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The Road To Certification - Part 1 �

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Business

The Road To Certification - Part 1

Increase your knowledge and build credibility along the way

by Doug Hanley

Introduction

In this series of articles we are going to look at Apple's IT certifications. We will examine reasons for and benefits of getting certified. This article also covers the testing experience and the changes to Apple's IT certifications that Leopard brings with it. We also review the exams required and how best to prepare to pass them.

A Look To The Past...

Now to give you a little historical perspective, Apple started offering Mac OS X certifications in 2002. Before then, they only offered their Hardware certifications. The first Mac OS X certification available was Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) certification. This certification required passing two exams: one focused on Mac OS X client and one on Mac OS X Server. They also offer the advanced level certification Apple Certified System Administrator (ACSA). The requirements for ACSA certification have changed dramatically, and we will focus on the current changes later in this article.

With Mac OS X 10.3 Panther, Apple launched a new certification, Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist (ACHDS). ACHDS was granted after passing just one exam based on Mac OS X Client.

So now you have a quick overview of the three levels of Mac OS X certification offered by Apple: ACHDS, ACTC, and ACSA. Now let's talk about why you might want to get certified.

Benefits: Why Get Certified?

You might ask yourself, "Why should I get certified? What will it do for me?" or, "how will it benefit me?" Maybe your job requires it. Apple Resellers are required to have people on staff maintain certain Apple IT certifications. And members of the Apple Consultants Network are required to be at least an ACHDS. Apple requires its own system engineers to maintain an ACSA.

Maybe your employer or potential employer wants to know you have a base level of knowledge and skill set to efficiently deploy and manage Mac OS X. This is where Apple's IT certifications are helpful. Sure you may know your way around Darwin's kernel and zip rings around people using the command line, but by having a certification, you can show proof of your Mac OS X expertise. You will also be expected to perform at a commensurate level with that certification.

While there can be many benefits, not all of them are necessarily tangible and immediate. A certification enhances your credibility as a technology professional and provides recognition of your achievement. It gives validation of your technical knowledge and expertise that can be recognized by others. If you have a consulting practice, it can set you apart from your competition and get you in the door of prospective clients.

Ryan Grimes of Hoosier Mac, an Apple Consultant Network member in Indiana shared the benefits of achieving ACSA. Ryan said, "I received my ACSA last year at this time and it immediately started paying for itself. Shortly after becoming certified, I was contacted by Apple's Enterprise group for a project and I now have a wonderful relationship with my Apple reps. They know my level of knowledge and feel comfortable recommending my services because I have the certification."

My personal experience is basically the same as Ryan's; I feel it was well worth the investment of time and money to get trained and certified. Not only did I gain the certification, but I also acquired the knowledge and skills to better serve my clients.

The Process: Getting Certified

Step 1: Get your Tech ID:

The first thing you need to do is to get a Tech ID from Apple. This ID is used by Apple to track all of your certifications, whether IT, Hardware, or Pro Apps. You apply for your Tech ID at Apple's Certifications Website (http://certifications.apple.com). You can check your progress on achieving the various certifications by logging into this website. You will first need an Apple ID before you can register for a Tech ID. If you have ever made a purchase from the iTunes Music Store or Apple Online Store, you already have an Apple ID. (https://myinfo.apple.com/html/en_US/faq.html).

Step 2: Register for an exam:

Mac OS X certification exams are offered at Prometric testing centers and as of just recently, also at Apple Authorized Training Centers. You can locate your nearest Prometric testing center and register for an exam at Prometric by calling 888-APL-EXAM (888-275-3926) or visiting their website (http://www.prometric.com/Apple). Or visit http://train.apple.com to find the Apple Authorized Training Center nearest you - imagine, now you can register for an exam at the same time you sign up for a class! The cost per exam is $150.

Step 3: Take the exam:

Before you arrive to take your exam, make sure to bring two forms of identification, especially if you go to a Prometric Testing Center. They will have you sign in, leave your cell phone behind and lead you to a quiet little cubicle with a lovely little Windows based machine to take your exam. They should also provide you with a pencil and scratch paper for your convenience during the test. The exam questions will be a mix of multiple choice and true/false. There are a few non-scoring questions about demographical information before the actual test begins.

A tutorial is available for you to get familiar with the types of questions and conventions used in this testing process. But here are some tips I have learned from taking a number of these exams.If there is a graphical exhibit related to a particular question, you will need to click a display button to view it. You can mark an unanswered question or one you are not quite sure about and come back to it later. I really recommend doing this and I also use the scratch paper to make a list of the questions that I want to review before submitting the exam. You normally have about two hours to complete the exam. I recommend going through the questions, answering the ones you are certain of first, and saving time at then end for those that may require a little more effort. After reviewing all your marked and unanswered questions, you can then hit the Finish or Submit button.

At a Prometric center, your exam will be scored immediately and they will give you the results on a printout before you leave. This is not your certificate, but simply a receipt of your exam and results of your answers. You will be able to see by section your total correct and missed questions, but you will not be able to find out which questions you actually missed. You also don't get to keep your scratch paper. If you passed the exam, you will then be able to order your certificate online. The ACTC and ACSA certifications require more than one exam, and you can track you progress after your results are updated on Apple's Certifications Website.

Leopard: Changes to Certification

Over the past few years, Apple's Training and Certification programs have changed and evolved significantly. So it is no surprise that with all the new and exciting things coming with Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard, there are also changes to Apple certifications and how to achieve them.

One of the first changes is simply a name change to the first level certification. Away goes Apple Certified Help Desk Specialist as it is renamed the Apple Certified Support Professional (ACSP). This is a much more succinct and appropriate name for the entry-level certification. You will achieve ACSP by passing the Mac OS X v10.5 Support Essentials Exam. This certification is a great starting place on the road to further certification. The focus of the exam is on troubleshooting and supporting Mac OS X client.

The ACTC certification remains the same. It requires that you pass both the Mac OS X v10.5 Support Essentials Exam and the Mac OS X v10.5 Server Essentials Exam. An ACTC is expected to not only know how to work with and support Mac OS X client, but also set up and maintain Mac OS X Server.

The highest certification, ACSA, has undergone the most changes through the years. Initially, for Mac OS X v10.2 and v10.3, the certification required two exams with the tests covering advanced client and advanced server administration. For Mac OS X v10.4 Tiger, it was changed into a credit-based system with a minimum requirement of seven current credits, achieved by passing ACSA elective exams-each worth from 2 to 4 credits. Initially the credits would expire two years from the date the exam was passed. When this change was made, it seemed Apple would be updating major versions of Mac OS X every two years. Since that has not been the case, Apple recently announced that all current ACSAs are being granted a new non-expiring ACSA 10.4 certification.

With Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard, ACSA certification will now again be based on the version of Mac OS X. So that means you would be certified for Mac OS X 10.5 as an ACSA and would need to recertify at the next level release of the operating system. ACSA certification will require passing four exams: the Mac OS X v10.5 Server Essentials Exam, plus three additional exams. The course names and exams have not been finalized at this time but they will cover Mac OS X and Mac OS Server Directory Services, Deployment and Advanced Administration. I believe this change makes it challenging but not unobtainable to achieve the Apple Certified System Administrator certification. The precise set of skills and knowledge possessed by an ACSA will now also be more clearly defined for employers and the industry as a whole.

In the next article we should have more detailed information about the requirements for an ACSA 10.5 certification.

In future articles, we will discuss the kinds of topics covered on the exams, and what resources are available to help you prepare for them. Those resources include Apple Authorized Training Center classes and books.


Doug Hanley owns MacTEK Consulting & Training, an Apple Authorized Training Center in Las Vegas, NV. His time is divided between teaching and wrangling servers. He has been providing support on the Mac since the early the 90's. To track him down go to http://www.mac-tek.com or doug@mac-tek.com

 
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