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World-renowned expert in training, certification, IT technologies...
Interview by Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P.

 

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Ed Tittel, a 20 year world-renowned expert in training, certification, IT technologies with over 120 books to his credit, innumerable articles, and an extensive background in program development, senior management, speaking, teaching, editing, consulting and research. He has been a featured speaker at major conferences including teaching engagements at NetWorld+Interop Las Vegas and Atlanta.

 

Ed began his career with undergraduate and graduate degrees from Princeton and the University of Texas. Currently, Ed is president of LANWrights Inc. (lanw.com); vice-president of content development & delivery, CapStar LLC (capstarlearning.com); series editor, Que Exam Cram 2 & Training Guides. He is also a contributing editor and regular columnist for Certification magazine (www.certmag.com).

 

Phone: 512-252-7497   fax: 512-252-8439   mbl: 512-422-7943

 

Discussion:

 

Q: Ed, your international renown is singular. We appreciate you taking the time out of your demanding schedule to speak with us.

 

A: Thanks, Stephen. It’s my pleasure to be allowed to communicate directly with your organization and its membership (whose own certifications are also not unknown to me).

 

Q: You have a remarkable and varied history. Can you share your most valuable lessons and challenges and a story with a humorous angle?

 

A: I guess you can say that I’ve learned to deal with technical matters through a combination of elbow grease, good Internet search techniques, and a willingness to read and understand large amounts of material to bring myself up to speed. In today’s world, where our knowledge bases turn over so often, keeping in touch with current ideas, tools, and technologies has to become part of our work routine for most of us to survive and thrive. An old mentor of mine from the University of Texas told me in 1979 that if I wanted to succeed at anything technical I would have to “stick to the subject matter until it hurts.” Although I didn’t understand Dr. Brown’s advice until a few years later, and the puzzled look I gave him in reply made him laugh, it’s become a key element in my work philosophy and writing habits.

 

Q: Describe the services provided by your companies and where you see your companies proceeding in the future?

 

A: My group in Texas is a content development group. We essentially develop and pitch content projects—meaning articles, books, courses, newsletters, and so forth—and then manage the creation of those projects for which we can find funding. The backbone of my local group rests on my project managers, who hire the writers, tech editors, and other professionals who help to write and craft the content. We typically produce 35-50 books, 5-10 long courses, 30-50 short courses, and 100-200 articles per year, with a full-time staff of four and a constantly changing group of contractors. Our parent company, Capstar LLC, is an e-learning company that offers an e-learning platform, content development services (including those of my group), online delivery services, and whatever else is necessary to permit large organizations and companies to offer their employees and customers effective blended learning solutions. It’s an interesting business, fast-moving and highly competitive, and headed for major consolidations and shake-outs as organizations like Capstar attempt to engage fully with Fortune 500 customers and other large organizations.

 

Q: What is the current and future market status and trends of education/training within organizations, and certification with IT professionals?

 

A: Great questions. Recent studies from IDS and Foote Partners show that corporate spending on training and certification are down, but not out, and also that certification is no longer an absolute guarantee of success. Training companies in particular are hard hit: most report revenues are down by 40%, many report they’re down by 50% or more since the certification heyday of 1998-2000.

Today, things are tough all over—with the possible exception of information security jobs, but even there I’ve read recent reports from highly qualified professionals who’ve had trouble finding work—so IT professionals are seeking to preserve and protect their current positions as much as they can. Until the economic recovery changes status from “jobless” to “we’re hiring” I expect the training and certification markets to stay flat and slow.
 

This argues strongly that employers and employees alike should engage in some old-fashioned ROI analysis on training and certification before spending any money on same. Employees will have to convince employers that real ROI exists in any case, as managers will have to convince their superiors and boards that line items in their budgets for training and certification are still warranted.
 

There’s a move afoot, toward performance based certification away from rote memorization or straight “fact recitation” in many certification programs, including most leading ones. Performance-based certification stresses testing real world experience and skills. As such, it offers much better potential ROI on training and certification than older models and methods ever could (while neatly doing away with so-called “paper certifications”). In many ways, I see this as essential to securing the ongoing viability of training and certification in a lean, mean marketplace.

 

Q: Could you share your study recommendations with our audience?

 

A: In brief they would be as follows:

1) Make sure you research the subject matter background sufficiently to understand all relevant basic concepts and terminology before diving into the details.

2) Let the exam objectives guide your studies, and use them to compile materials that will let you get comfortable with all the information and activities involved.

3) Use practice tests to help assess your exam readiness and keep working with same until your exam scores exceed required passing scores by at least 5%.

4) Get as much relevant hands-on experience as you can while studying for your exams.

 

For more specific advice, I (and sometimes others) do write regular study guides on certification programs for Certification Magazine (www.certmag.com). Each of these has a study strategies section and can provide lots more details on how to prepare for exams in these programs (in the past two years, they’ve covered all the majors and many minors).

 

Q: Describe what you consider to be important technologies, their pros and cons, trends and any recommendations?

 

A: I assume you’d like my answer to pertain to IT certification, so that’s how I’ll respond. I think simulations, online labs, and other ways to interact with systems and tools are the best thing to hit certification in years, and recommend such tools highly. Here again, I’ve written in detail on this topic for Certification Magazine (“Garnering Experience with Labs and Simulations” http://www.certmag.com/issues/aug02/dept_learntools.cfm) so you may want to check that story out as well.

 

Q: What about vendors—where is the market going and who are the winners and losers?

 

A: Although the numbers won’t support this for a while, I believe it’s just a matter of time before Cisco takes the top spot in the IT certification market. Other topics on the way up include wireless, security, and ERP. Web technologies in general and related e-commerce and programming stuff in particular seem to have taken a major hit since the dot com bubble burst (though Prosofttraining surprised the heck out of me by announcing their first profitable quarter in 2 years during the first week of October; see http://www.certcities.com/editorial/news/story.asp?EditorialsID=506 for coverage).

 

Q: What are your top recommended resources for both businesses and IT professionals?

 

A: As the series editor for Exam Cram 2 and Training Guides from Que Certification, I hope I can be allowed to stand behind my work and recommend it to others. Beyond that, I’m sold on information available from CertCities.com, CramSession.com, GoCertify.com, and lots of other per-topic specialists.

 

Q: Can you make a prediction about the next “killer app?”

 

A: Jokingly, my answer is: “If I could do that, I could retire soon.” My more serious answer is that I think systems and apps are going to start paying ever more attention to their user’s behaviors and preferences and customize themselves to meet specific needs and supply desired characteristics. If I could have any killer app I wanted it would be a personal information management tool that would let me catalog, organize, and search or easily reference all the different sources I work with daily and all the writing work I do. Alas, I’m not aware of any such thing that’s tailored for individual or small scale use, and full-blown content management systems are beyond my means (and take too much time to learn and use properly at the personal level).

 

Q: If you were doing this interview, what three questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your answers?

 

A: Q1: Is certification important or worthwhile?
A1: Yes, but you have to make of it what you can, particularly in garnering experience and developing usable skills. It’s also essential to learn how to talk about what you know and what you can do in a way that makes sense to prospective employers, HR professionals, and hiring managers.
 

Q2: Which is more important, certification or a college degree?
A2: This could easily be a trick question, but the answer (according to most employers) is “both!”. A college degree is good because it lasts for life (you don’t have to renew it before it expires or worry about continuing education units) and demonstrates basic learning skills and the ability to reach long-term goals. Certification is good because it demonstrates current knowledge, skills, and interests, and demonstrates the ability to reach medium- to short-term goals. But when faced with otherwise identical candidates, certification only matters if the holder can talk intelligently about why it’s valuable to the job her or she is pursuing.

Q3: Which is better, certification or experience?
A3: Without a doubt, experience beats certification hands-down—especially relevant experience that speaks directly to specific job knowledge, needs, and skills. Don’t neglect the experience factor as you prepare for certifications (this is why I always say it’s important to be able to tell others what you know and what you can do). Go out of your way to garner experience when you can, and document it so you can talk about it later.

 

Q: Do you have any more comments to add?

 

A: For a great general overview of certification read my book IT Certification Success (with co-author Kim Lindros, Que Certification, 2003, ISBN: 0789729237). For the best possible self-education on certification topics, read Certification Magazine regularly, and stay tuned to CertCities.com and GoCertify.com. My certification coverage at InformIT.com is also pretty good, too.

 

Q: Thank you again for your time, and consideration.

 

A:  You’re welcome; glad to be of service.


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