In 2013, Brian Virgil had his first run at taking a CompTIA A+ certification exam. He had been in a trade school IT program, getting a professional education that he hoped would set him up for a career. The program covered the material IT pros need to know for the CompTIA A+ exam and the Network+ exam. But while the program, during its seven-month duration, set him off on the path to getting started in the field, it didn’t give him the mastery of the material he needed.
“Although the program did successfully train me enough to get a very limited helpdesk role, it obviously did not prepare me for the [CompTIA A+] exams,” Virgil said.
He took the first A+ exam – then the 701 – and did not pass.
Virgil knew that certification was the key to moving past the entry level. He also knew that there were ways to study for certification exams that were less than on-the-up-and-up. He eschewed those methods. Virgil wanted to do things the right way – to master the knowledge, and to have that mastery endorsed by a certification on his resume. But he had yet to find the right way to commit the information to memory.
The following year, Virgil saw even more clearly how important it was to get certified. He received an offer for an overseas position – one that was compliant with DoD standards. That meant that without a few CompTIA certifications to his name, he wasn’t eligible.
With this goal in mind, Virgil pursued a Security+ certification. In the lead-up to the exam, he discovered a study tool that topped all the others – CompTIA’s CertMaster.
That CertMaster, CompTIA’s gamified learning tool, was both created by the organization and widely endorsed in the industry piqued Virgil’s interest. He had poured over other available study materials, but nothing quite kept his attention or impressed the material on his memory like CertMaster did.
In fact, the things he learned from the Security+ CertMaster were more than just hard facts he needed to memorize that would get him to the other end of the exam. He was learning a new way of critical thinking – learning to assess the full picture of an enterprise’s security environment.
“If you need me to secure a network and environment so that Snowden could not walk out the door with hard drives in his pocket, I can knock that out of the park,” Virgil said of his newfound security knowledge.
During the weeks in which Virgil was studying for Security+, spending four to five hours a day on CertMaster, he was also temping at a pharmaceutical SaaS provider. As his understanding of computer security grew, he found what he was studying was immediately applicable to what he was working on, and helped the company implement a two-factor authentication process.
Virgil went on to get his Server+; albeit using other study tools. Even though he passed the exam, the study prep tools didn’t grab him the way CertMaster had. By the time he had passed his Security+ and Server+ exams, the overseas job he had his sights set on was no longer available. But with the certifications on his resume, he was in a stronger position. He began work on another string of contract jobs. Working as a helpdesk technician, he noticed that while his skills were now up to par, the treatment he was getting was not what he had hoped.
“Even though I would resolve users’ issues, I would constantly have my work verified and questioned because I did not have the experience of my peers,” Virgil said.
Unsure of what sort of IT position he might land in, Virgil realized it was critical that he be as well-rounded as possible. That meant one thing. He needed to go back and conquer the exams that had beaten him before. He started studying for his CompTIA A+, this time with CertMaster on his side.
“I spent about a week studying,” Virgil said. “In the words of B.A. Baracus from The A-Team, I was ‘feeling jazzy’ and went ahead and took the test on the first Saturday. I passed with a 757. I feel if I spent another week and ran through the program twice, I would have scored higher.”
With the second half of CompTIA A+ still ahead of him, Virgil placed the CompTIA CertMaster for the 802 exam under the “investments” portion of his personal budget. It wasn’t merely an expense, but money put down on which Virgil was sure to expect a return. He studied, and in July 2015 passed the second exam.
With three CompTIA certifications to his name, Virgil had placed himself on the map of potential employers in a way that was never the case in the past. He began receiving calls from recruiters offering him jobs at a pay rate he was happy with.
These days, experiencing the full benefit of certification reflected both in his paychecks and his skill-set, he attributes his success to the way he studied for the exams as much as the exams themselves.
“The facts and intangible knowledge that CertMaster gave me is a huge part of it,” Virgil said.
Virgil now works at Stearns Lending in a position he describes as the best job he has ever had. The things that he learned while getting certified apply to his work every day and it shows in both his attitude and his performance.
“Having my certs gives me the ability to confidently talk tech with my peers and stand my ground when questioned on advice or solutions,” Virgil said.
The confidence in his knowledge he now displays every day is key to moving up the ranks in the world of IT, and it’s a confidence grounded in studying with CertMaster.
“[CertMaster] helped me solidify my IT foundation,” Virgil said.
Learn more about CertMaster here.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and other topics and industries.