May 3, 2013 1:57 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Prior to this morning’s release of the April employment numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many economists had predicted new job numbers would be under 100,000 again for that month, much in the same vein of the 88,000 new jobs reported for March 2013. Not so: the number came out at 165,000, much in keeping with numbers seen earlier in 2013 and late 2012. This kind of growth isn’t vigorous enough to lift the labor market out of the doldrums with any kind of speed but –as the old saying goes — “it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” The overall unemployment rate at 7.5 percent is little altered from the previous month’s 7.6 percent, and the total numbers of unemployed (reported at 11.7 million) is also hardly budging from previous levels, either.
Slow steady improvement keeps plugging gamely along, despite dire predictions following sequester-related government furloughs and layoffs
Why is this news a surprise, when it keeps a fairly steady trend slowly grinding along? Because economists and politicians alike don’t really know what to make of the government funding cut known as “the sequester” and its overall impact on the labor market. Given the government’s heavy impact on overall employment and markets, it’s not unreasonable that all should be concerned about a negative impact of reining spending in through across-the-board spending cuts in that sector. But at least for April, the impact so far has not really moved the overall trend that’s persisted for the last 15 months or more. I’ll describe this as an agonizingly slow recovery, punctuated by occasional steps backward (as with the April report of only 88,000 new jobs added) but also with equally occasional steps forward (as with the March report of 236,000 new jobs) as well. On average, however, the improvement rate has been on the order of 150-165,000 jobs per month for some time now.
Alas, this means we’re still years and years away from soaking up our spare working capacity and reaching more normal levels of unemployment in the 5-6 percent range. And of course, we’re also still subject to hiccups, crises, financial reversals, and other influences that might retard or derail such recovery as we’re still able to muster. Does this language inject more drama into the employment situation summary than the numbers actually warrant? Probably, but the overall pace is slow enough that the recovery’s fragility also remains blindingly obvious. All I can say is: “Keep your fingers crossed, and let’s keep it going.”
May 1, 2013 2:33 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Every now and then, a real feel-good moment pops up in the IT cert biz — not terribly often, though, so I try to revel in such things as and when they happen. Last Monday (April 29) Cisco Systems and the White House released an announcement about a joint technology training initiative. It’s designed to help veterans and those transitioning from active duty back into civilian life prepare for strong careers in IT. The initiative is called the “IT Training and Certification Partnership,” which the afore-cited fact sheet describes as “a new public-private partnership that will enable thousands of service members to earn industry-recognized information technology (IT) certifications before they transition from military service.” There will also be a grant program administered through the Department of Health and Human Services to help veterans with health care experience pursue professional nursing careers and earn a nursing license as well.
The IT side of things comes courtesy of a Military Credentialing and Licsensing Task Force established in mid-2012 at the DoD at the President’s direction. This task force sought to:
- First, to identify military specialties that could transfer to high-demand civilian jobs
- Second, to work with civilian licensing and credentialing associations to identify and close gaps between military training programs and corresponding civilian certification and licensing requirements
- Third, to provide veterans and service members greater access to certification and licensing training and exams
The Cisco partnership is the second initiative broached by the Task Force, and is intended to enable up to 161,000 service members to earn “industry-recognized, nationally-portable certifications necessary for … high-demand technology professions, including computer programmers, quality assurance engineers, and IT security analysts.” Working the task force and all major branches of the US military, Cisco and Futures, Inc. will begin this program by beginning work immediately with 1,000 active duty military personnel currently transitioning out of the service. These individuals will pilot the program and engage with training, certification, and career resources assembled for their use by Cisco and Futures, Inc. John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO blogged about this program and said: “Each participant will select one of several IT certification preparation course such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), which prepares entry-level network engineers for careers and helps maximize foundational networking knowledge. … After each participant completes the coursework and passes the certification exam, the [US IT Pipeline, a cloud-based exchange platform that incorporates a military skills translator facility] website will identify jobs in the IT sector that match their experience and qualifications.”
Later in the blog, Chambers indicates that other partners in this public-private joint effort include Global Knowledge, Pearson VUE, and others, all of which adds up to a pretty potent combination of program sponsors, training providers, and testing centers to help shepherd veterans and transitioning active duty personnel through IT cert training and testing. I’m really jazzed about this initiative and hope there will be many more like it popping up soon, what with the transitions out of Iraq and Afghanistan returning so many active duty regular and reserve military personnel to civilian life. It’s a great way to help them transition from serving their country to getting on with (and making the most of) their lives.
April 26, 2013 2:40 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
In chewing over recent coverage at Mirek Burnejko’s ITCertificationMaster.com, I came across a gem entitled “How to Become a WiFi Security Expert for FREE.” It features the SWSE or SecurityTube Wi-Fi Security Expert certification, developed by well-known Wi-Fi Security Guy Vivek Ramachandran.
Although it consists of only 12 hours of video training, the SWSE covers a lot of surprisingly serious technical ground.
The self-professed “non-exhaustive” list of topics that the collection of videos in the training materials cover is pretty impressive, so I’ll just reproduce it verbatim here:
- Bypassing WLAN Authentication – Shared Key, MAC Filtering, Hidden SSIDs
- Cracking WLAN Encryption – WEP, WPA/WPA2 Personal and Enterprise, Understanding encryption based flaws (WEP,TKIP,CCMP)
- Attacking the WLAN Infrastructure – Rogues Devices, Evil Twins, DoS Attacks, MITM, Wi-Fi Protected Setup
- Advanced Enterprise Attacks – 802.1x, EAP, LEAP, PEAP, EAP-TTLS
- Attacking the Wireless Client – Honeypots and Hotspot attacks, Caffe-Latte, Hirte, Ad-Hoc Networks and Viral SSIDs, WiFishing
- Breaking into the Client – Metasploit, SET, Social Engineering
- Enterprise Wi-Fi Worms, Backdoors and Botnets
A complete 4.2 GB DVD image with all the videos is available for free download. Candidates can study and review the materials without enrolling on the SWSE page. But those who do enroll (and pay either $250 for the course and underlying infrastructure — more on that next — or $100 to take the cert exam by itself) can actually earn the credential itself (though the training can be free, the credential itself is not). The extra $150 above and beyond the exam cost gets candidates access to a student portal Website, Q&A forums, a PDF copy of the slides and course materials, a complete collection of home lab exercises and a practice test (“mock exam” in the home page’s terminology), a hardcopy certificate (suitable for framing, no doubt) and online certificate verification, plus free updates to course materials as they get produced.
As cert program offerings go, this one is pretty good. It comes from an impeccable source, is very reasonably priced, and provides a great set of materials to work from. Is it worth $250? I think so myself, but those on tight budgets can work from the free video materials, and buy Ramachandran’s book BackTrack5 Wireless Penetration Testing Beginner’s Guide for $50 or thereabouts), and save $100 on the high-end package, if they must. A pretty good deal all around, methinks.
April 24, 2013 3:29 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
According to my ongoing observations of how practicing and aspiring IT professionals get certified, it’s still the case that somewhere over half of those individuals chase their credentials down through the self-study route. That typically means that they buy one or more study guides and practice tests, plus possibly an Exam Cram, possibly some virtual lab time, and dig into study groups, user communities, and other resources online to learn what skills and knowledge they must master to pass however many exams a cert requires. But what if self-study isn’t your thing, or you’re in a situation where classroom training is needed (such as for topics where you’ve tried self-study but can’t get past the exam, or where the cert actually mandates a class, or whatever)?
At a high-end training center like those operated by New Horizons, Global Knowledge, and others of a similar stripe, or at high-octane boot camp operations like those from Intense School, Real MCSE Bootcamps, or Secure Ninja, it’s not unheard of to spend up to $1,000 a day for classroom training. And for a 5 to 14 day encounter, that means costs can really mount up. “Ouch!” say those who must fund such educational encounters out of their own pockets, in whole or in part (depending on the largess available from one’s employer, and the amount of funding at your disposal from the training budget).
I post today to remind readers that most American and Canadian IT professionals have another option for classroom training — namely, their local community college campuses. Rather than $500- $1,000 (or more) per day of classroom training, most community colleges deliver a wide range of certification-oriented classes with access to well-equipped computing labs for something on the order of $50 an hour and sometimes less (un- or under-employed workers seeking to retrain or retool may be eligible for low-cost/no-cost access to such classes, in fact). With a quick hop to my local outlets — at Austin Community College – I see offerings for certifications from Apple, CompTIA, Cisco, IBM, ISC-squared (CISSP), Microsoft, Oracle, the Project Management Institute (PMP), and the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA).
All of the power of higher education, training, and certification, at bargain prices.
[Image credit: Shutterstock 59541286]
It’s true that a course at a community college will typically run over an entire quarter (11-13 weeks) or semester (up to 21 weeks). Thus, you get your training spread out over a longer period, with less intense learning and more periodic exposure to your instructor and the learning lab. But if you can stand the more leisurely pace, you will probably pay less than half what that training would cost at a typical commercial training center or in a boot camp environment. That’s a great value for your money, and something a great deal more accessible and affordable to aspiring and practicing IT professionals, especially those who don’t work for an employer willing to fund (or help out with) those costs. Be sure to check out your local community college to see what’s on their IT training and certification menu. You might be surprised by what you find!
April 22, 2013 2:54 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Microsoft draws on a recent IDC survey of IT executives and hiring managers at 600 global corporations to make some very interesting claims about the state of the job market for IT professionals with cloud skills and knowledge, and to measure and forecast job opportunities for those selfsame IT pros. As you can see in the figure that dominates this blog post (available online in the Born to Learn blog as “Infographic: The Skills Gap in Cloud Technology“) the increasing movement of such businesses IT operations into the cloud also means more jobs and opportunities for cloud-savvy IT professionals, both now and in the future.
The blog post goes so far as to claim that not only do cloud-related openings manifest significant double-digit growth through 2015 (up to 26% increase in overall such positions available), businesses are nearly unanimous (an unheard of 92%) that there is higher demand for cloud related skills now (April 2013) than there was a year ago.
And indeed, demand for cloud-qualified IT Professionals is going nowhere but up, as the third element in the infographic tellingly illustrates: whereas 1.7 million cloud-related IT jobs cannot be filled at present (that’s just one million less than the total employment in the US Information industry in April 2013, according to the latest figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) that number is expected to balloon to over 7 million jobs by 2015 (significantly more than total US IT employment that year, even under the most aggressive growth projections possible, given current economic conditions).
Of course, Microsoft isn’t just telling you this to be helpful: they’ve got several dogs in this hunt, including a cloud track in their IT Academy program and the MCSE: Private Cloud certification as well. But there are a great many more opportunities in the cloud certification game than Microsoft by itself can bring to the table. See my Tom’s IT Pro article “Top 5 Cloud-Related IT Certifications” and Mirek Burnejko’s “How to Become a Cloud Computing Expert (From Zero to Hero)” for more information on this fascinating subject.
April 19, 2013 4:50 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Until I saw the latest post (undated, viewed on 4/19/13) at Mirek Burejko’s excellent ITCertificationMaster website, I didn’t even *know* that D-Link had a certification program. But gosh, they do and it even embraces three tiers — Associate, Professional, and Engineer — as depicted in the overall program map I snatched from the D-Link Australia site.
What you see here is a basic certification ladder, where the DNDA (Associate) involves taking a 6-hour online self-paced theory only course that covers fundamentals of switching, storage, wireless, security and surveillance networking (registration link). There are four different DCNP credentials for Switch, Wireless, Firewall, and Surveillance topics. Earning a DCNE requires first earning the DNDA, and then the first three DNCP credentials (Surveillance is the only one NOT required, in other words), then taking a course and an exam. I’ve contacted D-Link USA to ask them about plans to import this program to North America, and will report back as soon as I hear further about this. Very interesting!
April 17, 2013 2:40 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
In the last decade-and-a-half I’ve made myself available to thousands of active and aspiring IT professionals to answer their questions, offer suggestions, and dispense career development and enhancement advice. If there’s one constant question that stands head and shoulders above all “the usual concerns” I’m repeatedly asked to address, it has to be that old favorite — “Which is better: a college degree or IT certification?” The real answer to this question, of course, is “Both,” because employers want job candidates to have a degree to show their ability to learn, to successfully complete a multi-year course of study, and hopefully also, to have absorbed some skills and knowledge of professional value along the way; and because employers like current certification as evidence that candidates have relevant, up-to-date skills and knowledge for specific tools, platforms, and technologies directly related to the job at hand. But then again, who doesn’t want to “have it all?”
I had a chance to ponder an interesting spin on this question in fielding a set of queries from a 17-year-old young man from South Africa recently. Our complete interchange is available for your perusal at Tom’s IT Pro in a blog post entitled “Making it in IT: College Degree or Certification?” This was a very interesting case in point for several particularly stark reasons:
- My interlocutor really regarded his choice as an “either-or” proposition, and needed to make an immediate decision
- His means were limited so he felt strongly he wanted to invest his (and his family’s) money first and foremost where it would provide the best immediate return
- He already had a surprisingly clear set of goals and objectives for a person of his age, which made it much easier to suggest a possible plan of attack
The net-net was that I recommended he find an academic program where he could either pursue certification as part of its outright curriculum (an increasing number of colleges, universities, technical schools, and community colleges or their international equivalents now include coverage for specific certs in their course offerings, primarily for the CompTIA, Microsoft, and Cisco offerings) or where he would be able to work with Microsoft development tools and environments in pursuing his desire to learn programming languages and skills. I also pointed him at the excellent DreamSpark program from Microsoft, which makes programming tools, languages, and platforms available for free to students enrolled at accredited academic institutions.
I’d like to think this helped him address his need for education and his need to develop relevant technical skills and knowledge for the workplace. But I remember being 17 once myself — long, long ago though it was — and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few twists and turns along the way take him to some unexpected way stations and stopping points. I do wish him and others in his situation only the best of outcomes, and submit a good education is a good foundation for life no matter where it may eventually lead.
April 13, 2013 7:50 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
Gosh, there’s been a lot of coverage in the new lately about Marissa Mayer’s decision to rein in teleworking at Yahoo, and a lot of ink spilled on that subject, both pro and con. I’d like to weigh in on it myself on the whole “work from home” topic, but from outside the corporate tent. I ran a small company from 1994 to 2004, that varied in size from a low employee count of 3 to a momentary high of 10 in 2000, just before the dot.com phenom turned into the dot.com bust. For that entire period, and for most of the time since 1987 through today, I have worked from home. The entire time my company was in business we never had office space: everybody worked from home, all the time.
Any time you ponder a job offer, it’s worth asking about a prospective employer’s work-at-home policies
[Image credit: Shutterstock 125936963]
I guess we were lucky because we worked in a completely deadline driven business — namely content creation and delivery. If the work didn’t get done on time, we didn’t get paid. If we couldn’t deliver the work at the stipulated price, we lost money. Needless to say, we mostly did the work on time, and we mostly made money. When we failed to do either, it was by mistake or mischance, and we learned from our mistakes and also learned how to minimize the chance that untoward circumstances could cut too deeply into our bottom line.
In the thirty-plus years I’ve been working in and around IT I’ve worked for companies that insisted that people report to an office to work with others where they could see and be seen; I’ve also (and primarily) worked for companies that didn’t require people to come in except for occasional meetings and annual parties and suchlike. By and large, I’ve enjoyed working for those companies, including mine, that conceded its employees were fairly adult, and could be relied on to get their work done without constant supervision. I also learned to ask for help when I needed it, and to tell my managers when I got into trouble (earlier on in that period) or when I could see trouble heading in my direction (later on, as I not only learned to recognize the warning signs, but also found out what could happen if I waited too long to yell for help). But I also enjoyed working at some of the desk jobs that I held, particularly when the employer did what they could to create a positive, supportive, and above all, interesting work environment.
Given that my work is the kind I can do anyplace I have a computer and a working Internet connection, my options are probably quite a bit more open than most people’s. But I have to believe that working at home can be a huge productivity win for those organizations smart enough to make it easy and fun for employees to do it anywhere from occasionally to all of the time. I can understand why Marissa Mayer might have found it necessary to bring all hands together to help keep a sinking ship above the waves, but I don’t think that a “no working from home” policy makes sense these days, not only because people can be more productive when they don’t have to commute or uproot themselves twice a day to keep life and work going, but also because working at home keeps cars off the road, energy consumption down, and generally makes for happier workers.
I wouldn’t be at all inclined to go to work for a company with a “no working from home” posture nowadays, and I have to guess that many readers will feel the same way. In fact, I urge you to explore your “work at home” and “work away from the office” options any time you consider a new employer. It could help steer you in to a calmer, happier, and more productive work situation.
April 12, 2013 2:45 PM
Posted by: Ed Tittel
I came across a very interesting new post on the Microsoft Learning Born to Learn blog this morning. Entitled “New Microsoft Office Specialist Exams Offer Real World Testing,” it explains how the latest generation of Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams has been extensively reworked to more effectively plumb the depth and breadth of an exam-taker’s knowledge of the related Office Applications being tested. For what I’m about to explain, that applies only to MS Office and MS Excel for the time being, but it’s a very interesting and potentially telling change to the exam approach that has ruled until these exams were rolled out recently.
Aside: The Power of the Bottom of the Pyramid
Unlike most other Microsoft certs, however, the MOS program — and the primary MS entry-level technical certs known as the Microsoft Technology Associate, or MTA — is not directly under Microsoft’s control. The company has delegated these programs (which significantly outnumber the remaining credentials under direct MS control) to Certiport, a Pearson VUE company. Their MOS page indicates that “…more than 1 million MOS exams are taken every year in over 140 countries…” and I suspect the number of MTA exams is probably in the one-quarter to one-half million range yearly as well, and growing quickly now that these credentials have been opened up to the general public through Prometric (another Pearson VUE arm). In fact, Certiport shines at the bottom of many certification ladders (which are really best thought of as pyramids or ziggurats, since those solid shapes effectively represent the notion that the higher you climb, the fewer exams are taken and certifications conferred) and also offers entry-level HP, Adobe, Autodesk, Intuit, IC3, and even CompTIA fundamentals credentials.
There’s always lots of exam action at the bottom of the pyramid.
So What’s New with the Word and Excel 2013 Exams?
In a word: coherence. MOS exams have long been action oriented where test takers are presented with formatted chunks of text and asked to create the same thing inside an input window, with all the usual menus and keyboard controls associated with the application(s) being tested at their disposal. This time around, that principal informs the entire exam, as this longish quote from the afore-cited Born to Learn blog post indicates:
“…the new format for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) exams is a complete departure from anything that’s been used before. You are given a blank document, and shown a picture of sample document, and must reproduce that document exactly (and I mean exactly) using the program being tested (only Word and Excel are available right now). You get 50 minutes. If you produce the document exactly, you pass; if not, you fail. They don’t care how you arrive at the results; it’s the results that count.”
The idea is to present exam-takers with something challenging but also something that represents a typical workaday task for those who make these productivity tools stand up and bark for a living. And of course, that also means the curriculum and training materials to prepare candidates for these exams have adapted to follow suit. Professor James G. Lengel of Hunter College (the author of the blog post, and an early trainer for the new-format exams) explains these changes as follows:
“If we want our curriculum to mesh well with the approach taken in the exams, we’ll have to provide more real-world, from scratch, problem solving tasks, and we’ll have to provide plenty of practice in reproducing sample documents exactly. And focus on the new tools available in Office 2013 — if you try to build the document in the exam the old way, you’ll never have time to complete it.”
This is a great way to help motivate students to really learn these applications, and to tackle and master the many powerful tools that they make available to their users. Like Dr. Lengel, I see this change to the MOS approach as very positive and ultimately, as empowering for those who acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to pass such exams. Not only will they be ready to use these tools in the workplace, they will have gained some true-to-life experience in performing the kinds of tasks that the workplace will demand of them, day in and day out.