Among the certifications available for computer professionals, A+ is probably the one cited most often as a starting point for careers in information technology (IT). More than 260,000 people have received A+ certification, viewing it as a way to find jobs as computer service technicians or to gain enough skills to move on to further training.
Sponsored by CompTIA, an industry organization, A+ certifies skills in entry-level PC technology. It is a vendor-neutral certification, with an emphasis on the expertise needed to work as a computer service technician, troubleshooting and repairing PCs.
Given its popularity, it is no surprise certain misconceptions have developed about A+ certification, especially among people just thinking about getting started in IT. Is A+ certification a "must" for entry-level IT jobs? Is it for programmer wannabes? Technicians? Here is a guide to help you decide whether A+ certification is right for you.
Is A+ certification an appropriate starting point for all IT careers?
No. The IT world is vast, with an astounding variety of jobs available, from tech support personnel to programmers. These jobs require different skills, training and experience. Will A+ help you find a job in tech support or servicing computers? Yes. Will it help you find a job as a Java programmer? That's unlikely. Before you sign up for an A+ certification course, be sure it's an appropriate credential for your career goals.
What do you learn in an A+ certification program?
A+ certification programs typically focus on the skills required for entry-level PC technicians. Students learn about installing, configuring, upgrading and repairing PCs. At New Horizons, the IT training company, a five-day or 10-day course includes instruction in computer architecture, memory, modems, printers, hard disk setup and operating system optimization.
Is a course required to receive A+ certification?
No. The A+ exam is available from Prometric and Pearson VUE. The certification exam actually consists of two tests -- one focusing on core hardware technologies, the other on operating systems. For people who already have experience with PC troubleshooting, or have a lot of self-motivation, self-study with a book about A+, such as the A+ Certification All-in-One Exam Guide by Michael Meyers, may be the route to passing the exam.
What sort of job does A+ certification qualify you to do?
CompTIA views the certification as a credential for technicians with six months of experience. Individuals with A+ certification may find jobs installing, repairing and configuring PCs, or working in technical support positions.
"It's really for new entrants into the IT world," Andrea Estevez, vice president of products and programs for New Horizons, says of A+ certification. "The folks who are taking these courses are people who are relatively new to IT.
Nick Henderson, for instance, was a truck driver when he decided to take the leap into the world of computers. "I could no longer do anything without being surrounded by computers," he says. "I knew I had to deal with it.
Henderson, 45, returned to school for his GED, quit his job driving 18-wheelers, and took courses with New Horizons. "I didn't know hardware from software," he says. Eventually, he earned his A+ certification, which he views as a starting point into the world of IT jobs. He later earned Network+ certification, another CompTIA-sponsored credential, and landed an $18-per-hour job as a field technician for VoiceStream Wireless in Wichita, Kansas. He is looking to continue his IT education by studying other areas, such as the Unix operating system and Cisco technologies.
"There's no limit to what you can do in this field," Henderson says. "You set the pace.
No one would argue with that. But A+ isn't for everyone. Mike Sweeny, managing director/project staffing for TWC, a strategic staffing consulting firm in Audubon, Pennsylvania, points out the expense of many training programs leading to certification. Should A+ be viewed as the only route to an IT career? It should not, though some people may think it is. "They're misled by all the advertising that these schools do," he says. "It's light years away from getting a computer science degree.
In other words, consider your options and your expectations. Are you looking to enter the field as a service technician, and then move up? Or do you want to jump-start your career at a more advanced level, or in another area of IT, possibly by learning Java, networking or some other arena? The choice is yours.