Every now and then, I’ll turn over the reins here at IT Career JumpStart to a friend or colleague for a guest blog post. Here’s one from long-term cert watcher and author Emmett Dulaney, whom I first got to know in the late 1990s through his many good IT cert prep books and articles.
How Many Steps are There to Laser Printing and Why Does it Matter?
by Emmett Dulaney
Here is an interesting question to contemplate: how many steps are there in the laser printing (electrophotographic) process? While this may seem like a trivial question, the answer is anything but.
A web search on the topic will reveal quite a few different answers, but most will report that it is either six steps or seven. In order to obtain the basic entry-level industry-recognized computer certification (the A+ certification from CompTIA), one has to know not only this process, but the number of steps and the order of each step. If you were to seek the certification prior to the latest round of exams that came out within the past year, the answer to questions on the topic would be that there are six steps, and – in order – they are:
If you were to seek the certification today and take the latest exam (referenced by the vendor as exam number 220-801), the number of steps has changed from six to seven and they – in order – are now:
Over 800,000 people worldwide have obtained the A+ certification and have had to answer multiple-choice questions about the number of steps and the order in which they are carried out. CompTIA has a lot of weight as an industry leader and their vendor-neutral certifications are second to none, but I am not so sure that I agree with their assessment even though Wikipedia – that great bastion of knowledge – agrees with them and lists these seven steps on their site today (as do a number of other sites that are based on much of the same content).
Within the actual laser printer market, the industry leaders are: HP, Canon, Samsung, and Xerox (a lot of others exist and compete for smaller portions of the pie). HP still lists six steps when it comes to their printers and those six steps resemble the first list CompTIA required exam candidates to know. Canon similarly lists six steps to their printing process but puts them in a different order:
- Electrical Charge
While I was unable to find anything authoritative from Samsung, these six steps from Canon mirror those created by Chester Carlson when he invented Xerography and are those agreed upon by Xerox as well.
In short, whether there are six or seven steps to the electrophotographic printing process is a topic that can be debated among academics and websites. The manufacturers of laser printers tend to standardize on six while they disagree on the exact wording and order of them. Those authenticating a technician’s knowledge through certifications, however, are now testing on a specific list of seven steps and asking candidates to know them. This is not an ideal situation and it begs the question: is this really something that should be tested on at all?
If the laser printer manufacturers, even when agreeing on the number of steps, cannot agree on the order or wording of them, why should a technician be required to memorize them to authenticate that they know how to work on printers? Picking “Developing” as the answer to the third step of the printing process is correct – by the manufacturer’s guidelines – if the printer in question is a Canon or Xerox machine, but wrong it if is an HP. It is also wrong under both sets of the CompTIA lists, and that brings the whole concept of testing on this particular topic under scrutiny.
Certification exams are a great way to authenticate skills when those skills are agreed upon and accepted by those within the industry. When they are arbitrary and questionable, however, it is best to let the vendors test on them individually and not try to homogenize what cannot be normalized.
Yes, Virginia, it really is “the end” for CertCities.com.
[PostScript: in a follow-up conversation by phone with Emmett, I also learned that indeed the plug has been pulled on CertCities.com, and that while the site remains accessible, neither he — nor as far as he knows, anyone else — will be adding any new content to the site for the foreseeable future. Despite repeated avowals from management to re-start the site, it’s now been decided to leave it alone going forward. It’s a sad thing for me to see another formerly great source of surveys, information, and news on IT certification boarding up its virtual doors. Sigh.]