I teach the Innovate Birmingham Generation Initiative CompTIA A+ boot camp. As part of taking on that role, I recently wrote and passed both of the CompTIA A+ exams.

Why the CompTIA A+ exam?

The A+ is an entry-level tech industry certification that verifies that you meet a certain level of knowledge about computing hardware, operating systems, peripherals, and networking. It has two parts; the 220-901, which focuses on hardware, and the 220-902, which focuses on operating systems, networking, security and the command line(s).

Aplus Logo Certified CE

See? I earned a thing!

If you have been working with Windows computers for while, have learned how to work at the command line, and have been working doing computing support, it will take you a week or so of study after work to prepare for each exam. If you’ve been using Windows (and a smart phone) but haven’t stepped into the back end or explored some of the finer points of the operating system, it will take you longer – but with persistence and focus, it’s completely doable.

Currently, in Alabama (especially in Birmingham), there are more jobs open where the certification is requested than there are people looking for work who hold it. Demand is expected to grow. Entry level positions are usually as a computer support specialist, with progression to system or network administrators, or to business analyst (usually other areas of education or knowledge) common. If you’re willing to put in the time and work (40 – 60 hours for someone with experience, up to 240 hours for someone new to tech), this certification opens doors. The CompTIA website has a career path roadmap PDF available for download. If you have other qualifications as well, it can be the start of a well-paid tech career.

If you are able to do so, I strongly suggest obtaining the certification prior to doing an undergraduate computer science or information systems degree. Being familiar with how the hardware works gives you a framework for why you are making some programming decisions for speed and ease of processing.  Not to mention, having the certification opens doors to better paying work to help pay for your computer science studies.

If you are considering doing a computer science masters, and are coming in from a different area of study or professional background, doing this certification (and getting introduced to the command line) will ease a sometimes stiff plunge into computing concepts.

Next steps after attaining the A+ certification include studying for the CompTIA  Network+, Security+ or Linux+ exams, or starting in (as you need them in your employed role) on the Cisco exams. Ideally, you’ll need them as part of your role at work – and your employer will pay for you to take them.

Local options

Self study

If you’re disciplined and are an exploratory learner, Mike Meyers’ text, the All-in-One CompTIA A+ Exam Guide, 9th Edition, is an excellent starting point. This the most comprehensive study guide on the market today. It’s 1200 pages, is written with a sense of humor (which helps when pounding through sometimes-dry material), includes a supplementary DVD, has links to summary review material and includes a link to his Total Tester practice exams (the exams model the look and feel of the actual exam fairly closely).

You’ll want access to some old computer towers, laptops, smartphones and ethernet cabling to explore while you study – getting your hands dirty is essential to really understand this material.

Supplement with Professor Messer’s online video series, drill with Mike’s Pop Quiz practice questions, and with Exam Compass practice questions, work through practice simulations (an important part of both exams) and then practice exam questions until you are scoring well over 85% on the test material, and you should be in a good position to pass the exams on the first attempt.

Online programs

I don’t know as much about the online options, as I led my class through preparation for the exams while studying myself. The CompTIA has an online CertMaster preparation program for individuals ($140 US) as well as site licensing for companies and organizations. If looking at this option, I would expect to spend a fair amount of time studying on my own.

Lynda.com has some preparatory material, but I don’t consider it comprehensive. It’s a decent supplement to what I’ve detailed in my self-study notes.

Jefferson State Community College

Instructor-led 21-week computer technician class, in a well-equipped lab. A mix of classroom instruction and hands-on work. $1695 plus any additional community college fees.

Lawson State Community College

Instructor-led computer technician class, in a well-equipped lab. A mix of classroom instruction and hands-on work. Details on the program to come as the college catalog isn’t easily searched.

New Horizons Computer Learning Centers

The local CompTIA A+ offerings are in the form of a one-week 40-hour session. Schedule behind the link. Cost: $2750 US.

Generation Initiative IT boot camp

This is the program I teach. Part of the Innovate Birmingham initiative to grow the regional tech workforce faster, this Generation Initiative 12-week full-time boot camp for young adults ages 17-29 takes attendees from zero to IT help desk hero. We also polish their customer service skills and professional presentation. During the boot camp, students learn about computing hardware, components laptops, smartphones, introductory networking, security, are introduced to the administrative aspects of the Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1 operation systems, as well as being taught how to deal with sometimes difficult clients and customers. As I write this, we’ve just finished our first boot camp and are recruiting for the second and third ones this year.