provide higher quality customer service. Employees seek UC certifications to validate their skills and knowledge, to advance their careers, and increase their salaries. With the average salary of a UC engineer around $85,000 and senior positions garnering $105,000, according to, a unified communications certification can be a great investment for IT professionals.

A detailed look at vendor certifications

Most IT certifications are either vendor-neutral or vendor-specific. Unlike the plethora of vendor-neutral certs in the security and general networking fields, there are relatively few for UC.

One worthwhile vendor-neutral credential is the Convergence Technologies Professional (CTP) by Certification Partners in collaboration with the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). Although not a true UC cert by some standards, the CTP exam covers three main areas: data and Internet Protocol (IP) networking for convergent networks; voice and telephony services, functions and technologies; and convergence technologies. It's also one of the least expensive UC certs at $246 for the exam and only $199 for courseware.

On the vendor-specific side, Microsoft and Cisco dominate in UC market share, and they offer certifications to back their products.

The Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) cert is based in part on Microsoft Lync Server, Microsoft's UC platform. Four exams are required, which cost $600 total; and training is available through a Microsoft Learning Partner. Training costs vary, but typically start around $3,000. The Lync exams are slated for retirement on July 15, to be replaced by an as-yet-undetermined set of Skype for Business exams, but the overall shape of the program is likely to remain the same. For more information, see the Born to Learn blog post, "Why are the Microsoft Lync 2013 exams retiring?"

Cisco offers two UC-specific credentials: the Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Collaboration and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Collaboration. The CCNP Collaboration is geared toward network engineers who design, implement, configure and troubleshoot Cisco Collaboration and Unified Communications products. The four required exams cost $1,000 total. The CCIE Collaboration is an expert-level UC cert that covers the same products as the CCNP Collaboration, but from an architectural perspective in moderately to highly complex environments. The written exam and lab exam cost $2,000.

Cisco training is available for both certifications. Cisco offers many reasonably priced self-study options for both certs, but instructor-led training is a true investment. Training starts at $3,000 for each CCNP Collaboration course and costs upwards of $15,000 for the CCIE Collaboration lab workshop.

The Avaya Certified Support Specialist (ACSS) has a Unified Communications track that includes several certifications based on Avaya products. For example, the Avaya Aura Communication Manager and CM Messaging -- Embedded track focuses on converged voice, video, messaging and customer contact applications in the enterprise. Candidates must pass three exams: Implementation, Administration, and Maintenance and Troubleshooting. Most Avaya exams are $125 each, and training costs $1,600 to $3,400 per course.

IBM also offers associate- and professional-level certifications for its Sametime product. The IBM Certified System Administrator -- Sametime cert recognizes professionals who can design, deploy, maintain, troubleshoot and tune a Sametime implementation. The single exam costs $100.

UC training: Look for hands-on labs

Certification candidates who need help preparing for exams should check the websites of the companies that administer certification programs. Companies such as Global Knowledge, New Horizons Computer Learning Centers, NetCom Learning and ONLC Training Centers also offer certification prep training and are usually partnered with the certification vendors. Look for companies that offer hands-on labs -- whether in-classroom or virtually -- to get the best training experience.

Other worthy training companies include Fast Lane, InfoPro Learning and Firebrand (in the U.K.), which offer courses, courseware, labs, practice tests and more for most major certification programs.

For Microsoft-specific courses, you can't beat the Microsoft Virtual Academy, which offers a wealth of free online, self-paced courses on many different Microsoft technologies, including Microsoft Lync Server and a six-module course titled, "What's New in Skype for Business?"

Additionally, you can easily find unified communication courses and certificate programs at many colleges and universities, but be aware that most programs focus on Cisco equipment and applications.

About the authors:
Kim Lindros is a full-time content developer who also writes on technology and security topics. Coming from a background in project management, she has run large multifunction teams to produce entire book series, online curricula and classroom training classes. She has also contributed to several books on Windows technologies and applications and IT certification.

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus year IT veteran who's worked as a developer, networking consultant, technical trainer, writer and expert witness. Perhaps best known for creating the Exam Cram series, Ed has contributed to over 100 books on many computing topics, including titles on information security, Windows OSes and HTML/XML. Ed also blogs regularly for TechTarget, Tom’s IT Pro, and GoCertify.

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