Two inseparable halves of the IT learning coin – certification and experience – often start off as rivals; like kids calling heads or tails. The bookworms shout out certification while others shout out experience. Inevitably, this debate proves pointless with the realization that most IT positions require both.
My work with these complimentary IT forces began in the late 1990s, but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s when my career took a detour and a third side of the coin emerged – teaching.
It was December 2005, I was 25-years-old and, for the first time ever, I stood in front of a classroom. In front of me was a podium with a computer displaying a PowerPoint slide. Close by, a table held boxes of CompTIA A+ certification textbooks. I flipped a switch and a front projector beamed that PowerPoint slide onto a 20-foot-wide whiteboard behind me. My heart began racing when strangers started walking into the room. They greeted me politely and sat at their respective computers. They didn’t know me or each other; therefore there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. It didn’t matter since all eyes were on me. Apparently I was supposed to say something!
These weren’t just ordinary strangers. They were my first students. They were there to take my course. And it wasn’t just any course in computers; it was a 40-hour, official A+ certification course being delivered at a CompTIA-accredited learning provider. Two weeks prior, I was just another A+ computer technician doing a Windows XP rollout for a large financial company in New York City. The thought of training hadn’t entered my mind. Yet there I was getting ready to teach A+ for the world’s largest computer training organization; New Horizons Learning Group.
The rational part of me said that I should be able to do this. After all, I’d been A+ certified since I was 17 and I had several years of IT experience. But that’s when it hit me – certification and experience weren’t enough. A third and completely different type of skill and acumen would be required to survive this. I had to ask myself, “Can I teach this stuff?”
Albert Einstein said it best: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
Teaching is a skill in itself and the material you’re teaching is a separate skill. Did I possess both skills sufficiently enough to explain A+ simply? I didn’t know. Plus, there is nothing simple about learning and obtaining A+, let alone explaining it to others for 40 hours. I didn’t come from a training background, so the odds were stacked against me. Plus, I was, by nature, a shy and introverted person with a strong case of stage fright. Meanwhile my students were all older than me and I feared some might be more experienced too.
A+ got me my start in IT, but teaching it for the first time taught me a crucial life lesson on the source of certain types of fear. One of the things you learn about fearing non-life-threatening situations like public-speaking is the why of a fear is just as important as the what. Ask yourself why you fear public speaking. What is so frightening about standing in front of a room, pointing at a whiteboard and talking about computers? Fear of failure? I’m not sure it’s that simple. Perhaps the opposite plays a role. Maybe it’s because we care so much about the subject itself. Maybe, just maybe, we fear becoming good at it.
Teacher, author and lecturer Marianne Williamson once said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
Now, a decade later, I’m a seasoned IT instructor having taught thousands of students all over the world, and have received numerous awards from New Horizons for worldwide excellence in training. In 2012, I was honored by CEO Kevin Landry as the 2012 New Horizons Technical Instructor of the Year. I’m also a member of the CompTIA Instructor Network’s advisory committee.
Yet I’m still shy, introverted and suffer from stage fright. Even two years of attending Toastmasters public-speaking meetings and conducting sessions as its president did not erase my inherent flaws, but I’m much better able to maximize my strengths and minimize my weaknesses. Teaching is still as scary as ever but that fear pumps my adrenaline. It helps me not notice hunger, illness or stress. When I teach, nothing else matters. I feel nothing but the urge to simply solider on and knock it out of the park.
One thing I will give myself credit for is always providing the simplest explanations of all subject matter. I believe that is my gift in life. Simplicity cannot be overstated. The simplicity of Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 is part of the public’s fascination with it. Something as complex as Einstein’s theory of relativity brought down to earth is, in a word, awesome. As we often say at New Horizons Learning Group, it is the simple things that give us inspiration.
To be clear, my goal here is not to suggest that everyone become trainers. What I will suggest is if you want to maximize your knowledge of IT material, teaching it to others will help you get there. It will help you validate your own understanding of things. Always teach using simple language to ensure understanding. Anything less defeats the purpose. Your passion for IT does not lie merely in certification and experience, but in your ability to pass that information along to others. After all, it’s people, not computers, who call up the IT help desk. People use computers to perform tasks. People make money for a company and earn business from customers.
Knowledge transfer is where you’ll leave your deepest mark at your company and in the world at large. They say a boss is someone who makes themselves important, but a leader is someone who makes others important. That only comes from empowering others to succeed through learning. I promise you that you’ll learn something by teaching others to be successful wherever their needs lie. You’ll discover your gaps at one moment, and fill those gaps in other moments. Learning and teaching are the true inseparable components of IT.
If you’re an aspiring A+ certification holder, think about learning through teaching. Find like-minded folks, get into study groups and collaborate. Tell them what you know and ask and answer questions. It will help you learn A+ concepts a great deal better, and best of all it will help separate you from the hordes of competition you face for IT jobs. When you’re in the job interview, your communication skills will shine brighter than others due to your teaching ability.
You probably already know that A+ is the crucial first step to starting a career in IT. You may not be aware that the newest 220-901 and 220-902 A+ certification is now available. More information can be found here.
Nicholas Lane is a technical instructor at New Horizons Learning Group.