Become a Legend – The Hardest IT Certifications to Get

by Mirek Burnejko

Become a Legend

What is the hardest IT certification to get?

We all know that to pass any IT certification we must do a lot of work, a lot of learning and have (sometimes) a lot of luck on the exam.

At the end of the day what employers want? They want people who do not afraid of hard work, can learn and have the luck.

IT certifications we can divide into two main categories: Entry-Level and Expert-Level. We can also find one more group.

The hardest to learn, the harder to pass, the ones that cost fortune, the elitist.

Let’s look at the list of top seven IT certifications.

The Hardest IT Certifications to Get

Our list consists of seven IT certifications. These that need a lot of preparation, many prerequisites and with the hardest exam.

7. Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE)

The last place on our list of the hardest IT Certifications to get. The greatest neutral wireless certification in the world – Certified Wireless Network Expert. Let’s look at the requirements. You must first pass 4Β IT certifications from CWNP. Then present few documents to the CWNE program managers like enterprise Wi-Fi implementation experience, your three Wi-Fi projects, professional endorsements and other networking certifications. At the end you must simple test.

We can find 89 CWNE engineers around the world.
Let’s look at the number six on the list.

Requirements:4/5
Hard to Prepare:1/5
Hard to Pass:1/5
Summary: 2/5

6. VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX)

VCDXLet’s look on the another IT certification in our Top 7 list. VMware, a few years ago, after good start with the VCP certification, added to its portfolio a new holly grail for all virtualization lovers. But lets start from the beginning. First you must pass three exams and attend one training. A piece of cake? Now you must submit your VCDX application and defend it. You must present your project to a Board Members (at least two with VCDX) and answer a lot of questions about the project and a lot of other topics.

No preparation materials, no information how design document should look like, a lot of learning and a lot of experience needed.

You can find less than 100 VCDX certified people in the world.

More about the VCDX certification.

Requirements:3/5
Hard to Prepare:1/5
Hard to Pass:3/5
Summary: 2.3/5

5. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) Storage Networking

First Cisco’s certification on the list. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Storage Networking is not the hardest exam in the Cisco’s portfolio, but the road to this IT certification is not easy.

To become CCIE Storage you do not need any requirements. You must pass two exams. First one (written) which give you an access to lab reservation (4 places in the world). And the lab itself. 8-hour long configuration exam with Cisco’s storage networking devices (MDS). Looks simple?

Let’s talk about preparation. If you are not a Cisco employee or do not work for the biggest storage companies you must build the lab, a real fiber channel network with three or more Cisco MDSes, storage arrays, few servers and other storage devices. Cost of that equipment can be equal to tens of thousands of dollars. Of course you can buy remote access to the equipment. For example one week from ieMentor costs $1200. How many weeks we need to become an expert?

More about the CCIE Storage Networking certification.

In the storage networking industry you can find about 200 experts with this certification.
One of them has given an interview for us – Rick Mur CCIE#21946.

Requirements:1/5
Hard to Prepare:4/5
Hard to Pass:3/5
Summary: 2.7/5

4. Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)

Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA) is the highest certification in all Linux-based certifications. You do not need sophisticated environment – a few virtual machines will be sufficient. To become RHCA you must first pass the Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) practical lab exam. Then pass another 5 lab exams. Each is in length from 2 to 8 hours. Without any courses and preparation materials exams cost almost $5000.

Without any questions the best and the hardest to get Linux certification.

Requirements:1/5
Hard to Prepare:3/5
Hard to Pass:4/5
Summary: 2.7/5

3. Oracle Certified Master (OCM) DBA 11g

Top three list opens the legend. The legend in the database world. Let’s look at it deeper. To become OCM from zero you must pass three normal exams for OCA and OCP, take three official trainings ($2000 – $3000 each) and pass at the end 2-day practical lab. In these days preparation almost all topics you can train without physical machines, but if we start training with FC and InfiniBand topics then we need some more “real” stuff.

Of course all OCM certifications are hard to pass, but always the OCM DBA certification was the best of the best.
You can find 50-60 people with the actual version of the OCM certification.

Requirements: 4/5
Hard to Prepare: 2/5
Hard to Pass: 3/5
Summary: 3/5

More about the OCM DBA certification.

2. Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) Microsoft SQL Server 2008

Let’s look at the another IT Certification legend – Microsoft Certified Architect from the most exclusive path – SQL Server. The way to get this certification is not the easiest. First you must to become Microsoft Certified Master (MCM). Easy? NO !!! You need for that two other certifications, 5-year of documented experience and you also must pass two additional exams: written and 6-hour long lab.

Then the hardest part. 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.

Six people have the MCA certification for Microsoft SQL Server 2008 and one of them is not from Microsoft.

We can find other MCA paths and also great and amazing hard exams to pass.
What can be harder? Let’s look at the number one.

Requirements:5/5
Hard to Prepare:4/5
Hard to Pass:5/5
Summary: 4.7/5

1. Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)

Without any questions, number one on the list. For some people achieving CCIE or even CCDE is the hardest part in their life. People are losing money, families, health for these IT certifications. Try to imagine another level.

Cisco Certified Architect is THE another level. The highest level in all IT certifications. Let’s look deeper. No preparation materials. You must be CCDE (Cisco Certified Design Expert – about 60 people). Also you must provide a resume of your professional experience (at least 10 years of the “real” experience) + $3750.

Let’s look at the exam itself. If the Cisco Team recognize that you are worthy, after paying $11250 you can start your exam. The exam is a live Board Review with Cisco Certified Architects and Distinguished Engineers. After a few hours of talking and solving many surrealistic, high-level problems you can be proud. You are CCAr.

It’s a Cisco’s version of MCA with one small difference. For this certification you must know and understand all Cisco’s technologies from the viewpoint of CIOs, CFOs and other business and technical people.

I have a big pleasure to live in this world with 8 Cisco Certified Architects. Most of them are from the best Cisco’s teams.

Requirements:5/5
Hard to Prepare:5/5
Hard to Pass:5/5
Summary: 5/5

So Do You Want To Be a Legend?

At the end ask yourself a question: How many people have two or more IT certifications from this list?

  • rob howarth

    I’m kinda concerned that you mention luck in this article. No certification exam should involve the element of luck. The examinee either has the skills/knowledge required or they don’t. An exam should be an objective test of existing skills/knowledge. Luck should have absolutely nothing to do with it.

  • rob howarth

    I’m kinda concerned that you mention luck in this article. No certification exam should involve the element of luck. The examinee either has the skills/knowledge required or they don’t. An exam should be an objective test of existing skills/knowledge. Luck should have absolutely nothing to do with it.

  • ICM

    Thank you for your comment Rob.
    We can talk about the luck for a long time.
    If we don’t have luck Russ White as a examinator on our CCAr exam can have a bad day…
    Of course the best option for all of us is to prepare the system without the human factor.

    • Scott Morris

      I think having Russ on the board would make it more entertaining. πŸ˜‰ Sense of humor has a lot to do with network design!

      And each of the CCIEs should be a difficult test. If someone can’t find study material, that doesn’t make the test any harder. It merely makes it more difficult for ‘anyone’ to work through it.

      Tests are about whether a “properly qualified candidate” can pass them or not.

      • ICM

        Thanks Scott. Great comment.

      • I totally agree with Scott that all Cisco CCIE certifications are some of the most difficult exams to pass. I cant really speak on the other vendor certifications as I havent made any attempts at any of them but if I had to choose one Cisco CCIE exams that I feel should be in the top 7 as one of the most difficult to pass I would have to go with the CCIE Wireless Lab exam.

        • ICM

          Interesting. Thanks Matt. You think that CCIE Wireless is hard to pass. I of course must admit. Access to controllers (specially to 6500) isn’t the cheapest option.

      • I just became aware of this article from LinkedIn. Interesting analysis – I wasn’t aware of a few of these. Kudos to those individuals who are passing these exams.

        Scott Morris – our paths cross again. Your name seems to come up once every 2-3 years on my end and of course it’s always a pleasure. How’s that lab of yours? I’m up to a pawltry 2 full racks and I drew the line there.

        Jason Boche
        VCDX #34

        • ICM

          Thank you so much Jason.
          It is a pleasure to have here another legend – you.
          For sure there are more the hardest certifications to get. 2013 edition will be funnier πŸ™‚

  • ICM

    Thank you for your comment Rob.
    We can talk about the luck for a long time.
    If we don’t have luck Russ White as a examinator on our CCAr exam can have a bad day…
    Of course the best option for all of us is to prepare the system without the human factor.

    • Scott Morris

      I think having Russ on the board would make it more entertaining. πŸ˜‰ Sense of humor has a lot to do with network design!

      And each of the CCIEs should be a difficult test. If someone can’t find study material, that doesn’t make the test any harder. It merely makes it more difficult for ‘anyone’ to work through it.

      Tests are about whether a “properly qualified candidate” can pass them or not.

      • ICM

        Thanks Scott. Great comment.

      • I totally agree with Scott that all Cisco CCIE certifications are some of the most difficult exams to pass. I cant really speak on the other vendor certifications as I havent made any attempts at any of them but if I had to choose one Cisco CCIE exams that I feel should be in the top 7 as one of the most difficult to pass I would have to go with the CCIE Wireless Lab exam.

        • ICM

          Interesting. Thanks Matt. You think that CCIE Wireless is hard to pass. I of course must admit. Access to controllers (specially to 6500) isn’t the cheapest option.

      • I just became aware of this article from LinkedIn. Interesting analysis – I wasn’t aware of a few of these. Kudos to those individuals who are passing these exams.

        Scott Morris – our paths cross again. Your name seems to come up once every 2-3 years on my end and of course it’s always a pleasure. How’s that lab of yours? I’m up to a pawltry 2 full racks and I drew the line there.

        Jason Boche
        VCDX #34

        • ICM

          Thank you so much Jason.
          It is a pleasure to have here another legend – you.
          For sure there are more the hardest certifications to get. 2013 edition will be funnier πŸ™‚

  • Marcus Guidry

    All I can say is.. WOW!!!! I seriously thought that the RHCA and the CCIE were the toughest exams ever. Boy was I WRONG!! I didn’t know about CCDE and CCAr until now!! Passing the CCNA was tough enough. The price for CCAr itself is beyond astronomical!! For those who have the CCDE and even the CCAr, I envy you. πŸ™‚

    • ICM

      Thank Marcus.
      I trully believe that the list will evolve in these years. We should also look at other certifications like GIAC Security Expert (GSE). So if someone thinks that IT certifications are no valuable we can say – try MCA/OCM/CCAr combination πŸ™‚

  • Marcus Guidry

    All I can say is.. WOW!!!! I seriously thought that the RHCA and the CCIE were the toughest exams ever. Boy was I WRONG!! I didn’t know about CCDE and CCAr until now!! Passing the CCNA was tough enough. The price for CCAr itself is beyond astronomical!! For those who have the CCDE and even the CCAr, I envy you. πŸ™‚

    • ICM

      Thank Marcus.
      I trully believe that the list will evolve in these years. We should also look at other certifications like GIAC Security Expert (GSE). So if someone thinks that IT certifications are no valuable we can say – try MCA/OCM/CCAr combination πŸ™‚

  • Yes i agree with you that Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)is the most toughest one. I pass many certifications like Cisco, juniper and Microsoft. In my view many courses are tough but CCAr is truly the one which required extra intelligent and tough work to have this course under belt.

    • ICM

      Thanks Sohail. I wonder in which directions Brocade, Juniper and Huawei will go. Time will tell.

  • Yes i agree with you that Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr)is the most toughest one. I pass many certifications like Cisco, juniper and Microsoft. In my view many courses are tough but CCAr is truly the one which required extra intelligent and tough work to have this course under belt.

    • ICM

      Thanks Sohail. I wonder in which directions Brocade, Juniper and Huawei will go. Time will tell.

  • Ato Adam

    Thanks for the knowledge. All the best to all those who are in the path of studying.

  • Ato Adam

    Thanks for the knowledge. All the best to all those who are in the path of studying.

  • The CCAr is kind of a joke, though. Most don’t know what it is, and those who do are pretty confident in it being a waste of money. If I have 10+ years of experience and a CCIE, what does a CCAr actually prove? That Russ White’s way of design is THE right way? I dunno, I just can’t help but chortle a bit whenever somebody mentions it.

    • ICM

      Hi Chris. Thank for your comment.
      Is CCAr hard to pass? Yes πŸ™‚ Money, Time, Requirements.
      Is CCAr valuable? Don’t know. Many people discuss about CCAr, MCA, CITA-P. What is the real answer?
      We are going to do an interview with CCAr and MCA/CITA-P on our website.
      Maybe they will have some good answers.

    • Techbest

      Chris, like the article said, people are giving up their lives, health and families just to get the CCIE in R&S. I know guys that got a divorce or rented hotel rooms for months to get away from distraction only to fail once again. Most can’t comprehend the commitment just for the CCIE.
      Then, there is this level! PhD of Cisco

  • The CCAr is kind of a joke, though. Most don’t know what it is, and those who do are pretty confident in it being a waste of money. If I have 10+ years of experience and a CCIE, what does a CCAr actually prove? That Russ White’s way of design is THE right way? I dunno, I just can’t help but chortle a bit whenever somebody mentions it.

    • ICM

      Hi Chris. Thank for your comment.
      Is CCAr hard to pass? Yes πŸ™‚ Money, Time, Requirements.
      Is CCAr valuable? Don’t know. Many people discuss about CCAr, MCA, CITA-P. What is the real answer?
      We are going to do an interview with CCAr and MCA/CITA-P on our website.
      Maybe they will have some good answers.

    • Techbest

      Chris, like the article said, people are giving up their lives, health and families just to get the CCIE in R&S. I know guys that got a divorce or rented hotel rooms for months to get away from distraction only to fail once again. Most can’t comprehend the commitment just for the CCIE.
      Then, there is this level! PhD of Cisco

  • Really interesting article…I would just add CCDE explicitly because it’s strongly based on your passed experience. You can pass a CCIE exam without much real world experience but you can’t pass the Design Expert test for sure.
    I haven’t even heard before about CWNE and it sounds to be so tough and challenging as well.

  • Really interesting article…I would just add CCDE explicitly because it’s strongly based on your passed experience. You can pass a CCIE exam without much real world experience but you can’t pass the Design Expert test for sure.
    I haven’t even heard before about CWNE and it sounds to be so tough and challenging as well.

  • I’ve post some considerations on my blog:
    http://vinfrastructure.it/en/2012/02/top-it-certifications/

    IMHO money, time, location (is not the same leave in Italy or at London, for example), language (again as before),… could make some certs more difficult that others

    • ICM

      Thank you so much Andrea. I believe next year the list of the hardest IT Certifications to get will be more complex and will change a little bit πŸ™‚

  • I’ve post some considerations on my blog:
    http://vinfrastructure.it/en/2012/02/top-it-certifications/

    IMHO money, time, location (is not the same leave in Italy or at London, for example), language (again as before),… could make some certs more difficult that others

    • ICM

      Thank you so much Andrea. I believe next year the list of the hardest IT Certifications to get will be more complex and will change a little bit πŸ™‚

  • Rafael Gordon

    Just a note on the MCA as you mention you have to previously obtain the MCM. In the case of the SQL and the Exchange MCM’s assisting to the course is not mandatory, so you only have to pay for the exams.

    http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/master.aspx

    So the other MCM’s (Lync, AD, Sharepoint)are more expensive and hence harder to obtain (because of the added cost) so MCA’s based on AD, Lync and Sharepoint would be harder, because “the road” to them is more expensive.

    Also in another note, if you are an MCT you get 50% discount on your MCM exams.

    Thank you for the article I enjoyed it and liked your blog very much!

    Off-Topic: Are you assisting to the MCT Summit in Warsaw?

    • ICM

      Wow. Thank you for that detailed information. Great information.
      I will change that in the 2011 edition of the hardest certifications. (Plus add a few other certifications).

      Off-Topic: Unfortunately no πŸ™

  • Rafael Gordon

    Just a note on the MCA as you mention you have to previously obtain the MCM. In the case of the SQL and the Exchange MCM’s assisting to the course is not mandatory, so you only have to pay for the exams.

    http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/master.aspx

    So the other MCM’s (Lync, AD, Sharepoint)are more expensive and hence harder to obtain (because of the added cost) so MCA’s based on AD, Lync and Sharepoint would be harder, because “the road” to them is more expensive.

    Also in another note, if you are an MCT you get 50% discount on your MCM exams.

    Thank you for the article I enjoyed it and liked your blog very much!

    Off-Topic: Are you assisting to the MCT Summit in Warsaw?

    • ICM

      Wow. Thank you for that detailed information. Great information.
      I will change that in the 2011 edition of the hardest certifications. (Plus add a few other certifications).

      Off-Topic: Unfortunately no πŸ™

  • Wilson Don

    For me, the toughest exam on this earth is GSE – GIAC Security Expert. Only around 46 GSE right now. Cisco will be the history, now everybody moves to cloud or virtualization.

    • I didn’t know about GSE when I was writing this article. Thanks Wilson.
      I don’t think that Cisco will be a history πŸ™‚ Still in the “cloud” you have networks… stronger… faster… better. For end user yes, but good networking engineers will be needed. What do you think Wilson?

      • Wilson Don

        Yep, because new technology is based or built partially on old technology. Network engineering guys will be needed for next decades but then I think we will have “Cloud Engineer” title to adapt the demand flexibility of new technology. If Cisco doesn’t change the way it works, it will pay a very exorbitant price. I am a Red Hat guy, used to be Cisco nerd and now going to VMware technology.

        • Jacopo Galli

          Interesting topic. My personal opinion is that virtualization and the cloud are the future, yes! But they run their power on the roads, and Cisco builds that roads, even much faster and secure than ever. The software is nothing if there’s no hardware.

          The problem could be the numbers of cisco guys, Cisco guys won’t really needed in all the companies that doesn’t have their main business in ISP or cloud provider or Data Center.

          I would be a Cisco and VMware guru …Nothing can stop you ^_^

        • Madhur Gupta

          GSE is Toughest!!!

          I want GSE too but before that I’ll go catch CCIE R&S first.

          I’m 20 now and RHCA but My ultimate goal is to be GSE!!!

    • Techbest

      your smoking crack

  • Wilson Don

    For me, the toughest exam on this earth is GSE – GIAC Security Expert. Only around 46 GSE right now. Cisco will be the history, now everybody moves to cloud or virtualization.

    • I didn’t know about GSE when I was writing this article. Thanks Wilson.
      I don’t think that Cisco will be a history πŸ™‚ Still in the “cloud” you have networks… stronger… faster… better. For end user yes, but good networking engineers will be needed. What do you think Wilson?

      • Wilson Don

        Yep, because new technology is based or built partially on old technology. Network engineering guys will be needed for next decades but then I think we will have “Cloud Engineer” title to adapt the demand flexibility of new technology. If Cisco doesn’t change the way it works, it will pay a very exorbitant price. I am a Red Hat guy, used to be Cisco nerd and now going to VMware technology.

        • Jacopo Galli

          Interesting topic. My personal opinion is that virtualization and the cloud are the future, yes! But they run their power on the roads, and Cisco builds that roads, even much faster and secure than ever. The software is nothing if there’s no hardware.

          The problem could be the numbers of cisco guys, Cisco guys won’t really needed in all the companies that doesn’t have their main business in ISP or cloud provider or Data Center.

          I would be a Cisco and VMware guru …Nothing can stop you ^_^

        • Madhur Gupta

          GSE is Toughest!!!

          I want GSE too but before that I’ll go catch CCIE R&S first.

          I’m 20 now and RHCA but My ultimate goal is to be GSE!!!

    • Techbest

      your smoking crack

  • Igor

    I know some CCIE, at this momment my target is CCIE S&R and After, CCIE Security.
    CCAr is a good target to build up a career.

    • Techbest

      yeah, good luck. The IE in R&S is a bitch

  • Igor

    I know some CCIE, at this momment my target is CCIE S&R and After, CCIE Security.
    CCAr is a good target to build up a career.

    • Techbest

      yeah, good luck. The IE in R&S is a bitch

  • Where is CISSP on your list? Looking at the list and point calculations I would place it at 6 or 7 but not off the list completely.

  • Where is CISSP on your list? Looking at the list and point calculations I would place it at 6 or 7 but not off the list completely.

  • Greg W. Stuart

    Hey, great blog post, you listed some that I hadn’t though of before. Well written, love the tag “so do you want to be a legend?” Good stuff. Keep up the good work.

  • Greg W. Stuart

    Hey, great blog post, you listed some that I hadn’t though of before. Well written, love the tag “so do you want to be a legend?” Good stuff. Keep up the good work.

  • dansia

    The Cisco Certified Architects are 7 rather
    http://www.cciehof.com/ccar.html

  • sanjay

    The CCDE OR CCIE( routing and switching-which was the original ‘THE’ certificate) should be on the list. CCDE is simply ridiculous( knowledge is equivalent to ccar=ccde+experience really).
    cisco wont exist without routs and switches!

    Actually all ‘CCIE’ should be on the top of the list after CCAR and rest only come after them as others are basically process based exams whose breadth of syllabi is nowhere near to ccie or ccde’s rigour!

  • sanjay

    The CCDE OR CCIE( routing and switching-which was the original ‘THE’ certificate) should be on the list. CCDE is simply ridiculous( knowledge is equivalent to ccar=ccde+experience really).
    cisco wont exist without routs and switches!

    Actually all ‘CCIE’ should be on the top of the list after CCAR and rest only come after them as others are basically process based exams whose breadth of syllabi is nowhere near to ccie or ccde’s rigour!

  • Nitin Negi

    CISSP certification is not listed, Quiet strange!!