I heard a fascinating story on NPR yesterday morning while showering after my every-other-day stint on the stationary bike. It’s based on a recent book by University of Virginia clinical psychologist Meg Jay entitled The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — And How to Make the Most of Them Now. I haven’t read the book, but the interview with Dr. Jay is covered in an NPR story entitled “Our Roaring 20s: ‘The Defining Decade’” that captures most of the content of the interview I auditioned by radio that morning.
Jay’s point is that the decade from age 20 to age 29 is an important formative time during a person’s life, when all kinds of significant things happen and when the direction and content of life becomes more firmly established. She made some statements, in fact, that I found pretty surprising (I list them as numbered items, but the content is quoted from the NPR article verbatim):
1. 70 percent of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of a career
2. more than half of Americans are married or living with or dating their future partner by 30
3. our personalities change more in our 20s than any other time
4. the things that we do and the things that we don’t do are going to have an enormous effect across years and even generations
What with most Americans also leaving school in their twenties, and taking up full-time employment as well, these have to be some of the most important years of life for establishing work and life habits as well. That’s why I use this platform to urge my readers in their 20s who work (or want to work) in IT to take up the habits of lifelong learning and technical self-improvement. I don’t care if you decide to pursue IT certifications or not — though they are a simple, relatively straightforward and affordable way to collect a series of “merit badges” that attest to continuing and current technical skills and knowledge — but I do think it’s worth making plans to pursue and attain regular technical training milestones as part of a healthy and growing career.
It might also be a good idea to read Jay’s book, and to ponder the questions she suggests to people of this certain (and sometimes uncertain) age: “What is it that you want?” “Where would you like to be in five or 10 years?” and “What do you want your job to be?” These are very important questions, among others about marriage and family, that twenty-somethings can only answer for themselves, and should therefore ponder carefully.
I wish these readers clear heads, unusual prescience, and suggest that they cultivate a sense of adventure and wonder to offset any possible dread or trepidation future prospects can arouse. Though my twenties are long behind me (I’ll be 60 this August) I still remember those times as the most interesting and exciting of my life. May your plans be well-crafted and your results stellar. And also: Best Wishes from another “Old IT Guy!”
A wise man once told me that the answer to any good question always begins with the same two words — namely “That depends…” In this case the good question has been popping up in numerous e-mails and blog post comments. It comes in a variety of forms, of course, but I’ll simply summarize them like this:
“Should I spend the money on high-dollar, instructor-led, classroom training for my certification, or should I look for some cheaper alternative?”
So, then, what does the answer to that question depend on? Here goes a list of possible alternatives, many of which are questions that the reader must answer for him- or herself:
1. Who’s paying? If you get financial assistance or an outright grant of some kind, there’s no doubt that students who take instructor led classroom training report the best overall learning experience. And important corollary to this topic is that it’s seldom worth incurring major debt to earn a certification, unless you’re already in a job that generates enough disposable income to make those loan payments good.
2. How well do you know the material? Somebody who’s prepping for an exam on a topic they know well may find it faster, easier, and much cheaper to take the self-study route to take and pass an exam, than to shell out the money and take 3 or more days away from the office to go through a classroom training adventure.
3. How important is the certification? I know people who’ve first tried the self-study route only to fail and fail again on the cert exam. But because they were required to possess a current credential of some kind, they had no choice but to keep trying until they passed the exam or exams in question and earned the necessary “piece of paper” to stay in their jobs. This is one case where cost becomes a secondary factor, and doing whatever is necessary to remain in the job comes first. That makes ILT classroom training almost a must (though many such folks still try the self-study route first in the name of economy) because the ability to interact with a knowledgeable and well-qualified instructor can make the difference between success and failure on the next try.
4. How big is your budget? Whether you’re paying yourself, have some or full support, the sky is seldom the limit for training outlays, especially in today’s tight budgetary climate. Though you can turn to a global, national, or boutique training company for your next ILT adventure, don’t forget you can also get good, high-quality instruction and lab access at a fraction of the cost from your local community college for most common cert topics and credentials (for more exotic or advanced topics, however, YMMV “your mileage may vary”, as they say on the Internet). While you can pay $1,000 -$1,500 a day for 8-9 hours of classroom training at a top-flight ILT establishment, you can often find the same kind of classes at community colleges for under $100 an hour, sometimes even under $60 an hour. Community college classes do take 9-12 weeks to complete and involve a longer-term time commitment, but if you can stand the schedule, it may offer a better way to invest scarce training dollars than on an intense 3-5 day class at a commercial training center somewhere.
5. What does the cert program require? Many certs recommend or suggest training, giving you the option to take the self-study route if you so choose. A fair number of programs — including those from VMware, Oracle, SANS, and others — include mandatory training requirements for some, if not all, of their credentials. Sometimes, you have to spring for ILT classroom or online training because that’s what earning the credential requires. In that case you’ll want to shop around for the best combination of cost and instructor credentials (remember, a cheap course from a bad instructor is nowhere near as useful or valuable as an expensive course from a good one).
As you answer the various preceding questions, it should become much easier to decide if you need to spring for ILT training, and what kind of ILT makes most sense for your needs — if any. Whatever you decide, good luck with your ongoing training and certification efforts.
More reading from Tom’s IT Pro
Training Options for IT Pros: a look at 37 global, topical, and boutique training companies and offerings
The Best Value for Your IT Training Dollars: a more in-depth look at community college cert training
You know that technology and communication trends are becoming accepted and entrenched when CompTIA picks them up and starts running with them. I don’t mean this as a criticism: the organization can’t afford to get too far ahead of the curve, or it risks leading the rank and file of its membership into cul-de-sacs or blind alleys. But I always find it an interesting form of validation and vindication when CompTIA picks up various technology trends that have been blazing brightly for some time, perhaps as a sign that a trend is “for real” or that the organization risks leaving its membership out in the cold if it doesn’t make training and information available to them.
That’s how I interpreted this press release from the 2012 CompTIA Annual Member Meeting, entitled “CompTIA Expands IT Channel Training Program.” Therein, CompTIA touts the availability of new IT channel training programs and materials “…designed to help IT channel companies diversify, grow and strengthen their business by identifying actions and strategies for embracing new technology solutions or entering new markets…” (from Kelly Ricker, CompTIA SVP for Events and Education) with a special emphasis on “… two of the hottest and fastest-growing areasa of corporate IT — mobility and social business.”
Offerings include a mobility channel training course “Maximizing your Mobile Management Solutions,” plus “Crafting a Mobility Offering,” along with a 10-week “Guide to Mobility” (please note that most offerings, as well as market intelligence information, are available only to CompTIA members and not the general public). At present only a single Social Media for Marketingoffering (from Autotask) is available through CompTIA’s Channel Training Calendar.
But hey, it’s now official that mobility and social media are out there and worth taking up, if you haven’t done so already, thanks to this confirmation and validation for the CompTIA rank and file!
Hmm… Interesting! I’m looking at the Building Windows 8 (BW8) blog right now and doing some rough-n-ready frequency analysis. It’s been 15 days since the last post to the blog (“Touch Hardware and Windows 8“), but in the 10 prior posts before that no gap between postings is more than 8 days, with 2 on the same day one time (February 29, release day for the Customer Preview), and 1 each gaps of 1, 2, 4 and 6 days, with three each gaps of 7 and 8 days. That puts the average gap between posts around 5.3 days (let’s say 6 in round numbers), with something of a skew to higher posting frequencies than that. 15 days is quite a gap indeed after that kind of record, almost triple the average…
I certainly hope it isn’t the end but perhaps just a hiatus. I’ve grown fond of the regular information made available through this communication channel, and I have to believe there will still a lot of things to report about Windows 8, as more features and functions get locked down for the upcoming OEM release in July, and more and more Metro style applications begin to make their appearances.
Cross your fingers and hope for the best! It will be sad if MS decides to stop the regular updates and information that BW8 supplied so regularly, and so well…
In pondering recent economic and employment news, especially hiring and unemployment filing trends, I find myself wondering which of the three little pigs built the house in which our current economy lives. I’m quite sure it’s not made of brick, so it’s pretty much up to sticks and straw. Zounds! I think we better hope the Big Bad Wolf doesn’t come around to huff, and puff, and … well, you know the rest!
Thanks to Miss Mary’s Preschool Ideas Website for the photo!
I’m talking about China trying to keep its property bubble from bursting and deliberately steering growth downward. I’m talking about first-time unemployment claims increasing for this last reporting period (through the end of last week, reported yesterday) vis-a-vis the past 5 or 6 reports which have all trended downward. I’m talking about March job increases, which were half of those for the preceding 5 months or so. I’m talking about the European debt crisis, which seems stuck in reverse.
In short, I’m getting a shaky feeling about such growth and improvement as has been mustered over the last little while. In fact, if the little pigs had been granted access to as many decks of playing cards as had been needed for construction of one of their little houses, and one of those pigs a three-card Monte shark, I think it would have nailed the current situation down completely!
An interesting story appeared on TechRepublic last week (April 6): entitled “10 IT job roles that are hardest to fill,” it recites a list of IT jobs that employers often have difficulty finding people for. As you look over the list, the reasons why this might be vary but given the situation (and the value of IT certifications that support some of them) it’s not hard to understand why these jobs often go begging for fulfillment. Here’s the list:
1. IT Trainer (I just wrote an article about IT Training Certifications for Tom’s IT Pro curiously enough; IT trainers have to know their stuff better than anybody else and be people-oriented at the same time: a rare combination, and such people are incredibly valuable and often quite expensive)
2. Project Manager (the Project Management Professional, or PMP, certification remains something of a “ticket to ride” in IT, which probably reflects increasing needs and short supplies for such professionals)
3. CIO/CTO/Director of IT/… (what can I say about this except “It’s lonely at the top, and hard to get there?”)
4. Help Desk Staff (I just wrote an article about this for Tom’s IT Pro, too, but it’s still in the editing process; the author’s comments on this position are interesting, given that pressure for entry-level folks and recent graduates to find jobs is pushing them into help desk positions in record numbers)
5. Specialized programmer (indeed, the more rarified or in demand a skill set might be, the harder such positions must be to fill, simply because of supply and demand)
6. Pre-sales engineer (feedstock for IT training skills and work, this is another job that requires a heady mix of technical skills and savvy with the ability to communicate and convey interest and excitement to prospective purchasers)
7. Technical writer (again, something that mixes communication skills with technical savvy, and requires the ability to understand, organize, and clearly convey often complex information and instructions)
8. Product Evangelist (there’s a common thread clearly emerging in that this is another position like IT Trainer, pre-sales engineer, and technical writer where deep technical skills and knowledge come in tandem with people and communication skills)
9. IT Author (keep this one in the same league as the other stuff just mentioned, and you have the write…errr…right idea)
10. Maintenance/legacy programmer (somebody’s got to keep the old systems running, incorporate necessary security updates and fixes, accommodate changes in climate — both technical and regulatory — and possess the right kind of programming skills and knowledge to make sense of yesteryear’s “spaghetti code.” Ouch!)
Certainly, all of these positions — except perhaps the CIO/CTO/etc. item — interesting and possibly rewarding areas from which both aspiring and active IT professionals might benefit from digging into. As for myself, I’m bemused that I’ve held and worked in 5 of these positions, all of which share the common thread of understanding technology and then conveying that understanding to others with varying degrees of breathless enthusiasm or hard-boiled “tell the truth” delivery: IT Trainer, Pre-sales engineer, technical writer, product evangelist, and IT author. This also suggests that if you venture into this part of the IT industry, you’ll have lots of potential sources of work among which you can choose. That’s certainly been the case for me, and for many of my peers and colleagues.
I’ve been watching and reporting on the increasing tendency for IT education programs to incorporate elements of IT certification for years now, and have noticed the pace of convergence picking up over the last three years. Along those lines, there’s a fascinating story from Ray Kelly, the CEO of entry-level certification program oriented company CertiPort (about which I’ve also reported repeated in that same period, by no coincidence whatsoever) up on GoCertify.com entitled “Foundational IT Skills Certification on the Rise.”
Of course, the source of the story — one of the biggest purveyors of so-called “foundational” IT certs around, perhaps second only to CompTIA, but perhaps also the biggest in the world thanks to the size and popularity of the Microsoft Office Specialist credentials which program CertiPort operates for Microsoft — means its author clearly has a vested interest in getting the word out about this kind of thing, too. Nevertheless, I’ve observed the same kind of thing happening with the Cisco Academy and the Microsoft IT Academy programs as well, both of which enjoy stellar penetration into North American high school and community college systems, with increasing adoption and uptake outside of North America as well.
What do I think this means? I think it means there’s going to be an increasing IT certification-based component in ALL IT education and training in the not-so-distant future around the globe. I also think that makes the incorporation of ANSI and ISO training-related standards in such programs (already a requirement in the EU for many certification programs and increasingly for certifications deemed acceptable to the US Government, as with the US FISMA and related FIPS-199 and FIPS-200 documents) will make this kind of thing more routine and commonplace as well.
Do I think it means that my 8-year-old son might encounter certification training before he graduates from high school in 2022? Absolutely, yes. In fact, I’m already aware that my local school district operates Cisco and Microsoft Academy programs itself, as do numerous other school districts here in central Texas. And our community college system (Austin Community College, aka ACC) does likewise, and then some.
Listening to NPR this morning, I got my first inkling about the contents of the latest Employment Situation Summary from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s the gist: 120,000 new jobs added — about half of recent monthly upticks — and employment drops from 8.3 to 8.2 percent. There were also modest gains in many employment sectors, wtih manufacturing, leisure and hospitality, healthcare, and professional and businesses accounting for the vast majority of March gains, surprisingly evenly distributed across those areas (only healthcare had an increase in the 20,000s,; all the others fell between 31-37,000). Financial services also had a slight increase (15,000) but retail suffered a drop of 34,000 jobs.
And what about IT? Even though the numbers of unemployed dropped from March 2011 to March 2012 (from 236,000 to 232,000) dropping employment overall in the sector did the opposite for the unemployment rate in this area. Over the same period, it went up from 7.6 percent (March 2011) to 8.0 percent (March 2012).
What does all this have to tell us? It’s clear that things continue to improve slowly but also slightly, one baby step at a time. But we’re definitely not out of danger yet, and it’s certainly not time to break out the hats and hooters any time soon. The mantra continues “Hunker down. Stay put. Keep waiting for more tangible signs of improvement.” We’re getting good at waiting, but I’m hoping for some kind of pleasant surprise sooner, rather than later. We’ll see!
I’ve gotten a fair amount of response and traffic to my Monday post this week, entitled “University of Phoenix Now Offers ‘CCNA Associate’s Degree.’” As I’ve pondered that feedback and comments, I’ve also looked around to observe that perhaps as many as 1 in 5 degree programs in some IT discipline (computer science, information technology, informatics, management information systems, and so forth) offer either IT certification plug-ins (which may be included in the curriculum at extra cost) or built-ins (which are part and parcel of the program itself). And this occurs not just at the associate level, but also at the bachelor’s and master’s levels as well, particularly for information security and increasingly for healthcare IT specialization.
This naturally raises the question posed in the title of this blog, which might be restated as “Do an IT degree and certification combined add up to more than either one separately?” While the obvious answer is “Yes,” primarily because employers prefer IT staff who combine accomplishments in both arenas, the real question might be better rephrased as “How much more is that combination worth?” or perhaps as “Is it worth paying a premium over the individual costs to get them together, possibly integrated into a coherent and cohesive educational program?”
I raise these issues because the cost of the University of Phoenix “CCNA Associate’s Degree” comes in between $17.5 and $28 K in round numbers by their own reckoning. Figuring the cost of a typical community college AA or AS in IT at around $5,000 and even allowing $4,500 for a CCNA Boot Camp (including travel, lodging and meals), that puts the cost of the UofP’s offering at between 84% and 194% higher than the combined costs of those items. That’s a big premium! Do you think it’s worth it?
As a parent with college bills in my future, and as an IT professional with a deep and profound interest in IT certification, I’m not sure this is a compelling enough value proposition to justify such a huge price differential. As I said in my previous posting, only if you have access to employer support, educational grants, or some other source of “free money” to help pay that bill would I recommend considering such a program seriously. As for financing it with debt I repeat Nancy Reagan’s famous phrase “Just say no!”
Hmm. Very interesting! In plowing through the usual raft of press releases for blog fodder, I came across an item posted on GoCertify.com entitled “Cisco and University of Phoenix Team Up to Deliver New Network Programs for Students.” The upshot of this piece is that UofP — one of the world’s largest university programs, with a major online training presence — is teaming up with Cisco to create degree programs built around Cisco certifications.
The press release also includes this interesting snippet of data:
Job growth for network administrators, network support specialists and computer network architects is projected to grow by more than 20 percent by 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With this opportunity comes a need for highly trained workers familiar with the latest networking technology and systems.
In following the UofP link to the program page for this degree plan, I grabbed the following screen capture to illustrate potential program costs:
I see numerous interesting things about this offering, over and above Cisco’s partnership with the University to bring a two-year degree forward with a solid concentration on CCNA coverage:
- It looks like the Congress’ investigation into and new regulations on disclosing costs for for-profit colleges is starting to have some effect1. This is a pretty clear and straightforward disclosure of costs, with more details available in footnotes at the bottom of the cited Web page.
- The citation of the growth rate for network admins also explicitly addresses the concerns that Congress has raised about private for-profit programs leading students into debt, but not necessarily into the workforce. Nice to see IT training touted as a ticket to gainful employment, isn’t it? Notice also the median debt entries are listed as Not Available because the program hasn’t been around long enough to generate such numbers. It will be interested to check back in a year or two to see where these numbers settle out.
- At today’s private and public college prices, the overall estimated costs of $17.5K to $28K (in round numbers) for two years of full-time tuition is not cheap (it works out to between $8,750 and $14,000 per year). Community college offerings for CCNA abound, and usually come in at under $100 per credit hour2, with lower or no electronic materials fees (OTOH, students must buy textbooks and often pay lab fees instead, so this particular factor may be a wash–the difference in per-hour tuition rates, however, is substantial).
- It’s important to remember that CCNA is a gateway Cisco certification, perhaps better viewed as a prerequisite for the Cisco professional-level (CCNP, CCDP, and so forth) and specialist credentials rather than as an end to itself, or a “guaranteed ticket” to immediate employment. That said, a quick trip to Indeed.com, Dice.com, and other job posting sites, does show substantial numbers of IT job listings that mention CCNA by name (some portion of which that read “CCNA or better” or with similar language, however).
If you find yourself pondering this program, well and good. But please, do yourself a favor and weigh the costs carefully. If you’re working full-time and can get your employer’s support for such a program, or qualify for substantial grants or support, it’s well worth pursuing. But if you have to pay the costs out of your own pocket, or assume substantial debt to participate in the program, look around for similar offerings at local community colleges and local public colleges and universities. I’ll bet you can find equivalent offerings for less than half the published costs. Only you can decide if attending the UofP justifies paying such a premium for the convenience and careful package that has gone into their program’s formulation.
1. When it comes to for-profit colleges and universities in the USA, the University of Phoenix is a sort of charter member of this group, with long-standing ties to remote campus locations on military bases around the world as far back as the 1970s. As an Army brat myself who spent half his formative years on bases in Germany, and most of his life until college on or near an Army base, I believe the University of Maryland is the only institution with longer-standing and deeper roots in the DoD than UofP (see this listing for the University on MilitaryFriendlySchools.com for independent verification).
2. A 2009 article from www.communitycollegereview.com “Value of an Associates vs. Bachelors Degree” cites a CNN report that draws from the US College Board to state that “…an average two year educational instate costs approximately $2,191 each year.” It goes on further to state that “…an average four year university costs more than twice as much, with an average tuition expense of $5,500″ and “…private four university costs…on average…over $21,200 each year…” Applying 2.5% inflation for the period from 2009 to 2012 (four years), the numbers go up to $2,418, $6,070, and $23,400 respectively. This puts the UoP CCNA AA per-year costs somewhere between an average four-year university and a private four year university, in the bottom half of the overall range between them.