Hello there! This is not a normal blog for me, nor will I count it as such. It’s a news update from yours truly to let you know that I’m flying off to Belgium on Satuday, January 23, and that I won’t be back until February 6, just in time for my son Gregory’s sixth birthday. I’m also out of town for the week of February 8 through 12, testifying as an expert witness in a Tyler, TX courtroom. In the meantime, I’ll be taking time off from this blog. You may see an occasional post or two from me during this interval, but that will happen only if I find some time on my hands, or an unusually important topic about which to blog. So much for the hiatus part, which will last three weeks, until February 15.
Upon my return to a more normal working schedule on February 15, I’ll be posting at half of my usual frequency (once or twice a week, instead of three times a week) until the end of May. I’m both saddened and delighted to report that this is because I’ve gotten so busy with work that I’m having to cut back a bit on my blogging activities.
Do please stay tuned, and keep your comments and questions coming. Nothing makes me happier than to be able to respond to a reader request or suggestion when it comes to choosing topics for future blogs.
I’m about one month into a sizable consulting project for a Houston chemical company, helping them transition their IT operations from a third-party managed service provider into an in-house operation. As the company makes its transition from the old regime to a new one, it’s also wisely taking advantage of a golden opportunity to rework its processes, policies, and procedures to bring them in line with the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (aka ITIL) guidelines, concepts, and practices for managing information technology services, development, and operations. The group I’m supporting is primarily on the operations end of this tripod, but in helping them to document operations practices and procedures, I also can’t help but run up against the other legs from time to time as well (services and development, that is).
Along the way, I’ve learned that ITIL offers a tremendous conceptual and practical framework in which to manage IT, and that lots of organizations should be able to benefit from a concerted effort to adopt its principles and practices. To me, it looks like anybody who plans to work in IT for any length of time, and espcially those interested in getting into IT management, should put ITIL on their agenda of “hot topics to learn” in the near term.
I’ve also discovered some great resources to help get going down this road:
1. As a starting point, Tim Malone’s The Art of Service: ITIL V3 Foundation Complete Certification Kit – 2009 Edition is a great place to start. You not only get a short (186-page) paperback book that introduces ITIL fundamentals, but you also get acccess to an online training course to help you prepare for the entry-level ITIL foundation exam. Even if you don’t plan to take the exam, the book still provides a great overall intro (but if you don’t you may balk at this book’s $90 price tag).
2. The ITIL Toolkit provides online access to a series of documents intended to lead licensees (a subscription costs $200) into the ITIL model for IT Service Management (ITSM). It includes a beginners guide, factsheets for the 12 core ITIL processes, a management PowerPoint “slideshow,” process compliance questionnaires and other compliance tools, and more. It’s intended to provide a complete toolkit to learn about, adopt, and check ITIL compliance in an organization of any size.
As I find other items, I’ll report further. But because these have gotten me off to a good start, I figured they might do the same for other readers of this blog. Check ’em out!
In a press release entitled “CompTIA Announces Plan to Help IT Professionals Keep Skills Up-To-Date” dated 1/11/2010, CompTIA finally backed away from its lifetime credentialing stance to impose a 3 year renewal cycle on its most popular credentials — namely, A+, Network+ and Security+.
The good news is that this doesn’t mean it’s necessary to repeat the exams on a three-year schedule. Here’s what the press release says about renewal qualifications:
Among activities that will qualify for continuing education credits are passing a “bridge” exam or the most current exam for their CompTIA certification; teaching, lecturing or presenting on relevant industry topics; participating in non-degree courses or computer-based training; attending relevant industry conferences and events; participating in a CompTIA exam development workshop; publishing articles, whitepapers, blogs or books on relevant topics; obtaining other industry certifications; or completing industry-related college courses from degree-granting institutions.
Frankly, I say “hooray!” Given the ongoing change and ferment in PC technology (A+), networking and security (the other two), it’s entirely appropriate for these credentials to come with a timestamp so employers can tell how current the credential holder’s knowledge base might or might not be.
And of course, there’s a very good reason why CompTIA had to change its tune on renewal and recertification, too:
The renewal policy also is required for these three certifications to maintain their accreditation and compliance with internationally accepted standards for assessing personnel certification programs (ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024). CompTIA A+, CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+ certifications earned the ISO 17024 accreditation from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 2008. ISO requires that individuals have a way to renew the currency of their certification on a regular basis. In CompTIA’s case, renewal will occur every three years.
If you want to play in the big, internationally standardized leagues you also have to play by their rules. Good for ISO, and good for CompTIA, too.
My contact at Microsoft, Andrea Dyal, sent me a nice e-mail last week to remind me about the Microsoft Student Career Portal, which combines information about career planning, job roles, and exam and training discounts to incite, or perhaps entice, students to go “the Microsoft way” toward an IT career. In lots of important ways, this picture says it all:
In case the screencap is too low-res to read, the job roles that MS defines are:
- Database Administrator: maps to various MCTS and MCITP certs around SQL Server.
- Server Adminstrator: maps to MCTS and MCITP certs around Windows Server, with some mention of MCSA/MCSE as well.
- Consumer Support Technician: MCTS and MCITP certs around Vista and Windows 7.
- Web Developer: MCTS and MCPD certs around .NET, MS languages, Visual Studio and Web development tools.
- Windows Developer: MCTS and MCPD certs around .NET, MS languages, Visual Studio and various key Windows APIs (Windows Forms, foundation classes, and so forth).
Click on any given job role, and you jump to a page where you’ll find a basic job description, skills at the basic, intermediate and expert levles, typical experience requirements, and so on in the left hand column. On the right-hand column, you’ll get access to complete learning plans, recommended e-learning courses, relevant certification exams, Webcasts, and virtual labs, plus special free software offers for students registered at accredited colleges and universities.
If you’re in school, and interested in IT, this site is definitely worth a visit. If you’re thinking about going to school in IT, this may be just the impetus you need to push you into actual attendance. Check it out at the Microsoft Student Career Portal.
As I mentioned in Wednesday’s blog “Jobs Outlook Picking Up, But…” we’re starting to see some glimmers of economic improvement in various places, and analysts and pundits alike are becoming more optimistic — albeit cautiously and tentatively, including me. This morning’s report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the December Employment Situation summary (PDF format) likewise includes some additional ground for an improved outlook, but in the same hesistant vein.
Some basic numbers worth noting include:
- Employment losses originally pegged at -11,000 (the lowest numbers since 2007) were bumped by 15,000 into barely positive territory for a 4,000 net gain for November, 2009. Job losses of 85,000 for December represent a 100K swing, but are still much lower than in the first three quarters of 2009, and for most of 2008.
- Table B-1 reports on nonfarm payrolls by industry sector and selected industry detail, among which is an Information category highly germane to IT folks. For the first time this year (or last) there are some actual job gains inside the detail (+2,700 jobs in Motion picture and sound recording industries, and +700 in Data processing, hosting, and other services), though the whole sector still experienced a net loss of 6,000 jobs overall. Even more impressive, the Professional and business services sector (which includes various IT related elements as well) experienced a net gain of 50,000 jobs.
- Unemployment remains unchanged at 10 percent, despite the slight downtick from November to December, 2009.
It’s not time to break out the hats and noisemakers just yet, but a little more light is leaking into this end of a long, dark tunnel. You certainly shouldn’t let it blind you to the realities of our continuing situation, but it’s nice to have some signs of actual improvement, however faint they may be. At least, I don’t have to tell you that “things aren’t getting worse today as fast as they were yesterday,” though that remark still bears plenty of relevance to the way things look from where I sit.
Recent analyst and magazine reports (Gartner and The Economist, among others) have started to see some improvements in basic market fundamentals, including manufacturing activity. As manufacturers start exhausting inventory and forecasting increased sales, they will usually depend on overtime to ramp up production before hiring new employees for as long as they can. Recent indicators appear to show that things are approaching this tipping point in the US and Canada, and heading that way in Europe, which is indeed a uniformly positive sign of a real and possibly even sustainable market upturn.
Ultimately, an increase in manufacturing production — and hiring — stimulates the whole economy, which is why manufacturing (also known as industrial production, when the Fed reports it monthly figures for the total output of mines and factories in the USA) is considered a “leading economic indicator.” In other worlds because industrial production prefigures where the whole economy is headed, when manufacturing jobs start picking up it’s just a matter of time before jobs in other sectors, including IT, also do likewise.
The $64 billion question for this blog is, of course, “How much time before hiring picks up in general, and in IT in particular?” It might be as short as half a year to a full year before the coming bump in industrial hiring ripples out to the economy as a whole (that’s the time range for recent recessions from the 1980s forward to the last decade), but it could be even longer.
Though things now show signs that an upturn is coming, we still have to wait to see when that might happen, and how strong (and sustained) it will be. Stay tuned!
I’m working for a global chemical concern as a consultant right now, as part of an IT insourcing project they’re undertaking. I’ve been hired to help them acquire, train, and equip their staff with the tools, documentation, and information they’ll need to run IT operations. As a small but important part of that effort, I’ve been involved recently in helping them to craft job descriptions for a series of Windows server operator positions that also involve working with Citrix and VMWare tools and technologies.
Members of the hiring/management team have had no problems agreeing that certifications in this area are not just welcome, but that they should be mandatory for the more senior members of that staff, and highly recommended even for Level 1 operator positions. In the face of a planned migration from Windows XP to 7 on the desktop, and Windows Server 2003 to 2008 R2 on their servers, older credentials like the MCSA and MCSE serve as a point of departure, while attainment of MCTS and MCITP credentials for the newer platforms will be required for more senior staff members *before* the migration actually gets underway.
I think you’ll see more and more of this sort of thing in the employment upswing that is predicted to occur later this year, if not into 2011 and 2012 as well. That makes the present moment an excellent time to start digging into, learning, and earning these certifications (and working with and becoming familiar with the positives and the pitfalls for the platforms involved). In fact, for those looking for more (or any) work in IT right now, this could be a great opportunity to tackle a curriculum to get trained up on the new Windows 7 desktop and related image-building and automated deployment technologies on the desktop side, and the refreshed Windows Server 2008 R2 platform, and important supporting tools such as SMS, MOM, Directory Server, and so forth on the server side as well. Be sure to check out local community college offerings, which are generally quite affordable, and may qualify for government (state or federal) support for those who are currently unemployed.
There’s been ongoing discussion in Congress about licensure for IT security professionals, with even some mention of making licensing mandatory for those who seek to work in this area. It’s even possible to argue that DoD 8570 does this already, to some extent, for those who work in areas that touch on Information Assurance (IA) for the US Department of Defense and its contractors and suppliers.
To that end, high-profile infosec expert and author Daniel Castro provides some fascinating discussion and food for thought on this topic in a recent article for CertCities.com entitled “Analysis: Certifications Not a Security Cure-All.”
I don’t think he means this information as a ding on the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential, but here’s my favorite snippet of information from this story:
Nor has the increase in the number of certified security workers nationwide resulted in any noticeable decrease in the number of computer vulnerabilities, security incidents or losses from cyber crime. Between 2001 and 2005, although the number of Certified Information Systems Security Professionals (CISSPs) in North America quadrupled, the number of vulnerabilities cataloged by the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team more than doubled, the dollar loss of claims reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center increased more than tenfold, and the number of complaints the center referred to law enforcement increased more than twentyfold.
Alas, no increase in the knowledge or credentials of employees in an organization can offset strange and outmoded views of risk and security management. Both Castro and posters to the comments on his story observe that avoidance of risk (perhaps best understood in psycho-babble terms as “denial”) remains the predominating security strategy in most businesses and organizations even today. Until hard-boiled risk assessment and management percolates into the executive suite and becomes a more standard tool for allocating and managing resources, this situation is likely to continue. In the interim, no mandates nor other forms of incentive are likely to make big differences in how businesses and organizations operate and behave. Despite this state of affairs, however, infosec certs remain popular among IT employers, and likely targets for IT professionals seeking to add to their technical competencies.
This isn’t a real blog post. Rather, it’s a quickie digital Christmas card from me and my family to you and yours. Let me briefly extend the best wishes of the season to one and all, with hopes that everybody has their wishes fulfilled, and at least one pleasant surprise to digest. This goes double for the small people, who tend to take Christmas far more seriously and much more to heart than we big folks do.
And of course, I hope everybody gets his or her fair share of treats and sweets today, with access to friends, family, and all the good cheer you can stand. Thanks also to everyone for helping make this blog a success, and for your many excellent comments and insights. Once again: best of this festive season to one and all.
— Ed and Gregory (pictured above), plus Dina (who makes it all happen and keeps it worthwhile) Tittel
In a recent article at CertCities, long-time certification maven Emmett Dulaney makes the observation that Amazon sales rankings for certification-related books provide an accurate if also volatile cue toward the most popular certifications at any given moment. The story is entitled “Measuring Certification Hotness” and lists the following credentials as the top five as of Monday, December 21
1. PMP, which occupies 2 of the top 3 certification books slots
2. Windows 7 (which points to numerous credentials in the MCTS and MCITP tracks, to be sure, and claims 3 of the top 25 slots)
3. A+, which is recently enough revised that not all related titles have hit the shelves yet, but which still take third place after PMP and Windows 7 topics.
4. CCNA claims the number one spot as I re-run the query this afternoon (12/23/09) and appears in 4 of the top 25 spots (see screencap below this list for my take on the query Dulaney might have used to produce this info).
5. CISSP takes 2nd place, but appears only once in the current top 25.
Here’s the query I posed using the Advanced Search in Amazon Books to produce the kind of results I believe Dulaney was talking about:
This is certainly an interesting way to gather information about certifications of interest, but as an author of numerous books who’s tracked sales over time on Amazon, I have personally observed that rankings can swing wildly over the course of a single day, and even more as the time window for data collection widens. It’s indisputable that the top rankings will remain focused on what’s hot and will ignore what’s not, but position within those rankings is less significant than it might appear. You’d need to build an application to gather this data at hourly intervals, then average and interpolate the results over a week to a month to get a real sense of what’s going on and how items rank. Nevertheless, it is worth knowing about, and using to your advantage when you see fit.