CompTIA updates its certifications for the BYOD era

Credit: Alberto G. via Flickr

CompTIA is celebrating the twenty year anniversary of its vendor-neutral A+ certification. The A+ has long been considered a baseline requirement for IT jobs because it demonstrates a range of critical skills that extend across several IT roles and positions.

As CompTIA celebrates the certification's success, it is also updating the the A+ to incorporate a range of new technologies like mobile devices (iOS and Android) and virtualization as well as topic areas like security that have evolved significantly with the introduction mobile and cloud technologies.

The updates reflect the changing nature of IT, a point that CompTIA president Todd Thibodeaux made clear to me during a recent interview. He pointed out that the A+ and other certifications that CompTIA offers have always been focused on the needs of IT departments and that their evolution is directed by the overall technology market. As a result, there are major differences in focus between the 2013 edition of the A+ and early versions that had a strong focus on Windows and PC support and troubleshooting.

Thibodeaux also noted that CompTIA's addition of mobile and cloud topics won't be limited to just the A+. The organization is working on multiple new programs that address mobility and cloud technologies. The company recently invited subject matter experts from across the IT industry to a week-long event in Chicago to help identify topics for a mobility certification.

CompTIA has developed a program in partnership with viaForensics for mobile app developers (iOS and Android) designed to ensure they handle data and content in a secure manner. With enterprise apps expected to be one of the fastest growing aspects of mobile development and IT over the next few years, these programs could become key advantages for prospective developers and IT leaders alike.

CompTIA's entrance into mobility training is a welcome addition both because of the organization's reputation and because there's a distinct lack of training and certification programs for both iOS and Android. Some mobile management vendors have begun to offer programs of their own, MobileIron University being the best example, but vendor or product-specific options are often just that - focused on specific solutions.

Why certifications matter

The technology field has long been one dominated by certifications. They make it easy for candidates to demonstrate technical knowledge to hiring managers. Although it's good practice to dig a little deeper than just the certifications listed on a prospective employee's resume, certifications are a starting point for discussing skills and knowledge and how they have been applied in real world practices and projects.

To date, there hasn't been an option for assessing skills related specifically to enterprise mobility. Largely that's because the mobile landscape today is significantly different from three years ago when Apple launched the iPad and introduced MDM capabilities into iOS. Even in the past year, the techniques for enabling and managing the range of devices common in BYOD programs have changed from a focus on the device to a focus on apps, content, and users.

This fast-moving landscape both heightens the value of training and certification programs and explains why those programs have seemed slow to emerge. IT managers may need easy and accurate ways to assess mobile management and support skills (as well as other emerging skills), but those skills are evolving on an almost daily basis.

Challenges to certification of Android and iOS skills

One challenge for creating a broad mobile device support and management curriculum for Android devices is the sheer variety of the platform in which manufacturers can select older versions of Android as a base and they (along with carriers) can make changes to it at their discretion.

Apple, on the other hand, could easily develop a training and certification program for iOS. The company has offered various programs and certifications for enterprise and small business IT professionals over the years. Some of enterprise offerings have been downsized or eliminated over the past couple of years as Apple has adjusted its approach to enterprise customers, but a handful of options are still being offered by the company and its network of Apple Certified Trainers and Training Centers. The fact that Apple hasn't taken up the challenge is actually rather surprising.

Some Apple trainers are beginning to take up that challenge on their by creating their own iOS curriculum and offering it alongside Apple's official training options for desktops and servers. Business Rules, a training company with facilities in Kansas City, MO and upstate New York has developed training classes for iOS deployment and management as well as for iPad troubleshooting and repair, though the company makes it clear which programs come from Apple and which ones don't.

Business Rules president Shelley Weiner told me that the impetus to develop the iOS classes came from the company's existing customers that wanted to move forward with iOS deployments. In designing the classes for iOS deployment and management, the company focused on the fundamentals and free and low cost tools from Apple like the iPhone Configuration Utility, Apple Configurator, and the Profile Manager service in Apple's OS X Server (which can be installed on a Mac for just $20).

Apple isn't alone in not offering a mobile-specific certification option. Even Microsoft doesn't currently have a mobile-specific certification program for IT pros (it does offer a Windows Phone developer certification), but it does include some relevant topics in its more general certification tracks

In addition to classroom training and certification, there are a number of resources out there for IT professionals. Webinars and conferences (including our CITE Conference in June) offer the ability to build mobile-related skills and immerse yourself in the discussion of what techniques and technologies are the best options. Non-traditional learning options like iTunes U and MOOCs are also expanding the resources for IT professionals. The challenge is that they don't immediately convey that knowledge to prospective employers. For that candidates are very much on their own. CompTIA's entrance into the arena has the potential remedy that.

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