Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Certifications No Longer Optional

A couple weeks ago, Bart Perkins, a Computerworld columnist and managing partner at Leverage Partners Inc., resurrected AGAIN the long-running argument: Are certifications necessary in IT? His opinion was a resounding YES: “Certifications are no longer optional.”

We here at TestOut agree and feel strongly about it. Certifications—and especially the training and hands-on experience that prepare you for them—are critical steps in professional development in IT (see LabSim online labs).

But let’s look at a few of Perkins’s arguments to show why it makes perfect sense that certifications are becoming increasingly necessary in today’s job hunt.

  • Overall, with so many applicants to choose from in today’s economy, certifications “help employers triage resumes.”
  • Certifications are “helpful in avoiding the costs and productivity losses associated with training new hires.”
  • Certifications “add credibility to project proposals” when a company is outsourcing a department.

According to Perkins, even long-time employees benefit from obtaining certifications, as it “demonstrate[s] that an employee has taken the initiative to stay current in an ever-changing field.” The certified will have a leg up when their boss is considering raises, promotions, or even whether an employee keeps his or her job when lay-offs are being considered.

As expected, Computerworld readers had some strong opinions for and against certifications. Here are a few:

  • “It is a complete disservice to the profession to imagine that certification inherently accomplishes anything.”
  • “I don't think experienced developers should just stick their heads in the sand and say things like, ‘I'm too busy actually working to worry about certification.’ At some point your degree(s) and experience do not mean as much as what new language you know."
  • “Eventually ‘certified’ will be synonymous with ‘employable.’ The reason is pure and simple: the HR department. Which department creates the usually impossible job descriptions for an absurdly low salary? The HR department. Which department usually, but not always, takes the lead in filtering, screening, and interviewing job candidates? The HR department. One has to remember that IT certifications are quick and easy items for the typical Human Resources lackey to understand and locate on a resume.”
  • “I know in my circle of IT employers, certifications have lost their appeal. Nothing beats a good old-fashioned, hands-on skills test.”
  • “Having a certification is practically useless in determining real ability and the current HR processes are better at excluding talent than finding it.”

So, what do you think? And if you do value getting certification, are you also preparing to get real hands-on experience or take a hands-on skills test to prepare for the job as well?

Kelly Wanlass

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wanted: Employees with Certifications and Experience

The reasons keep coming for getting more training, more experience, and more certifications. Information Week published data this month about the US government, showing their need for better-trained candidates in the IT security sector specifically. As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government employs over 2 million people (as of 2008), and technology is one of the highest-growth areas.

If a government IT job sounds appealing to you, consider these findings from a survey of 175 government security managers, conducted by (ISC)2:

  • The most difficult part of the hiring process is finding someone with the right skill sets and experience.
  • 60% of respondents said they would be hiring new permanent and/or contract employees for cybersecurity work over the coming year.
  • The government is looking for cybersecurity pros skilled in certification and accreditation, security architecture and models, applications and system development security, and operations security.

TestOut’s LabSim is the place to start for training for IT jobs. It’s a tool that will ensure you are prepared to certify with a highly-sought-after industry certification, but it’s more than that. LabSim gives you hands-on experience related to the job you seek, and it prepares you to do a job well. So, even though we call LabSim courses “certification training” courses, they are every bit as much “IT job training” courses. For recent graduates looking for a career start in government IT, start with LabSim training.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Release of New LabSim A+ Practical Application

TestOut is celebrating the release today of our new LabSim A+ Practical Application training course. This latest release comes on the heels of the LabSim A+ Essentials training we released in January. With both courses now complete and available, you’ve got what you need to learn, practice, and prepare both to certify with A+ and to work successfully as a computer technician.

With the latest releases of LabSim A+ come all-new hands-on labs. These are the most realistic simulations we’ve ever created, combining hardware components, basic input/output system (BIOS) functions, and operating system tasks in each lab. We’ve made this critical change to the simulations to maximize the effectiveness of the LabSim training. Beyond just helping you pass your certification, we care that LabSim prepares you to do your job well. Practicing the real-world tasks incorporated in the simulations is how you’ll be ready for what your career as an entry-level technician asks of you.

LabSim’s A+ training is the most-used of all the LabSim courses. It’s no wonder; A+ is possibly the most practical computer training around, teaching computer installation, preventative maintenance, networking, security, and troubleshooting.

Do you have your A+ certification? If so, we’d love to hear about how it has benefited you. Leave a comment or email us at experience@testout.com.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Case for Lab Simulations and Hands-on Experience

More and more, certifications evaluate practical, hands-on skills. Employers want to know what you can do, not just what you know on paper. Kellye Whitney of Certification Magazine wrote, “Today’s employers need to know that the candidates they examine for contract and full-time employment have the right skills and are capable of executing a job.” Since we get certified largely to appeal to employers—or at least to keep our career moving forward—we’d do well to get as much hands-on experience as we possibly can.

Previously in The LabSim Experience blog, I wrote about performance-based exams and how they differ from skills-based exams. Preparing for performance-based exams has everything to do with gaining hands-on experience. It’s fantastic that certification companies are focusing more on hands-on skills and making the exams better markers of an individual’s realistic abilities. But how do you gain the skills that will help you both pass your certification exam and be ready to execute a job? In addition to the education or practice you may already have, the training you choose to prepare for your certification should give you realistic, hands-on experience. If it doesn’t, it really isn’t worth your time.

Dan Veitkus of Novell said that “to study effectively for performance-based exams, candidates might need to mesh a combination of instructor-led courses, online labs, self-study kits, mentoring or even authorized books from the major vendors, depending on the certification.” And from Michael Reid of Cisco: ‘’If somebody only touches the book, they will probably score less than 20 percent on the exam, and that’s generous. . . . If they don’t practice the hands-on ability, they simply will not perform at all.”

What are you using to get the hands-on experience you need to prepare for your certification exams? Many are using LabSim training courses, which provide the full combination that Veitkus described: instructor videos, realistic online lab simulations, self-study lessons, and valuable practice exams that give you experience with what the real exam will be like.

The hands-on simulations in LabSim courses include hardware, operating system, and networking labs. LabSim simulates a $30,000 PC lab with an interactive workbench where you select and configure PC hardware. You gain experience with Windows operating systems, Server 2000, 2003, and 2008, DOS, and Linux. You also administer, configure, and troubleshoot complex networks with servers, clients, routers, switches, and hubs. After completing the simulated labs in LabSim, you’ll have the hands-on experience you’re looking for to pass your certification exam and—even more important—to succeed in the job you find after getting certified.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Friday, March 12, 2010

Herzing University Madison Campus Offers Free LabSim A+ Access All Day

All over the country, thousands of students are going back to school for new career training. The flexibility offered by career colleges such as Herzing University in Wisconsin has been especially appealing. Many are preparing for degrees and certifications -- and those entering the IT industry can benefit from both. But how do students taking IT courses at these schools really know if they’re ready to pass certification exams and get a job?

Herzing University is helping students find out today at its CompTIA A+ Certification Test Preparation Day. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., it’s giving students in its PC Architecture and Troubleshooting Skills courses free access to TestOut's LabSim A+ course to let them test how close they are to actually passing the A+ exam. They’ll be able to use the LabSim online lab simulations to get additional hands-on experience, watch instructor-led videos and take practice exams.

Those that feel confident they’re ready for the A+ exam have already paid for it through Herzing University lab fees. Others who may need more preparation can use LabSim’s virtual scenarios, videos and exams to study and reinforce knowledge and skills.

"The student’s lab fee includes a voucher to take the certification exam, but many wait too long and aren't successful," said Thomas Traband, instructor for Herzing’s PC Architecture and Troubleshooting Skills in Madison. "We want our students to take the certification exams when classroom learning is still fresh in their heads. By using LabSim today, they learn how ready they are to take the exam and then brush up in areas where their skills are weak.”

TestOut is also helping other academic institutions around the country conduct similar "Certification Test Preparation Days." For more information on how your school may participate, contact experience@testout.com.

Peggy Hayes, TestOut

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Developing Key Skills Beyond Technology

No matter what IT job you have, and no matter what industry it’s in, you will have greater success in your role if you develop certain key skills that will benefit your organization. The catch: these aren’t just IT skills. While your technology expertise is critical, organizations need to see you, hear from you, and understand your vision for how technology can drive the organization forward.

Converge Magazine’s Philip J. Brody recently wrote about IT leaders in the education sector and the need for them to function in more ways than just as technology expert for their school districts, but his advice is wise in all industries, not just education. He said, “It is naive to assume that simply because you have a good idea, people will buy into it. No, just as our political leaders do, you must sell your vision to the district leadership, so they buy into both you and your vision. This means getting out of your office to meet with a variety of district personnel and stakeholders, including those on the instructional side of the house, for without their support you are in competition with them for resources.”

Similarly, Denise Dubie of Network World wrote about the need for IT professionals to develop vertical skills that reach further than technology alone. She quoted Lily Mok, vice president of Gartner’s CIO Research: "Companies looking to fill internal IT roles will focus more on crucial business-facing positions. There is no longer a blurring between IT and the business; those barriers are broken down now. IT will be expected to take more of a leadership role and make decisions for the business. IT needs to look for opportunities to really help the business transition from recession to recovery. IT needs to do more than support the business now; it needs to prepare an organization to return to growth and show how technology can be used to help the business shine."

If the “barriers” between IT and business are “broken down now,” it will be wise for you as an IT professional to develop the other skills—communication, project management, and leadership—to be an overall contributor to your organization.