Category Archives: General Cert Discussion

New CompTIA Certification Renewals Options for A+ and Network+

comptia-logoThe A+ exam series has moved onto exams 220-901 & 220-902, replacing 220-801 & 220-802 which were retired in June. Network+ has also progressed to the N10-006 exam, which replaced the N10-005 exam in February 2015. CompTIA has recently started to offer “bridge” exams, much like Microsoft has famously provided when they have decided to update their certification offerings.  However, the availability of the CompTIA exams is quite limited, for now you must be provided a Private Access Code (PAC) from CompTIA via email, so make sure correspondence with the group is enabled in your profile!  The other availability factor, although is a very minor one, is that the bridge exams are not available for those who have obtained their A+ and/or Network+ with the current exams.

These bridge exams are the RCO-903 and the RCO-N06, for A+ and Network+ respectively.   The A+ exam is 50 questions and the Network+ is 45, both indicate that they feature the typical CompTIA multiple choice questions.  The cost of the RCO-N06 is $100 USD versus $175 for the RCO-903, my assumption is that the higher price of A+ exam reflects the fact that it allows you to recertify a typically two-exam cert with only one test.  Passing the exam will also waive any Continuing Education fees that would be required if you are actively participating in the CE program.

I have not completed either of these exams as it is my intent, and my recommendation, to always recertify at the highest level of the linked CompTIA linked exam hierarchy (found in this FAQ) as you can.  As an example, I have obtained my CASP certification, so when the time comes, my plan is to renew that, taking care of all of the “lower” exams.  However, everyone learns at a different pace, has different certification goals, and different resources such as time and funding available to them so having more certification renewal options is always good thing.  In this regard, CompTIA has strong offerings, as the CE program has been around for years now as an alternative to booking an exam to recertify.

The exams must, of course, be completed before your current certifications expire, otherwise you will essentially be started from scratch in your CompTIA certification chain.   Employ whatever method works for you when it comes to keeping track of your cert expiration dates, be it calendar reminders in your calendar app, sticky notes on your monitor, etc.!

I’m curious as to what kind of market there will ultimately be for these renewal certifications.  As of now, there is no study material specifically for the bridge exams, but the exams are based around the objectives of the current entry exams in the certification, with adjusted weights for the various competency categories.  So any available study guides for the current series will work, but you may be able to save time by focusing less on areas that have seen little change from the last versions of the exam objectives or are areas that you are currently very strong in.

Excellent Global Knowledge Article: Six Certification Exam Mistakes to Avoid

Just a quick post for now, I wanted to pass along a link to an article from Global Knowledge that I really enjoyed, Six Certification Mistakes to Avoid, no registration or anything like that needed! My favorite point is definitely Number 3. I’ve sat in a number of interviews where the hiring manager has brought along a Subject Matter Expert for the very purpose of sniffing out what are sometimes referred to as paper tigers, people who have plenty of cert paper but no significant real word experience to back it up. If you’ve truly earned your certifications through the right mix of learning experiences then challenges like this shouldn’t sweat you too much. Anyways, there’s some good advice in this article, and if you aren’t already practicing the recommended principles in your studies, I highly recommend that you consider doing so.

Is Global Knowledge trying to sell you on one of their (sometimes quite pricey) training courses in this article? Of course, but they certainly are a valid cert study option for those that can stomach the cost.

Thoughts on the ITIL Foundation Exam

ITIL Image

Just a month ago, I obtained the ITIL Foundation certification. While I don’t have any current aspirations to branch out into IT management, I do some project work in my current role and I thought it would be a good idea to familiarize myself with ITIL’s widely accepted set of IT best practices. The subject matter, mostly talking at a very high level about the processes and relationships between different sections of IT management, didn’t really strike a chord with me. This is a common issue in certification studies, sometimes you come to topics that you just cannot bring yourself to care about, and that usually creates problems with regards to your motivation to keep on going through your study material. ITIL Foundation truly felt like a slog to me.

I began by reading the ITIL Foundation Exam Study Guide by Liz Gallacher and Helen Morris. A perfectly good study guide, to be sure, but again, the material was so dry that I almost felt it physically draining to complete reading a page and then move on to the next. This made for slow progress, and there’s no one really to blame but myself. I also made use of the CBT Nuggets ITIL Foundation video series, which features Michael Shannon as the instructor. I will say that I found some of the graphics used to explain some of the theories, such as the Service Lifecycle, that were featured in the CBT Nuggets videos to be superior to their equivalencies in the paper study guide. I did find myself getting distracted and having to rewind portions of the videos at times, a problem that was caused almost as much by the multitasking power of my computer and much as my boredom with whatever the current topic happened to be.

Now, what training topics an individual finds interesting is a purely subjective thing, and I don’t mean to run down the cert or imply that it isn’t worth your time. I thought it was worthwhile enough to put dozens of hours into studying the material necessary to obtain the cert, after all. I do, however, have to bring up a point of frustration with gathering information about the how and where to write the exam. The ITIL Foundation information page provides links to training partners and exam institutes. While I’m not surprised they didn’t include direct links to vendors such as CBT Nuggets, it was very odd there was no readily available link to their officially sanctioned study guide. In addition, it took a Google search and some reading to put together the fact that I needed to select EXIN as the company to find the ITIL Foundation exam within the Pearson Vue catalog.

The exam itself proved to be a very minor obstacle, it consisted of forty multiple choice questions (always choosing one correct answer, though said answers may encompass several choices from a list), and I only encountered one question that I felt was worded poorly enough to cause confusion. I will say that I didn’t feel like any questions came out of left field, they all seemed to draw on knowledge that could be obtained from commonly available training material, which is not something that can be said about every cert exam. With only 65% (26 out of 40) required to pass, you have plenty of room for error. I believe that an exam’s difficulty can heavily effect the prestige of a certification, and while this is an entry level cert, I felt a bit more challenge would have been appropriate.

There is no current news about the current ITIL Foundation 2011 (the previous version was v3) material being phased out in the near future, but as with any cert, practice due diligence and try to determine if you might be writing an exam that you have to essentially rewrite in less than a year. It appears than in previous changes to the material, a bridge exam was needed to keep your cert valid.

A general overview of the ITIL qualifications can be found here.

As always, feel free to post your own thought regarding ITIL Foundation in the comments section!

Commit to Cert Training in 2015!

Happy New Year 2015

We are only two days away from 2015, so let me propose a New Year’s resolution for everyone (yes, even me). Let’s all commit to obtaining at least one new certification in the calendar year. I’ve got a modest initial goal: Completing the Juniper Networks Certified Associate (JNCIA-Junos). From there, I’m hoping to complete at least one exam towards my CCNP Security and one or two exams for my Alcatel-Lucent NRS II. If possible, perhaps I’ll even obtain that ITIL Foundations cert I keep pushing to the sidelines!

So let’s all wish ourselves luck over the next twelve months. Remember that it doesn’t matter if you are going for your A+, your MCSE, or your CCIE R&S, the important thing is to work on improving your skills and knowledge, empowering yourself to take your career where you want it to go!

Certmail arrives at CertManiacs!

Sept 2014 CertMail

You might find it a little odd that I actually look forward to receiving new certification guides in the mail. What I’m actually looking forward to is the opportunity (and since money was paid for the books, a bit more motivation) to expand my IT skills and possibly obtain new certs. When it comes to educational guides and textbooks I still prefer paper versions as opposed to eBooks. The main reason is that in my job I stare at monitors all day long, and I often find myself staring at them when I get home, which is pretty common nowadays for most people. It is nice, however, to take a break from a backlit screen now and then and these paper guides help me do that. In fact, you see that I purchased a CCNA Security command guide, that will be a companion to the electronic CCNA Security study guide that I’ve been reading through, with my intention being to basically lab through all the commands via GNS3 following my complete reading of the study guide. Truth be told, it’s been painful trying to read through what’s really just a big PDF and I’m looking forward to being done with it, and that is not at all because I find the subject matter dis-interesting.

I also picked up an ITIL Foundations study guide, that purchase was motivated solely because it is something that HR representatives for technical jobs love to see it in your resume, I’m really unsure how I feel about the ITIL principles in general. Perhaps I’ll become a believer, we shall see. And the last thing to note, that Alcatel-Lucent NRS II guide is over 1400 pages! It will definitely keep me busy.

Whatever certs you pursue and whatever guides you buy, the most important thing is to keep pushing forward: learning new skills and obtain new credentials! It will only net positive results!

The Alcatel-Lucent NRS I Certificate Arrives!

Just a quick update today, one of the things I look forward to after successfully completing the requirements for a tech cert is the arrival of the physical certificate (and, in some cases, certification wallet card). It’s a nice token to show your accomplishment, but it’s very likely you’ll never show it to a potential employer. Rather, all certification offerings have a way to send an electronic proof of your employment to any hiring staff that may require it.

With all that said, here’s a look at the paper for a cert that a lot of folks probably haven’t seen, the Alcatel-Lucent NRS I.

Alcatel Lucent NRS I Cert

Maybe I’ll be able to add the NRS II to the collection in the next year or so? I have a couple of other cert goals to reach first, but I’m definitely considering the possibility!

Where Do You Want to Go Today?

If it’s not readily apparent, this blog and CertManiacs as a whole will deal solely with IT certifications.  I have no experience with industrial, medical, or other types of certifications and I won’t pretend to.  I’m not worried about running out of content for this blog because the world of technical certifications is (almost absurdly) vast.  OSes, networking, server administration, database administration, PC and Mac repair, virtualization, security…you name it, chances are there are certifications for that topic.  One thing that’s clear is that no matter who you are and what path you have followed that has led you to the IT world, there is a certification out there that can help you verify your knowledge on a subject to satisfy the requirements of any potential employer.  The stock put into any particular certification by any particular employer varies wildly, but you’ll never be in a worse position having a certification than you would be not having it.

Here’s a quick look at some of the major certification vendors and what they offer:

CompTIA:  Just to reiterate a point I’ve made before, I recommend using a CompTIA cert (A+ specifically) as your entry point into the certification world.  You’ll notice that many topics are covered in their cert catalog, but the most commonly recognized certs they offer are:  A+, Network+, and Security+.  These three certs were previously the only linked certs, meaning that obtaining the next, or “higher level” certification would renew those below it, but that has recently changed.  You can view more information about their Continuing Education program on their site, but in my experience it has been a lot easier to simply write the exam for one of your existing certs, or even better, take advantage of their recently extended set of interlinked certifications that will renew certifications that are set below them.  CompTIA is well known in IT, but because they are vendor-neutral they seem to lack the cache of some of the companies mentioned next.  Be sure to check their current ladder of certs to see what you would need to take next to recertify all “lower” certs.

Microsoft:  Well, of course the biggest name in computing has certifications!  In fact, they have a LOT of them.  Presently their certification tree is split into 5 major branches:  Server, Desktop, Applications, Database, and Developer, so their certification programs cover a massive set of topics.  Microsoft certs generally don’t have a set expiration date and are converted to a “legacy” status when the technology the cert is based starts to get phased out or replaced.  When there is a replacement cert offered, MS will generally offer a “bridge” exam for those with the expiring cert to recertify with the new version.  Any personal opinions aside about the company, they are a force in the enterprise world and their certifications DO get noticed.

Cisco:  I’m sure that my perspective is clouded, perhaps more than a little, because I happen to work for an ISP, but in my experience Cisco certs are the most widely recognized and desired.  Is that because my company is a Cisco partner that benefits from employing many highly certified individuals?  Well, yes.  If your potential career doesn’t have any meaningful tie-in with networking, than the relative value of Cisco certs will naturally diminish. In terms of networking certifications, they don’t get any bigger than Cisco.

VMWare:  Currently the biggest name virtualization certs, though Citrix isn’t far behind them.  They have a fairly unique approach to most of the training offered for their certs in that in-classroom is required for reaching VCP level and from their you complete bridge exams to expand your pool of certifications, their expert level certifications go so far as for you to defend a VMWare solution to a panel of experts.  Sounds a little vigorous to me.  On the flip side, their entry-level VCA certs are probably too easy to obtain.  Viewing a couple hour long presentation and then sitting a gimme exam won’t do much to endear the cert to hiring managers, if they’re even aware it exists.

ITIL:  A little bit different from the other vendors mentioned here, as ITIL is an approach to IT service management as opposed to a certification for a specific technology or product.  Their  best practice approach is employed by many technology companies across the globe. There are multiple levels of certification, the entry-level certification, ITIL Foundations, simply requires passing an exam, but the requirements to achieve the higher levels become more complex involving things like accredited training courses and submission of project reports.  I’ll leave my opinions about such management systems out of this blog for the time being and simply say that if you have achieved some level of ITIL certification, management ears will often perk up.

I’m leaving some large vendors off of this list, Citrix, Juniper, and Red Hat all jump out at me, but this post gives a quick look at some of the big cert players.  So, if you’re a first timer in the certification world you have a decision to make.  What vendor can best help you reach your education or career goals?  It’s a question only you can answer, but I hope this helps you start down the path to making an informed decision!

What Certification Should I Start With?

Sorry for the long delay between posts, I’ve been quite involved in, not so ironically, certification study towards the CCNA Voice exam and that has eaten up a lot of my free time.  Remember, study hard for success!  With that said, here’s the post proper:

People generally don’t decide to get certifications on a whim, there’s an underlying purpose for the pursuit that resides in each individual’s mind.  It could be anything:  your new job requires a certain cert, a job you want requires one, or just because you’re bored and you think studying for a cert is a good application of your abundant free time (and I certainly can think of worse).  Whatever the reason is that triggered your decision to jump into the cert pool, you need to pick a starting point.  I’m going to suggest an incredibly obvious first cert to chase, the CompTIA A+, and I’ll explain why, but first let me pull CompTIA’s own brief description of it:

“The CompTIA A+ certification is the starting point for a career in IT. The exams cover maintenance of PCs, mobile devices, laptops, operating systems and printers.”

“But wait, I don’t want to be a computer janitor!” you might be saying right about now, and that’s okay.  The A+ still makes a great starting point for a number of reasons:

1)  It’s an entry level cert by its own definition:  People will say the A+ is “easy,” well, easy is an extremely relative term.  I would say the A+ is certainly easier to obtain than many, if not most or even all other technology certifications, perhaps because it draws on a lot of knowledge that would be obtained through general experience with Windows-based computers.

2)  The vast amount of available study material.  Publishing houses and training companies are acutely aware that A+ is the launchpad for more new learners who are out to get certified, so they follow the money.  There are plenty of study guides available, both in physical and eBook form, so you will be flooded with choices if you search for “A+ Study Guide” on Amazon.  If you’re into the whole “not paying for stuff” thing, I’d suggest a look at Professor Messer’s online certification videos at www.professormesser.com, however, even he would recommend you supplement his videos with additional study material .  In-depth study guide reviews is a topic that I will perhaps explore further down the line.

3)  Practicality.  If you are a Windows user, this may be your first formal training experience with the deeper management functions of the OS.  The A+ curriculum also discusses the functions of each component of a modern PC and how they inter operate with each other.  That may all be simply refresher material for you, but even I found myself muttering “Oh, right, it works that way!” as I read through my study guides.  The A+ study might even be the push that sends you down the path to becoming a true power user, that is, if you aren’t already!

But here is the most important reason:

4)  It gives you your first chance to prepare for a certification exam that happens to be relatively low pressure.  It will be your first attempt to create a study plan that will lead you towards success.  Every adult learner is unique, and while it’s a topic for another day, developing a plan that’s best suited for you will take some practice.  Let me share a brief look at my A+ study plan of attack:

Full review of a quality A+ study guide, viewing Professor Messer’s certification videos, teardown and rebuild of a Windows PC, completion of practice exams from the A+ study guide.

Even though the A+ is relatively easy in the cert exam difficulty scale, I recommend you take your study for it seriously.  Developing good habits early on will pay off when the topics start to get more complex.

CompTIA is just now starting to add in simulation questions , of which I have not encountered as my A+ was obtained before they launched. Prior to that, it was simply all multiple choice. 

 Now, being heavily multiple choice based alone doesn’t make an exam easy, because I have failed cert exams that were comprised solely of them.  What multiple choice-only exams DO offer, though, is a generally shorter time required to complete them.  When you first sit down in front of the test computer, it’s nice that your initial experience doesn’t have you staring at the countdown timer and sweating bullets the whole time.  You should easily be able to complete the A+ exams in less than the allotted time. If you continue along with more complex certs, you will eventually feel the time crunch during an exam.

CompTIA exams also allow flexibility that some exam vendors do not, such as being able to go backwards to previous exams and even flag them for a final review that allows you to jump around the exam as needed for final corrections.  Altogether, it’s about as friendly as an exam taking experience as you’ll find, and it will help get familiar with the exam-writing process in general, allowing you to feel a little more like a seasoned pro (even if it’s not true!) when you head back to the test centre for the next challenge.

More information on the CompTIA A+ certification can be found here:  http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/a.aspx