IT Career JumpStart

November 21, 2008  9:45 PM

The New and Improved Shape of CompTIA A+

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

The A+ PC Technician certification has been around for some time now (just over 15 years as I write this blog). In keeping with CompTIA’s 3-year update/revision cycle on this exam, it’s getting ready to morph itself again in 2009. This time the exam structure has been broken up into two parts, where a single A+ Essentials teams up with one of three “job scenario” exams to create different flavors of A+:

  • A+ Certified IT Technician:
    Essentials exam plus 220-602 is closest to the traditional A+ credential, focusing on entry level service technicians who work in in-house service, support, or IT operations.
  • A+ Certified Remote Support Technician:
    Essentials exam plus 220-603 includes the core of the traditional A+ credential, along with coverage of troubleshooting and interacting with customers remotely or via phone or e-mail.
  • A+ Certified Depot Technician:
    Essentials Exam plus 220-604 also includes the core of the traditional A+, along with coverage of repair bench operations with an emphasis on computer repair and troubleshooting skills.

My gut feel always was that the A+ put equal emphasis on all of these things (though perhaps somewhat less on customer interaction and support than might be entirely beneficial to candidates, employers, and their customers alike). It’s interesting to see specializations in remote support and depot technician roles emerge from CompTIA’s painstaking job skills and activities assessments. Surely this indicates that the roles that PC technicians play are becoming more specialized where those who slot themselves into some of these roles may no longer find themselves called upon that much to fill the other roles described here.

For another, different, and interesting take on the emerging shape of A+ 2009 changes, see Emmett Dulaney’s recent CertCities column entitled “First Look at 2009 A+ Changes.” He makes some useful observations about how the 2006 and 2009 domain weightings and categories have changed. He also indicates that 220-603 and 220-604 are much less well-elaborated and understood than 220-602, something which CompTIA doesn’t really explain on its Web pages for the various second exam options to earn an A+. Good to know!

November 19, 2008  5:01 PM

The Human Side of IT: Softly Practice the Softest of Skills

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

As I try to broaden my personal horizons and learn how to be a better IT worker myself–so as to be better equipped to dispense advice to others–I’ve learned that this means I need to work on my people skills as and when opportunities present. Luckily for me, I’ve got a nearly five-year-old son, and am in a cross-cultural marriage (East meets West, non-tech traditional meets whacky hi-tech Pop culture and philosophy, and native speaker of English attempts to bridge the gap to a non-native speaker). That means I get lots of opportunities to work on such things, and to see how those near and dear to me occasionally struggle with their people skills as well.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recognize the lines “Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death…” as a clip straight from the Bene Gesserit canon (Frank Herbert’s Dune for those unfamiliar with this cant). I think this is very true, but in watching myself and my family as objectively as I can (MMV, for sure) I think that frustration could substitute for fear in that litany without altering its impact or significance, as could anger. Not surprisingly, this triumvirate often travels en masse, so that as you encounter (or feel) one of them, the others are often not far behind.

So how to deal with fear, anger and frustration? In the workplace, as in life, the secret is to do for and with others what you would like others to do with and for you. Project Management Coach Margaret Meloni, who writes a pretty useful blog on interpersonal skills for recommends that modeling good behavior is an excellent way to elicit the same kind of behavior from others. (Interestingly, in Latin “Bene Gesserit” roughly translates as “(s)he shall have behaved well”–gotta love that past perfect subjunctive–so there’s more relevance in my wild sci-fi citation than might immediately meet the eye or ear).

In her 10/14/2008 blog, “Diffuse Anger, Strengthen Relationships,” Ms. Meloni goes on further to suggest the following (I don’t usually quote at this length but it’s great advice, so here goes):

Try this recipe next time anger appears on the menu.

Take these ingredients: An open stance that shows interest; direct eye contact that builds trust; a soft and measured tone of voice and a non-threatening posture (sitting down is good). Combine all ingredients by modeling the behavior you want the angry person to exhibit.

Prevent participants from reaching the boiling point by avoiding pointing, raised voices or sarcasm.

Maintain a consistent level of respect while all ingredients are mixed and measured. Don’t give up, sometimes this recipe can be prepared quickly and other days it needs to simmer more slowly.

Serve with generous helpings of patience and enjoy a healthy professional relationship.

Exactly what she said, plus do the same when fear or frustration trot across the stage as well. Seems to work pretty well with personal/family relationships, too.


November 18, 2008  1:17 PM

Write a Better Resume

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’ve gottne lots of email in response to two recent postings: Pros and Cons of Resume Posting Sites and Looking for Job Search Info: Try These “Ace IT” Books (which makes mention of Paula Moreira’s excellent ACE the IT Resume title). Most of it has been positive, thank goodness, but much of it has also reminded me that there are countless great sources of resume writing help available online and in both virtual and real classrooms as well.

In fact, those looking for input, ideas, examples, and instruction on crafting a quality resume could do a lot worse in starting such a quest than searching Google on “resume writing workshop.” Lots of useful information pops up in response to this query, including:

In short, there is no reason for me not to mention the vast array of resources available to would-be resume writers online, or to short-change the many other excellent information and service providers who ply this virtual space with quality wares and information. Dig as deeply as you like in fact, and you’ll never run out of new sites to visit or learn from.

November 14, 2008  3:24 PM

A Conversation with Bill Wall, MS Director of Certification and Career Excellence, about performance based testing

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

To begin today’s blog, I need to disclose some shared background and history with Mr. Wall. He’s the guy who developed the Novell Certified Engineer (CNE) program at Novell at the same time that I worked there (from 1987 through 1994) and who developed Novell’s excellent performance based testing for that credential as well as for the Certified Directory Engineer (aka CDE). Suffice it to say that Bill probably knows as much or more than anybody else alive about how to design, build, deliver, and maintain quality performance based testing content (and has probably been doing it longer than anybody else as well, at least outside academia and inside the IT-related certification marketplace).

That’s probably why the first few minutes of our talk together were more like a couple of older and wiser classmates meeting up at a high school reunion, rather than the more typical “skeptical-journalist-meets-IT-vendor-expert” encounter. Nevertheless, a number of interesting items emerged from this conversation, with promises of more such nuggets to come, so I was not only glad to reconnect with a former colleague and respected peer, but also to unearth some items of information that my readers might also appreciate knowing. Here’s a list of noteworthy bits and pieces that I recorded from that conversation:

1. The initial performance-based testing (PBT) target was chosen–namely, exam 70-640 TS: Configuring Windows Server 2008 Active Directory–because it’s among the most popular of all the current MCP exams and represents the strength of Microsoft’s commitment to PBT going forward. Bill called it Microsoft’s “highest-volume” exam, in fact.
2. That said, PBT will not be an across-the-board testing tool/technique. It’s best used on subjects where candidates really do need to show their abilities to solve problems and understand instructions in a real-world situation, and Mr. Wall is pretty keen to keep things that way. Thus, look for more PBT exams to show up for other Windows Server 2008 areas and for Exchange Server, and to see their use increase for the Microsoft Office Specialist (MOS) program. No specifics nor timetable are available for any of this yet, because the PBT project while two years in getting to its current status, it still very much in the making.
3. When the first PBT goes live later this month, it will be in Ireland, Singapore and Canada only. Look for more sites to gain this exam and PBT capability in 2009, wherein the US won’t be first in that series, nor will it be last, but more than that Mr. Wall was simply unable to say (plans and schedules are not yet completely developed, elaborated, or available).

When I asked Bill how students might tackle preparing for a Microsoft PBT exam, he first opined that the basic preparation process shouldn’t be terribly different from that for other exams. Then he went on to dispense the following really good advice:
1. “Pay attention in class.” Always good advice for test-takers, this reflects the notion that what gets covered in MS training or e-learning classes on specific subjects is very likely to show up on exams as well.
2. “Get some practice time in the lab, and make sure to pick classes or programs that offer such labs.” Indeed, the hands-on component for PBT exams is their very raison d’etre, so whether you build your own lab, or use somebody else’s, time in the lab becomes an essential part of the preparation process.
3. “Take advantage of the ‘Second Shot’ program.” For some time now, Microsoft offers a free retake for those who tackle a cert exam and don’t pass on their first try. Though this will be even more helpful for typically more expensive PBT exams, it’s good advice for any Microsoft cert exam of any kind.

I’m supposed to check back in with Mr. Wall and his gang in mid- to late January 2009 for more PBT exam news. Count on me to do just that, and share what I learn with you here.


November 12, 2008  4:47 PM

TechKnight Does It By the Numbers, Gets a Complete Answer

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Looks like some people actually do their homework here. I got this comment posted to my “7 Questions” blog, wherein I laid out some queries to enable advice-seekers to get decent answers from me when asking for IT career and/or certification advice. Let’s start with TechKnight’s answers, which I repeat with the questions to put them into context:

1) What is your educational background?
I have a bachelors Degree in Applied Computing.
2) What is your prior work experience?
I am currently working in the automative industry the job profile includes General IT troubleshooting (Installation of software, Email configuration etc)
3) Where do you live? What is the job market like there?…
I live in UAE and there are opportunities here.
4) Are you interested in working in management, or would you prefer to stay on a technical track?
I prefer to stay in the technical track
5)What kinds of certifications interest you?
Relevant Certifications in networking.
6) Do your long-term career goals include staying in your current position (or in the same field as the next position you’re seeking, if applicable)?
I want to change my current job and become a full time IT professional.
7) What kind of job are you doing now? What kind of job would you like to be doing? How important is salary to you? How important is job satisfaction? If you could have any job at all, what would that be?
Currently i am working as an administrator. I am also currently doing a one month course in A+. I would like to be a full time IT professional. Salary as well as Job Satisfaction are important. I want to be in a job that i will enjoy doing. I enjoy working with technology.

Alas, I’d love to know what kind of administrator TK is: but I’m guessing it’s not an IT-related admin position based on his answer to question 6. That said, it sounds to me like TK is an entry-level kind of person who, even though he didn’t say how many years he has in the workforce, appears to have less than three years of post-graduate work experience. Based on those assumptions, I’d recommend the following:

  • The A+ is fine to get started (but not terribly networking related), and should probably be followed in close succession with a Network+ and possibly also a Security+ certification, to create a good foundation for what is to follow.
  • Next, it’s time to make some platform choices or considerations. If TK is interested in systems and network administration at a more or less local or enterprise level, to me that indicates choosing a Microsoft path (MCTS, MCITP, and so forth) or possibly some kind of Linux track (Red Hat or LPIC are probably the best choices). On the other hand, if he’s more interested in network infrastructure, the Cisco track (CCNA, CCNP, and so forth) is an excellent choice.
  • After 3-5 years on the job as a network or systems professional, it’s probably time to think about specializing for those who want to stay technical but keep advancing in job responsibility and pay grades. These days that means information security, various application environments (ERP, especially SAP/R3 a leading choice, quite popular in the Persian Gulf), storage management (SAN, NAS, and so forth, with SNIC and platform specific certifications quite popular), or various kinds of architect positions and related certifications of potential interest.

At least that’s how I see it from my end. Perhaps TK may want to post some follow-up questions after he’s had time to research and digest what I suggest here?

HTH and thanks for posting,

November 10, 2008  8:18 PM

And now, a word from the “Brazen Careerist”

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

OK, so I’m wriiting an IT career development and enhancement blog. I hope that means it makes sense for me to turn to other career blogs from time to time, for information, advice, and even a good laugh. Those of you who’ve been reading this blog since it kicked off in mid-August 08, already know that I’m prone to tell people to pursue work that interests them, or that they enjoy, because it remains necessary to get up in the morning, go to work, and get things done, long after the excitement of a promotion or raise has been dulled to background noise by the sheer passage of time.

Little did I know that my chioce of words was both prophetic and well-advised. For an excellent and funny explanation as to why this is true, please check out Penelope Trunk’s great blog called “Brazen Careerist” (which sounds like a piece of socialist realist doggerel if ever I heard one, or perhaps a line from 1984) for December 18, 2007. There, she argues eloquently and with great humor why doing what you love doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, or even make very good career sense (her discussion of how work and life intersect in the world’s favorite leisure time activity is a howl, and I don’t want to spoil it by saying another word on that subject).

That said, doing what you like most from a carefully pared-down set of alternatives makes pretty good sense, especially if your paring-down criteria include (a) what pays well, (b) what you like or enjoy–or at least can stand on a long-term basis, and (c) is within the realm of what’s both possible and attainable for you, given your education, work experience, certifications, and yada yada yada. Trunk goes on to give some pretty darn good advice in this blog (and in her other writing to her great credit). She also refers to a terrific book entitled “Do What You Are: Discover the perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type…” by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger (Little, Brown & Co, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0316990657) to remind people that “Do What You Are” is not just good career advice, but a terrific exercise of common sense.

If you like this blog, here are some her others that you will probably also want to read:

I can only hope you enjoy this information and advice as much as I do, and that it does somebody some actual good. That’s the best any of us bloggers can hope for, however seldom it may actually occur.

November 7, 2008  9:26 PM

Pros and Cons of Resume Posting Sites

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

If you’ve looked for a job, or even just thought about looking for a job recently, you’ve probably visited one or more of the resume posting sites on the Web. A large number of such operations exist, at the same time that more and more companies are using similar technology to field direct applications from interested parties as well. In today’s blog, I want to explore the pros and cons of using those sites that serve multiple employers (as for those that belong to a specific employer, pros and cons don’t matter: they’re now a fact of working life for anybody who wants to apply for a job nowadays).

Promising All Kinds of Pros, Delivering How Many
If you check out the hype or hyperbole that so many sites surround themselves with, there aren’t many stones that go unturned in their breathless and relentless quest to persuade you to post with them. These range from broad exposure to numerous employers, search capability by geography, job description, pay range, automatic e-mail alerts when new jobs post, plus access to job hunting advice, information, and resources to name just a few. There are even meta-sites (for example, where you can upload your resume and broadcast it to over 80 different job search/resume posting Web sites.

Despite all of the aforementioned benefits, the biggest draw for these sites is that they’re convenient, relatively easy to use, and help you get the word out about your availability to a broad and geographically dispersed audience. Even with all their promises of rapid and voluminous response, be warned that your own personal results may vary as and when you use these services, and the quality of your experience will depend on how well you match the target audience and demographic that these sites seek to service.

Considerable Cons Can Pose Problems, or Cause Frustration
If you look closely at the kinds of positions that get filled through these resume posting sites, you’ll observe some interesting phenomena:

  • The real action is clustered “down-market,” very much on the entry-level to mid-career side. Once you’ve put 8-10 years or more of service into IT (or whatever trade or industry you work in), opportunities become more scare and responses more sparse whether you use a resume posting site or not
  • Flexibility remains the key to success: the more kinds of positions, the wider your acceptable salary range, the greater the geographic area in which you’re willing to accept a job, and so forth, the more likely it is that you’re going to generate a response. Flexibility is another quality that is relatively easier for younger, less encumbered (and experienced) workers to manifest than for older, more encumbered (and experienced) ones.
  • Quantity is no substitute for quantity: just because you cover a lot of possible positions you might occupy doesn’t mean you can cut back on the quality of the materials you use to sell yourself through introduction, interview, and selection phases. You still need a strong, well-crafted resume and cover letter, and you need to be able to communicate clearly and effectively about what you can do, why you want to do it, and what appeals to you about any particular position under discussion. A foot in the door is not the same as an offer: that first foot must be followed by lots of quality information and materials to make a worthwhile offer materialize.
  • Protect yourself against unwanted disclosure: If you’re currently employed, but also looking for something else, make sure you read and understand the disclosure terms for any information you share with a job site. You may not want to get too public with your resume and other information if your current employer’s recruiters or HR staff can then find you on the Web. They may do so entirely innocently in seeking to fill other positions, but you can rest assured they’ll share this news with your management once they learn about your intentions. Unless you’re ready to go public you may want to keep your postings private, and only make them available on a case-by-case basis when a particularly good match appears through your own online job search efforts.

If you keep these pros and cons in mind, you can make these sites work for you, without wasting too much of your own time, or that of prospective employers you really don’t want to hear from right now. Your consideration will not only pay off with better, more focused results, it may also pay off in the future when your situation changes and you are ready to talk to those employers.

November 5, 2008  4:20 PM

Looking for Work? Thinking about it? Try Linked-In…

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

For those not already plugged into the Linked-In business networking Website, it’s definitely worth checking out. Here, you can post a personal profile, document your work history, describe your interests, and build a professional network of peers, colleagues, former and current co-workers, and more. You can also provide recommendations for others you’ve worked with, and solicit same from others who’ve worked or studied with you (each element in your work and education history can become a focus for recommendations, and the best Linked-in Profiles not only track your working life, they’re also peppered with positive recommendations from others who’ve known and worked or studied with you at each step along the way).

But it’s also important to recognize the value of the professional network you can build on Linked-In, especially when it comes to searching for freelance or consulting work, investigating a job change, or looking for a new job. You can not only get the word out discreetly to those whom you know, you can also choose to broadcast the information that you’re looking for something new (which is entirely appropriate when you’re unemployed, transitioning from school to work, or you’ve already informed your employer that you’re actively seeking another position elsewhere).

Once you establish a connection with somebody on linked in (for example, take a look at my profile), in most cases you can check out your connections’ connections as well. That is, because you’re connected to them, and the default is to share connections with connections, you can look up other people to whom your connections have connections that you may not share. Why am I telling you this? Because this provides an extraordinary opportunity to seek out potential sources of work or prospective employers without necessarily having to go completely public to do so. You can then introduce yourself to these people, and establish links of your own, to see if your plans or desires to seek new or different work may coincide with their hiring needs, or ask them if they know of anybody who might have such needs.

This is just another way to play the “six degrees of separation” game in your favor. Again, for example, I currently have 220-plus connections at Linked-In. Combined, those people have over 40,000 others in their connections lists. This provides a large and potentially fertile field of investigation to go prospecting for work or a job within. You can put this same phenomenon to work on your own behalf. Basic Linked-In membership is free (and I’ve never found it necessary to promote myself to the ranks of paid members, either, so you may not need to do that either).

Check it out!

November 3, 2008  6:15 PM

Microsoft’s First Foray into Performance Based Testing Extended Again

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

Anybody who’s followed the IT certification game for any length of time is aware of two basic types of tests used to assess candidate skills and knowledge: static, question-and-answer testing and dynamic, performance-based testing. For the former, you sit down in front of a screen or face a piece of paper, and work your way through a series of questions, mostly multiple-choice questions of some kind. For the latter, you sit down in front of a real or simulated runtime environment and complete a series of assigned tasks by manipulating the environment in front of you.

Most education experts believe that performance based testing returns more accurate results when it comes to assessing candidate skills and knowledge, because they require working knowledge of and skills with actual interfaces, situations, and scenarios rather than relying on the candidate’s ability to remember specific questions, topics, terminology and strategy. That said, performance based testing remains in the minority for many certification programs–including Microsoft’s–because of the increased difficulty, effort, and expense involved in crafting and scoring performance based exams that are both good and meaningful. Novell pioneered this technique of testing (as it introduced so many IT cert innovations) and continues to use it; today the best-known practitioner is probably RedHat whose RHCE and RHCT are performance-based and highly regarded.

Microsoft has finally dipped a toe into these waters with a no-credit, test-phase remake of its 70-640 “Configuring Active Directory” in the form of the 70-113 exam that is itself peformance-based. Thanks to virtualization technology, test takers get their own AD domains and servers to mess around with (and mess up, if that’s how things turn out), and are allowed to fix or implement things in their own way.

What’s interesting is that this exam has been available to the general public for free since June, and has just been extended from its recently-current end date of 10/30/2008 to a new end date of 12/17/2008. Interestingly, Microsoft is still offering “the first 3,000” test-takers 3 free Microsoft exam vouchers in exchange for their participation and feedback (they otherwise get no credit for this exam, because it isn’t yet scored and thus doesn’t function like a regular beta). Given that the exam has been out for 4 months and MS is still reaching for that 3,000 goal tells me that the MS cert population may not be as excited about performance based testing as they could or should be (it almost always helps to increase the value of the credentials for those who earn them, but also almost always increases failure rates as well).

For Andy Barkl’s impressions of this exam see his article: “Windows Server 2008 Exam: Performing Under Pressure.” For the Microsoft page on this exam, with necessary access and sign-up info, see this MSDN Blogs page “Register for New Performance Based Testing Pilot Exam 70-113…

October 30, 2008  3:01 PM

More on upcoming MS Certified Master topics

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

In a recent blog entitled “What about the Microsoft Certified Master credentials” I reported that Per Farny, Director of Advanced Training and Certification at Microsoft had promised to add two additional subjects to the MCM (forgive the initialism) program. These new additions would cover the Microosft Office Communications Server 2007 and the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 platforms, and were promised in Farny’s June 26, 2008 blog as “shortly forthcoming.”

Given that it was already October when I came across that information, and over three months had already elapsed, I was quite naturally curious as to what “shortly forthcoming” was looking like from the Microsoft Learning division’s perspective. I e-mailed a query to Microsoft the day I posted that blog (10/8/2008) and got a reply back from the certification group’s PR person before that day was over. She punted to two members of the certification team, one of whom responded to me on October 12, by himself punting to Per Farny for an official response to my question.

Last Monday, October 27, 2008, I received a brief reply from Mr. Farny that indicated that development of these two certifications were “going very well” and that open betas for the related exams would be appearing in February or March, 2009. He also indicated that additional information and announcements were planned for IT Forum, which I believe to be part of the upcoming Tech Ed conference in Barcelona, Spain, from November 3 through November 7 — next week, in other words.

Alas, while I understand all too well how the exigencies of everyday life can delay plans and slow introductions, a Feb/Mar09 beta usually means live exam introductions about 90 days later, or May/Jun09. That puts the delivery of these promised credentials 11 or 12 months after the original “shortly forthcoming” remarks. In geological time, under a year doesn’t even register. For a four-year-old (I have one at home, so I speak from current experience) 11 or 12 months is an eternity (equivalent to 11 or 12 years to me, for example, as the same proportion of my current lifespan). Farny’s time scale obviously falls somewhere much closer to the “short end” of that spectrum, but I also suspect that some delays have been encountered on the road to delivering these certifications. In other words, the timeframe he had in mind in June 2008 may well have changed by the time he emailed me near the end of October 2008.

That said, I’ll be interested to see what emerges from the upcoming announcements and will post again when that information becomes available. Please stay tuned!

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