The CompTIA A+ On-Ramp: Twenty Years of Launching IT Careers

by Janet Pinkerton | Mar 19, 2013
Cory Brown

For Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Cory Brown of Jacksonville, Fla., the CompTIA A+ exam is a steppingstone to parlay his computer hobby into a second career after he retires from the military. His goal: Strengthen his IT skills and leverage his military security clearances. "I'm going to be a 40-something in an entry-level IT position!" he notes, undaunted.

Brown earned the CompTIA A+ certification in January, and will soon take his CompTIA Network+ exam. Eventually, he plans to earn CompTIA Security+ and Microsoft Windows Server credentials, using the certifications to build credit toward a bachelor's degree in computer information technology at University of Maryland University College. "I wanted to get the CompTIA certs because they're the industry standard, and everyone understands what it takes to get that qualification."

The CompTIA A+ certification launched in 1993 to address an industry need for skill standards for PC technicians, but it has since become a critical on-ramp to IT careers for thousands of people around the globe. The certification is now available in 124 countries, and more than 925,000 people worldwide have earned the certification. Some earn the CompTIA A+ certification fresh out of high school or college, while others like Brown use it as a launching pad to switch careers. Many are working for the military, where it's required for some information assurance roles.

>RELATED: CompTIA A+ Celebrates 20 Years and Nearly 1 Million Certified

Mutual Benefit

I was fortunate back in the early 1980s, late 1970s to have the ability to get into this wonderful industry. Now I'm able to help others get a career in IT through the CompTIA A+ program.

Angel Piñeiro, CompTIA Certification Advisory Committee

The CompTIA A+ credential allows employers to set firm benchmark qualifications for their entry level IT hires, while at the same time supporting a candidate's desire to bootstrap him or herself into a more lucrative career.

As senior vice president for services at ASI System Integration in New York City, Angel Piñeiro requires new hires to have the CompTIA A+ and the CompTIA Network+ certifications because it's good for business, establishing a skill foundation that enables his company to train new technicians more quickly. But Piñeiro also knows the certification program changes lives.

At ASI, Piñeiro "lost count" of the people who lived below the federal poverty level and/or were unemployed but were able to use the CompTIA A+ certification as a gateway to a new IT career.

"Through the CompTIA A+ program, we were able to hire them, and we've helped them in their personal development," says Piñeiro. "They're now earning way above what's considered a decent salary. Some are making six-digit incomes. They hold manager, director, and VP level titles, all throughout the U.S."

Keeping the exam up-to-date with technology is critical for the success of the certification and the people who earn it, Piñeiro believes. "The role of the IT technician is changing with time, and that's why it's so important that CompTIA continue to have subject experts come in to tweak the program so it remains relevant."

Piñeiro serves on the CompTIA A+ Certification Advisory Committee, which provides counsel on updates to the exam.

"I was fortunate back in the early 1980s, late 1970s to have the ability to get into this wonderful industry," he says. "Now I'm able to help others get a career in IT through the CompTIA A+ program."

Building Skill and Confidence

Marcus Powell

For Marcus Powell of Washington, D.C., the CompTIA A+ certification opened up a path to long-term financial stability.

Powell earned his CompTIA A+ certification in September 2012 through an intensive, Washington, D.C.-based IT training program called the H.O.P.E. Project.

Powell previously enrolled in a history degree program University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff, Ark., where he says he spent too much time partying. "I didn't have a plan, a goal or a map of my future," he recalls.

But when Powell's mother had a health scare and financial problems put college funding in jeopardy, he withdrew from college and came back to D.C. "I was only 18, and to see my mother so very sick—my father had passed away when I was three—I felt a need to come home, take charge of the household, get things done and learn what I needed to learn," he says.

Powell joined the H.O.P.E. Project program, where his sister was already enrolled, to learn technology and customer service skills in the fall of 2011. His goal was to launch a new career in IT to help his family, but he says, "I learned to actually love IT—there are so many advanced skills to learn."

Within a month of passing his exams, Powell landed a job working as an IT specialist for the professional services company HumanTouch, fielding tech support calls from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, where the credential was required.

He loves his current job, but his next goal is to become a SharePoint developer.

"CompTIA A+ and the H.O.P.E. Project built a lot of confidence in me," Powell says. "More than just getting me a job, the experience helped me to think on my own."

Paying It Forward

Keiron Cheesbrough, 20, of Birmingham, England took the CompTIA A+ exam twice—the 700 series exam in 2010 during an apprenticeship at a U.K training firm, and the 800 series exams in January 2013 as a study support tutor for the IT training company Computeach.

The 700 series CompTIA A+ credential, along with certifications from Microsoft, helped Cheesbrough land a recurring summer job in the U.S., operating IT systems for a summer camp in Pennsylvania. "With the qualification globally recognized, that's definitely a benefit," Cheesbrough says.

Renewing with the 800 series exam helped prepare Cheesbrough to teach students the new CompTIA A+—his goal after he earns his CompTIA CTT+ credential.

Outside of his full-time job at Computeach, Cheesborough runs an online technology business,, and he likes how the 800 series CompTIA A+ exams cover mobile devices, the Android and iOS operating systems and basic virtualization, in addition to computer hardware and software. "This is the way the industry is going, and CompTIA has definitely recognized that," he said.

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