CompTIA Subject Matter Expert Sees Value in Certs for Non-Technical Staff

by Matthew Stern | Jan 27, 2017

Tim NilesWhen Manager of Enterprise Content Tim Niles' business systems analysts consult with departments across the University of Michigan's multiple campuses, they begin with a conversation about using the right tools to deliver content to the right eyes and in the right way.

Today’s students interact with digitally delivered content in numerous ways, from finding the location of a class using an interactive digital map to watching a professor’s streaming video presentation. The content gets delivered through thoughtfully strategized, skillfully implemented and well-managed IT services. At the University of Michigan, Niles and his team provide that.

“We’re what happens after you put your video together, or your lecture or your course, for example,” Niles said. “We [determine] how do you get it out there? How do you get everyone to see it? How does it work on a smartphone versus a PC versus a Mac versus a tablet? That sort of thing.” 

As he has watched the ways students, educators and administrators interact with technology in this new, wired learning environment, he has been able to help set benchmarks for what a successful IT professional needs to know.

Setting Industry Benchmarks as a Subject Matter Expert

Since 2007, Niles has served as a CompTIA Subject Matter Expert (SME) for the A+ exam. He initially saw it as an opportunity to cement his commitment to the field – and his approximation of his own skills. A lifetime tech enthusiast who spent five years handling IT operations for a bank, he knew CompTIA A+ like the back of his hand. So he jumped at the chance to help CompTIA set the industry standard. He confirmed his expertise to himself and, in doing so, set up aspiring experts to prove theirs. Contributing to the field in this way has turned out to be even more fulfilling than he had expected.

Since his early days advising on the A+ exam, the exam development process has evolved, with the addition of advisory boards and governing bodies to ensure that the certs best meet the industry’s needs. As his career progressed, so has his role with CompTIA, where he has participated on the CompTIA SME Technical Advisory Committee (CSTAC) and the governance committee, which presides over the CompTIA Network+, A+, Security+ and CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) exams.

I can get a lot of information from seeing that candidates have [a CompTIA certification]. ... You set yourself apart because you're providing the people looking at your resume and your career with a lot of really powerful information.

And in that time, technology has changed rapidly. IT professionals face a more diverse array of operating systems and platforms in the field than they did even five years ago, let alone 10 or 15. Seeing these industry shifts, he has offered his input to keep CompTIA – and the techs it certifies – at the cutting edge.  

“As enterprise computing has evolved since 2000, with the move toward cloud and the virtual technologies that are so common right now, it’s really great that the test has been able to keep up,” Niles said. “The expectation is that even a CompTIA A+ test taker and those who pass the exam are well aware of what these technologies can do and, ideally, are using them every day, whether it be at a corporate job or at home using the consumer version.”

The Value of Certs for Non-Technical Staff

In his day-to-day work at the University of Michigan, Niles’ team focuses more on meeting business needs than on handling infrastructure. But that does not minimize their need for tech skills. Quite the opposite, Niles said. Managing such a team has given him insight into the ways that those on the business side of technology can benefit from certification.

“Business systems analysts wouldn’t necessarily be expected to troubleshoot. They would delegate that or pass it off to a different tier of support,” Niles said. “But I say, if you’ve got [the skills], you can just do it while you’re there. If you’re on site and your customer is having an issue, it’s not like, ‘Oh, this isn’t my skillset. That’s not my job.’ It’s like, ‘I have CompTIA A+ certification. I know how to do this, and I can do it right.’”

Certifications, then – even for non-technical staff – set up employees to provide a more satisfying, effective, customer-focused experience. And, so, when an IT professional, or even a candidate for a less technical position, is looking for a job, CompTIA’s stamp of approval speaks volumes. As a member of the team of top industry minds working to make sure that the exams are up to date, Niles knows exactly how much weight the certifications carry.

“As a hiring manager … I can get a lot of information from seeing that candidates have [a CompTIA certification],” Niles said. “One, I know that they’re not only passionate and dedicated learning, but also that they’re going above and beyond in their career. They’re doing the certs on top of their job. And two, I know exactly the skillset they bring to the table.”

“You set yourself apart by providing the people looking at your resume and your career with a lot of really powerful information,” Niles said. 

Learn more about becoming a CompTIA SME and apply today!

Editor’s Note: Since the time of our interview with Tim, he has changed jobs. He’s now the technical delivery manager for RIIS LLC.

Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.

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