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Voice-over IP: the next big thing?

Mixing it up with voice and data certification. Training Advisor hed: Voice-over IP: the next big thing? dek: mixing it up with voice and data certification. by Molly Joss

In this column, I try to talk about major certifications that most IT workers have heard about, such as MCSE or CCIE. Once in a while, I talk about significant certifications that aren’t as well known. This is one of those times when I tell you about a nifty, yet little-known, certification program–this one from Avaya Communications.

Last November, the company, which specializes in providing mixed voice- and data-communications systems to large businesses, started building a comprehensive, skills-based certification program. Although the company is still working on the details of the upper-level certifications, you need to check out this multifaceted certification program if you’re interested in voice- and data-convergence technologies.

Avaya has chosen to emphasize skills rather than product knowledge in its certification program. I like this approach because so many of the networking and systems programs focus on a particular product. That’s great if you want to learn about that product. It’s not so great if you want to build a broad skills base that fits corporate needs. For that, you often need either multiple product certifications or a comprehensive skills-based program.

Options

The foundation certification is called Avaya Certified Associate–Communication Networking (ACACN). To obtain it, you need to pass the Associate Communication Networking exam. After you’ve tucked this certification under your belt, you can choose between the Design Track and the Implementation Track, or both. Taking both lets you move up to the level of Communication Architect. Avaya is still working on the test for this top-tier certification and expects to have it ready in 2002.

The ACACN is for all entry- to mid-level engineers who work in any IT or communications industry. Typically one to three years of experience in voice, data, or the combination is sufficient. If you have this kind of experience, you may need only a little preparation for the exam.

If you already have one of the popular networking certifications–such as MSCE, CCIE, CNE–and want to branch out or change your job focus, look closely at the ACACN. This is especially true for network-certified people who have been unable to find a job in the networking field.

The ACACN certification would be a good investment for any network or systems engineer, but is a particularly wise one for anyone who holds a certification that is about to expire. The Windows NT 4 MCSE, for example, will expire at the end of this year, so you can’t renew this certification. You could, though, apply your training and expertise to the ACACN without a lot of additional training, time, or expense.

Foundation exam

The Associate Communication Networking Exam covers network technology such as circuit and packet switching, carriers and network protocols, and industry standards. It also covers telephone terminology and principles, as well as data terminology and related standards. For a full list of what the exam covers, see the detailed exam objectives on the Avaya certification site.

To prepare for the 90-minute test, you should first take the practice exam on the Avaya Web site. See how well you do on that test before you decide what kinds of training you need. The company does not sponsor or deliver training courses, but its Web site provides many suggestions about the kinds of courses you can take and where you can find them. There are also detailed study guides available on the site.

Two tracks

Once you have passed the foundation exam, you can move on to either the design track or the implementation track. Each track has two levels: Specialist and Expert. Avaya designed these tracks to follow the typical job functions. It’s true that the people who design the system are rarely the people who implement it, so you need to choose which track suits you better.

Looking at the details of the two tracks will help you make your decision. If you’ve already started a career on one side of the house, it probably makes sense for you to keep to your established territory.

The Avaya Certified Specialist-Communications Design (ACSCD) credential is intended for IT technical folks with three to five years’ experience in the relevant technologies, such as voice, data, and networking. It is an appropriate certification for budding network planners and design specialists.

To become an ACSCD, you need to have passed the foundation exam and the Specialist Communications Design Core exam. You also need to pass one of the program’s elective exams: ConnectCenter/ CRM, Messaging Platform, or IP Telephony.

To pass the ACSCD exam, you need hands-on experience with a few of (and broad knowledge of many of) the following network-related subjects: ATM broadband, firewall design, fiber EPM, and wireless, among others. You also need to know about related standards, how to interpret design drawings, and how to make basic system-design decisions. For a full list of exam objectives and requirements, see the material on the certification on the company’s Web site.

The company is still working on the credentials for the Expert in Communications Design certification; it expects to have them ready within the next few months. However, the program is a step up from the Specialist level, and so it will probably require one core exam and two elective exams. Likewise, the Expert in Implementations program is still under development, but will be more in-depth than the Specialist credentials.

On the implementation side of the house, there is also the Specialist level and the Expert level. Although the Expert level is still under construction, the Specialist level is in move-in condition. You will need to pass the core exam and one elective exam.

To acquire the Avaya Specialist in Communications Implementation (ACSCI), you need to have a few years experience in putting together systems and networks. If you are already a network planner but have only done smaller projects, this certification should help you move up into larger projects. It can also benefit operations and technical support employees who want to get a broader view of what’s happening in their company’s systems.

The exam focuses on issues and problems that can crop up during installation, such as resolving multiple-vendor system conflicts and satisfying routing requirements. Project management questions are included in the exam as well, because implementation is project-oriented. There are more details about the exam on the Web site.

You prepare for the ACSCD and ACSCI exams in the same way as you prepare for the foundation exam. Start by taking the practice exam and then, results in hand, you can focus on filling in the gaps in your knowledge. Use the study guide and training resource materials on the Web site to help guide your learning experience.

Valuable knowledge

Even if you decide that the Avaya program isn’t for you, it’s good to know that there are options for people who have invested significant amounts of time, money, and effort into other certifications. Voice and data certifications offer a next-generation opportunity for everyone, but especially for those whose current certifications aren’t helping them get where they want to go.

Testing details

The Avaya test costs $125 and is available through VUE Testing Centers. You can retake the tests up to three times in a twelve-month period. Once you pass the exams, your certification is good for two years. The program is so new that the company has not released recertification exams, but you’d need to take one to recertify.

Once you have passed the foundation exam, you have access to a special area of the company’s Web site that is reserved for certificants only. There you can look at information and updates about the program. The company also intends to post information about special events and activities available to certificants.

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