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Let your teacher give you an Apple

Mac certifications can help you diversify your résumé. Training Advisor

Apple Computer has a new lease on life, along with the leases on its retail stores. It has managed to redefine itself within the confines of its original persona. That’s a tough trick for any company, and Apple deserves some applause for its efforts.

I know, I know: Most of the IT world lives and breathes Microsoft these days–especially the corporate sector. The majority-rules bias can make it a little unpopular to talk about Apple, but after years of thrashing about aimlessly, the company is now worth the risk.

Apple Computer is still going strong in the educational and graphic-arts markets. As for the corporate world, there are more than a few Macs sprinkled here and there. Take a peek in your company’s advertising or design department if you don’t believe me.

As part of its makeover, Apple has changed its certification program to reflect today’s realities about how its computers are used. About six months ago, it announced two new certifications: the Apple Certified Technical Coordinator (ACTC) and the Apple Certified System Administrator (ACSA).

Before I get into the description of the two certifications, let me explain who I think is missing the boat if they don’t get serious about these certifications: Anyone who already has a certification related to the Windows operating system (or networking PCs that run the Windows operating systems) ought to consider adding one of the two new Apple certifications.

Thousands of people already have Windows certifications and thousands more will have them by the end of the year. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good certifications. I’m not criticizing anyone’s decision to acquire one or more of these. If you have one, though, you need something to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Since most computer networks and almost all wide-area networks have some Apple Computers connected in, having an ACTC or an ACSA will set you apart and get you noticed.

If you are one of the thousands who have let their main certifications lapse because they never got you where you wanted to go career-wise, take a look at the two new Apple certifications. You might find they are affordable and interesting enough to get you back on the certification track.

Details, details

Apple still is working on the exams for the ACSA. The most recent word from the company was that the exams would be available in the first quarter of 2002. Meanwhile, you can plunge right into the ACTC–the certification I think will prove to be most useful for people who already have a network or OS certification.

The ACTC is designed for people who take care of a relatively small number of Macs or who are part-time network administrators. The ACTC certifies your ability to handle security issues, tackle commonplace networking problems, and help users understand how to operate their computers.

To acquire the ACTC you must pass two exams: Mac OS X Administration Basics and Mac OS X Server Essentials. Each exam costs $150 and requires you to answer between 50 and 80 questions. You get up to 90 minutes to complete each exam. Your certification is valid until Apple comes out with new versions of the operating system.

Apple says on its Web site that the ACTC is designed for “power users within organizations who manage networks of Macintosh systems-such as teachers and school-based technology specialists.” Help-desk personnel at companies that use Macs or people who maintain computer labs are also good candidates.

If you’ve been trying in vain to get a job at a big corporation as a system or network administrator, maybe you need to shift your thinking a little. Maybe you’d find it easier to fit in at a large college or in a large public school system as a technology support person–after you get the ACTC.

Or, if you are hoping to open up your own business someday, think about a service-based operation that offers house calls for ailing Macintosh and mixed networks. Your best customers might be graphic-arts firms and small creative-service firms that can’t afford to have a staff person be their network guru.

If you work with Macintosh networks on a full-time basis, you’ll want to wait until the exams for the ACSA are finished. Apple says it designed the ACSA for professional system administrators who take care of medium to large Mac-based networks.

You have to pass four exams to obtain the ACSA certification: Mac OS X Administration Basics, Network Administration, Services Integration, and Client Management. The Administration Basics exam is the same as the one for the ACTC–the rest are new and not available yet.

The ACSA certification will not be as popular as the ACTC, but the ACSA will be valuable for those who acquire it. Since there aren’t as many Macintosh-based networks as there are Windows-based ones, it’s harder for network gurus to learn about Macintosh networks on the job. Plus, it’s harder to find people who specialize in the care and feeding of Macintosh networks. Being one of a select few can lead to bigger salaries and job security. If your business runs on Macintosh computers, who are you going to hire-someone with an MCSE or someone with an ACSA (or both)?

Training courses

I usually mention only a few details about training courses for certifications because there are so many options for most certifications. Not so for these two new certifications, partially because they are so new and partially because most training vendors are PC-focused.

Even if you are a long-time Mac expert, you will want to take the courses Apple has put together for these certifications because the courses are designed to cover everything on each exam. The courses are also designed to cover aspects of Macintosh technical support you may not have encountered on the job.

For example, the Mac OS X Administration Basics course reviews the basics of how a Macintosh network operates, but it also teaches you how to tie in new users and add peripherals. It also deals with connecting a Mac network to the outside world via the Internet.

The Server Essentials course teaches system administrators how to get the most out of the Macintosh OS X server/network, and how to blend one of these networks in with Windows and Unix-based networks. It also includes important topics such as how to establish and maintain security and how to troubleshoot mixed network environments.

If you’re just starting out, you will need to take the Administration Basics course first and then move on to the others. To do well in the Basics course, you need some experience (at least a year) working with or around networked computers (not necessarily Macintosh networks). You also, in my opinion, need to feel comfortable working with the Macintosh.

To find out more about the training courses related to the ACTC and ACSA and where you can go to take the courses, visit the Apple Web site.

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