The Rebels – 10 The Hardest IT Certifications To Get (2013 Edition)

by Mirek Burnejko

The Hardest IT Certifications

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The ones who see things differently.

Do you think IT certifications are boring?
Do you think there are nox big challenges with IT certifications?
Do you think CCIE R&S, MCSE, CISSP or PMP are difficult to achieve?

If the answer to all these questions is YES, you are in a good place. Today I would love to present for you 10 the hardest IT certifications to get.

These certifications were created for real IT heroes. Heroes who don’t afraid thousands hours of learning, for heroes who can sacrifice thousands of dollars to take the most sophisticated exams on the planet.

10 The Hardest IT Certifications To Get

I focus on three aspects of each certification:

  1. Required exams and trainings (starting from zero).
  2. How easy/hard is the preparation process.
  3. How difficult is the final exam.

10. Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE)

Specialization: Wireless

Requirements: 4/5
To become a CWNE you must have valid CWSP, CWAP, CWDP and CWNA certifications; three years of documented enterprise Wi-Fi implementation experience; three professional endorsements; two other valid networking certifications and documentation of three enterprise Wi-Fi projects, in which you participated or led.

Hard to Prepare: 1/5
Preparation process for the exam isn’t too hard, because the exam itself is easy (compared to other exams on this page).

Hard to Pass: 1/5
Only one exam is required after completing all the requirements.

Summary: 2/5
It’s the highest vendor-neutral wireless certification. 109 people have this title.
A profile of a person with the CWNE certification.

9. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Data Center

Specialization: Networking

Requirements: 1/5
There are no requirements for the CCIE Data Center certification. You need only to pass one writen, qualification exam.

Hard to Prepare: 4/5
That’s the hardest part of the process. If you don’t work for Cisco or a big Cisco’s partner, you must spend a lot of money on that. According to FryGuy’s blog the equipment costs more that $1,100,000. On the Iwan’s blog you can find a list of equipment for the lab.

Hard to Pass: 2/5
The exam costs $1500. It’s a 8-hour long lab. During that time you must configure required tasks from the exam guide.

Summary: 2.3/5
The CCIE Data Center certification was introduced last year. At this moment only one person have achieved this title. Many engineers (including Iwan Hoogendoorn and Rick Mur) are preparing for this certification.
A profile of a person with the CCIE Data Center certification.

8. Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)

Specialization: Linux

Requirements: 1/5
You must pass the RHCE certification.

Hard to Prepare: 2/5
During a preparation process you must master your Linux skills: network management, system management, storage management, system monitoring, performance tuning and virtualization.

Hard to Pass: 4/5
You must pass 5 lab exams. Exams (length from 2 to 8 hours), without any courses and preparation materials, cost almost $5000.

Summary: 2.3/5
This is the hardest Linux certifications to get in the world. Exams require from you a lot of skills and a lot of money.
A profile of a person with the RHCA certification.

7. VMware Certified Design Expert – Datacenter Virtualization (VCDX)

Specialization: Virtualization

Requirements: 3/5
You must hold three VMware certifications VCP-DV, VCAP5-DCA and VCAP5-DCD.

Hard to Prepare: 2/5
The preparation process isn’t too easy, because VMWare doesn’t provide any self-study materials or detailed requirements for the exam.

Hard to Pass: 3/5
You must submit your VCDX5-DV application. After an acceptance you must successfully present and defend a VMware vSphere based virtual infrastructure design and implementation plan to the board (people with the VCDX certification).

Summary: 2.7/5
Only 105-115 people hold the VCDX certification. Most of them work for VMware.
A profile of a person with the VCDX certification.

6. Offensive Security Certified Expert (OSCE)

Specialization: Security

Requirements: 1/5
There are no big requirements for this certification. Only one training is required.

Hard to Prepare: 2/5
A scope of the exam requires from you outstanding security skills (including penetration testing, reverse engineering and coding).

Hard to Pass: 5/5
The exam is a real nightmare. You have 48 hours to research the network (information gathering), identify any vulnerabilities, and execute their attacks with the goal of compromising the systems to gain administrative access. 48 hours of problems, impossible tasks and working without sleeping.

Summary: 2.7/5
It’s one of the coolest certifications to achieve.
A profile of a person with the OSCE certification.

5. Oracle Certified Master (OCM) DBA 11g

Specialization: Database

Requirements: 4/5
To become OCM from zero you must pass three normal exams for OCA and OCP, take three official trainings ($2000 – $3000 each).

Hard to Prepare: 1/5
In these days you can prepare to all the topics without physical machines (hint: virtualization). Although, still some subjects (FC and InfiniBand) require from you access to the “real” stuff.

Hard to Pass: 3/5
The exam is 2-day long practical lab.

Summary: 2.7/5
The OCM DBA exam is a real nightmare, but the certification itself has many benefits on the job market.
A profile of a person with the OCM DBA certification.

4. GIAC Security Expert (GSE)

Specialization: Security

Requirements: 3/5
You must pass at least 5 GIAC certifications, including GSEC, GCIH and GCIA.

Hard to Prepare: 4/5
You do not need any special equipment or trainings, but you need to understand theoretical and practical almost every aspect of security.

Hard to Pass: 3/5
The GSE exam has two parts. The first is a multiple choice exam which may be taken at a proctored location just like any other GIAC exam. The second consists of a rigorous battery of hands-on exercises drawn from all the security domains. The full exam costs $1600.

Summary: 3.3/5
Only around 60 people right now have the GSE certification.
A profile of a person with the GSE certification.

3. ITIL v3 Master

Specialization: IT Management

Requirements: 5/5
To become ITIL v3 Master you must first become ITIL v3 Expert. Road for the ITIL v3 Expert certification is quite complex. You must pass at least 5 ITIL certifications. For most of the exams you need to complete (quite expensive) training. Additionally, you must have present your experience before taking the final ITIL v3 Master board exam (at least five years in leadership, managerial, or higher management advisory levels).

Hard to Prepare: 3/5
Most of the knowledge is gained during a preparation process to the ITIL v3 Expert and your experience with the ITIL framework.

Hard to Pass: 5/5
The examination process is complex. First you must complete the application process. After that you must submit a proposal outlining the real life situation and the elements of ITIL to be applied to the situation. Next step is to submit the Work Package. An the end you will be invited to an interview. The whole process takes 30 weeks.

Summary: 4.3/5
At this moment only 33 people successfully finished the certification process.
A profile of a person with the ITIL v3 Master certification.

2. Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) Windows Server: Directory

Specialization: Windows

Requirements: 5/5
To become MCA you must first become a Microsoft Certified Master. You need for that two other certifications, 5-year of documented experience and pass two additional exams: written and 6-hour long lab.

Hard to Prepare: 4/5
There are no trainings, preparation materials or even the scope of the exam. You must be prepared to resolve the most complex scenarios and design the biggest Active Directory domains.

Hard to Pass: 4/5
After registering, acceptance and payment ($7500) you must prepare you work history and a few high-level case study design documents. Next you must attend a few-hour review with the other MCAs.

Summary: 4.3/5
Only 4 people have the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) Windows Server: Directory certification. Today Microsoft offers 4 different MCA certifications: MCA: Microsoft Exchange Server, MCA: Microsoft SharePoint Server, MCA: Microsoft SQL Server and MCA: Windows Server: Directory. Please keep in mind that each of the is on the same level.
A profile of a person with the MCA certification.

1. Cisco Certified Architect – CCAr

Specialization: Networking

Requirements: 4/5
To become a CCAr you must first achieve the CCDE certification (CCDE was introduced in 2007 and only 85 people achieved this title).

Hard to Prepare: 5/5
You won’t find any preparation materials for this certification. The scope of the exam is extremely wide: from high-level business requirements analyze to low-level routing protocols’ configuration.

Hard to Pass:5/5
The total cost of the exam is $15000. You must first submit an application summarizing your project experience and other qualifications. Once approved, you will be given an architecture challenge and will meet live with Board members (other Cisco Certified Architects and Cisco Distinguished Engineers) to answer questions and defend your design. After that you will receive the score: Pass or Fail.

Summary: 3.3/5
Only 10-15 people achieved the Cisco Certified Architect title.
A profile of a person with the CCAr certification.

What Is The Hardest Certification to Get?

There are no single answer, but we can choose from these certifications three titles: ITIL v3 Master, Microsoft Certified Architect and Cisco Certified Architect. I would love to dedicate these words to all these certified people:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The ones who see things differently.
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

What is your opinion about these certifications? Why people sacrifice time and money for these IT certifications?

  • It’s like mountain climbing. Quite rewarding and challenging for some to get to the top – because it’s there.

  • uniqueness!!! awesome post. Tarik Alsharafi – Founder. IamWealthyToday.com

  • laervim

    what about CCIE SP OPerations , there very few peoples with this cert, what is the reason?

  • Mr.Frank

    Well, $15,000 for a cert is pure retardedness 😀

  • Shuva

    Oh man, ITIL Expert itself is like climbing mount Everest. Luckily I am done with it. But Masters, no not doing it.

  • I really like your website. ITIL expert definitely makes me want to take a break from certifications.

  • Pradipta Yuwono

    number of people who get that certification is very small, it is like getting a noble prize.