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The Road To Certification (Part 2)

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 01
Column Tag: Professional development

The Road To Certification (Part 2)

Increase your knowledge and build credibility on the way

by Doug Hanley

Introduction

In this series of articles we have been looking at Apple's IT certifications. We have examined reasons for and benefits of getting certified as well as the testing experience and the changes to Apple's IT certifications that Leopard brings with it. Now we are going to review the exams required for ACSP (Apple Certified Support Professional) and ACTC (Apple Certified Technical Coordinator). We will also discuss how best to prepare to pass those exams and become certified.

ACSP & Support Essentials...

Apple's first level certification for Mac OS X 10.5 is ACSP, Apple Certified Support Professional. The exam will be available starting in February at Apple Authorized Training Centers and Prometric testing centers, and will be approximately 80 to 100 questions in length. The test verifies that you have a core understanding of Mac OS X functionality and that you can successfully configure the key services. It is also expected that you can implement basic troubleshooting and to aid users with the essential capabilities of Mac OS X.

More specific areas covered by the exam are broken down into ten categories. Those ten categories happen to be the same number of chapters in the Peachpit Press book, Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Support Essentials (2nd Edition), ISBN# 0321489810. Correspondingly, those ten categories are also the same number of lessons in the Apple Training class Mac OS X Support Essentials v10.5. The classes are only available at Apple Authorized Training Centers. To find one near you, visit http://training.apple.com and click on Locations.

Before I take you through the ten categories, lets examine two ways to prepare for the certification exam. The first, of course, is the Peachpit book. Kevin M. White is the editor of the Support Essentials Book for Mac OS X 10.5. Each chapter of the book begins by providing an estimate of the length of time it might take one to read the information and complete the exercises. Each chapter concludes with a list of additional resources and a quiz to help you review the material covered. The book is more than just an "Exam Cram" giving you just enough to pass the test publication. It is a solid reference for those looking to build their skills and gain a better understanding of Mac OS X and how to support it. The book has the combination of information and hands-on exercises that can help you master the skills and concepts needed. If you are a visual learner and can absorb technical concepts by just reading, this may be all the preparation you need to pass the test and get certified as an ACSP.

However since we all have different learning styles, this brings us to the next way to prepare for certification: leader instructor-led training. Mac OS X Support Essentials is a three-day hands-on course that is a combination of interactive lectures and case study exercises that offer students real-world challenges and support scenarios. In a classroom situation, you have the benefit of not only asking questions of the Apple Certified Trainer, but also interacting with other students who bring their own points of view, knowledge, and experience in the field. Furthermore, the classroom is a safe place to experiment with the technology (without endangering a production machine) and a safe place to ask questions about concepts or procedures that aren't readily clear from simply reading a book. If you decide to take a course and are evaluating training centers, ask for an instructor who does more than teach - someone who also works in the industry supporting clients in the real world. Often, some of the most valuable information you will get from the course are the practical real world experiences and the solutions discovered in the process of supporting the Macintosh.

Categories Covered in Support Essentials Exam

So let's get back to the ten categories covered by the Support Essentials exam. The first one covers aspects of installing Mac OS X. It is important to know the base requirements for a machine on which Leopard installed. It is also essential to understand how to troubleshoot an unsuccessful installation and verify a good one. The second category addresses the ways to create, manage and secure user accounts in Mac OS X.

The next two categories are file systems and file management. You should know how to manage the file systems supported by Mac OS X and how to handle permissions and ownership of the files and directories. One of the key areas in of troubleshooting is understanding the file system layout, where things belong and why. You also need to know how files are stored (i.e., packages, plists, resources, images, etc).

The fifth area deals with applications. You need to understand the differences between a Unix process and an end-user GUIactual application. It is key to know which tools can help you monitor, troubleshoot, and manage those processes and applications.

Next up is network configuration. There is more than one way to connect a Mac to another machine. These days, no Mac is an island; most computers are connected to at least to aone network, if not the Internet. You should understand network protocols, proper network configuration and troubleshooting those connections.

The next two areas are accessing and providing network services. The Mac is a good network citizen and can connect to a variety of different network services. It can also provide those services to other machines. You will need to know what services and protocols are supported, as well as how to configure and troubleshoot those services.

The peripherals category covers all the devices you can physically or wirelessly connect to your Mac, in addition to printing and faxing. To support peripherals you need to know how they are connected and how they are supported by the operating system.

Lastly we deal with the Mac OS X startup process. By knowing what is going on during the startup process you can better determine what area is being affected if a problem is encountered during that process. You need to understand all the phases of the Mac startup sequence.

To reiterate the categories:

Installation

User Accounts

File Systems

File Management

Applications

Network Configuration

Accessing Network Services

Providing Network Services

Peripherals

Startup Process

A more elaborate list of exam objectives will also be in the Skills Assessment Guide (SAG) for the exam when that

becomes available on the Apple Training website, http://training.apple.com/. As there was for the Support Essentials v10.4 exam, there may also be a Sample Test with a few questions to give you a better idea of what to expect on the exam. The SAG is a great review tool you can use with the book and/or following the training class. After you have passed Support Essentials you are on your way to the next milestone on the road to Apple certification: Apple Certified Technical CoordinateorCoordinator, or ACTC.

ACTC & Server Essentials Exam

ACTC certification is granted when you pass both the Mac OS X Support Essentials v10.5 Exam and the Mac OS X Server Essentials v10.5 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 Peachpit book based on Mac OS X Server v10.5: Apple Training Series: Mac OS X Server Essentials (2nd Edition) was edited by Schoun Regan, a name well regarded in the Mac IT industry (ISBN# 0321496604).

Again, you can take the self-study approach to ACTC and Server Essentials, but you will need two computers: one running Mac OS X client and the other running Mac OS X Server. Mac OS X Server costs $499 for 10 User Licenses and only $999 for Unlimited User Licenses. This could be price limiting for most people. In contrast many Apple Authorized Training Centers not only have the two machines for each student, but some will actually use Xserves as the server for the course exercises. This might be another deciding factor in where you would like to take your training course.

Categories Covered in Server Essentials Exam

There are also ten basic categories in the Server Essentials exam and materials. In the class, there is an eleventh lesson that is the challenge. It builds upon the knowledge and skills you have learned throughout the class and gives you a real world task to implement with multiple machines working collaboratively.

The first category is installation and configuration. It also covers the basic server administration tools. Of course, troubleshooting installation issues is also a key part. The next is providing DNS. DNS is truly the glue that most network services rely upon to function properly.

The third area covered is authentication, authorization and access control. It is extremely important to know how Mac OS X Server handles these concepts of proving who you are and what you are allowed to do on the server and network. Open Directory is the fourth topic, and deals with providing directory services, single sign-on and an introduction to Kerberos.

The next two categories are file services and mail services. File services are among the key uses (reasons?) for a server. You will need to understand what protocols Mac OS X Server provides and learn how to manage and troubleshoot them as well. Email is also a major use of a server. You should understand how to configure, maintain, and troubleshoot mail service on Mac OS X Server.

Web service and collaborative services are the next two categories. How to host multiple sites and provide WebDAV service are critical. Two of the collaborative services build upon the web server. Wikis and blogs extend Mac OS X Server's web service to provide rich simple collaborative services. iCal services and iChat services will also need to be understood.

Next to last, we have deployment, using Mac OS X Server Netboot/Netinstall to deploy Mac OS X to other machines. You will need to know not only how to configure the service but also troubleshooting issues.

Finally the tenth lesson deals with managing accounts. Part of Open Directory is the ability to manage preferences and network views for your users. You should understand how to manage users this way and troubleshoot that management.

To reiterate the categories:

Installation and Configuration

Providing DNS Service

Authentication, Authorization, and Access Control

Open Directory

File Services

Mail Service

Web Service

Collaborative Services

Deployment Solutions

Managing Accounts

Challenge (only in the class)

When you pass both the Support Essentials v10.5 and Server Essentials v10.5 exams, you will be an ACSP 10.5 (Apple Certified Support Professional) and an ACTC 10.5 (Apple Certified Technical Coordinator). AndDo note that the Server Essentials v10.5 exam applies toward your ACSA 10.5 (Apple Certified System Administrator) certification.

In the next article we should will have more detailed information about the requirements for the ACSA 10.5 certification. We will discuss the kinds of topics covered on the several exams required for the ACSA, and what resources are available to help you prepare for them. Those resources will, of course, will 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 90's. To track him down, go to http://www.mactektraining.com or doug@mac-tek.com

 
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