There are many different roles to be found on the front lines of the IT world. From the technician who goes desk-to-desk installing software at a multinational enterprise to the jack-of-all-trades who troubleshoots devices at a small startup; these entry-level IT professionals keep businesses running smoothly. So it’s crucial for companies to know they’re hiring the best talent. Since its inception, the CompTIA A+ exam has been the gold standard for proving IT skills on this level. But just as the needs of the IT industry don’t stay the same for long, neither do the requirements of A+ certification. With that in mind, CompTIA is rolling out its new CompTIA A+ 900 exam.
Teresa Sears, product manager at CompTIA, explained how the new exam reflects the ways the workplace and the skills needed to support it have changed over the past three years.
“[The CompTIA A+ 900 series] is keeping up with industry trends,” said Sears. “It includes increased coverage of mobility, a variety of operating systems and the core concepts of networking, which is such a critical skill today. It introduces things like virtualization and cloud computing. These are the things that make the 900 series the one you want to get.”
For IT professionals, getting A+ can mean many things. A foot in the door. An opportunity to feel out the industry. A chance to make a late-career change or return to IT after a long time off. It shows businesses that certified pros have the skills to do the job. The newest upgrade keeps those skills on the cutting edge.
“The 900 series future-proofs the IT professional in this role,” Sears said.
SMEs on CompTIA A+’s Ongoing Evolution
Dan Lattanzio, hardware analyst at IBM, is one of the subject matter experts (SMEs) who contributed to the CompTIA A+ 900 exams. He started in IT 20 years ago and has seen the industry change dramatically, with CompTIA mapping the needs of the tech employment landscape all along the way. Lattanzio himself got A+ certified in his early days at IBM.
Back then, even casual users had to understand basics like installing drivers and using the DOS command line. So when candidates walked into job interviews, just being able to talk the lingo was sometimes enough to display competence to a seasoned interviewer. These days, though, it’s harder to demonstrate.
“Now that computers are so ubiquitous, it’s a lot easier to do some of the basic troubleshooting,” Lattanzio said. “So you can have a lot of people coming at you [and not] know what their experience actually is; if they’re someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Certifications separate the wheat from the chaff.”
With a whole new world of technology in the workplace, it’s more important than ever to have certifications setting standards. With the help of SMEs like Lattanzio, who keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry’s needs, the A+ exam reflects this new world. Recently, Lattanzio has seen the rise of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and other new tech-enabled workplace trends. If an IT pro passes the A+ 900 exam, he or she can definitely handle such trends.
“I know that when someone has taken the latest 900 exam, that they are paying attention to what’s going on now, and they are keeping up to date on things,” Lattanzio said.
SME Ryan Frillman, director of information security and compliance at Laclede Group, remembers using his family computer to call bulletin boards with a dial-up modem when he was in middle school. He was an early-adopter. Now, his three-year-old is already using a tablet. The technology has evolved, and so has the A+ exam.
When Frillman initially got A+ certified in the early ‘00s, he remembers a quite different exam – one that focused on elements of electronics like capacitor loads and bands on resistors. The reason he first got certified, though, is just as applicable today as it was decades ago.
“It really accelerated my career, Frillman said. “I had been doing [IT] for my entire life, but I never had something where I could go to a company and say, ‘I’m not some kid working out of my basement, I actually passed a test and got a certification that proves to you that I can work on workstations or servers, using the A+ criteria.’”
A+ in hand, Frillman began at a community college helpdesk and moved up the ranks. As he climbed the ladder there to system administrator, then beyond into the upper-echelons of IT, he collected CompTIA certifications at every rung.
In his current role, when Frillman is interviewing entry-level candidates, he looks for A+. He said it demonstrates not just competency, but shows dedication – both time-wise and financial – to the field.
“That’s one criteria I look for,” Frillman said. “What cert do they have and how is it relevant to where they want to be in the IT space.”
Frillman said, in fact, that he will even ask candidates what series of A+ exams they took. For a position that deals with mobility, 900 is a must.
CompTIA A+ 900: Certification for Today and the Future
With a more intense focus on security and device management, an exploration of OSes and scenario-based questions, the A+ 900 acknowledges not just the changing workplace, but the growing role good entry-level IT pros play in secure, well-functioning enterprises.
“The 900 series is the cert that will best prepare you for entering into a technical support role that will better position you to support what’s happening in today’s IT environment,” Sears said.
Frillman advised IT pros to never stop developing themselves and characterized A+ as the first step in a journey.
“Continue to evolve. Continue to learn,” Frillman said. “Look at what CompTIA is doing as a whole. Look at [certification] as a series of stepping stones. CompTIA does a good job of laying them out. When you get your A+, look at what the next step is. Everybody’s going to start out with an A+. That’s the basics of what you need to know.”
Click here to learn more about CompTIA A+ and get started on certification today.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.