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Why IT Certifications Matter

Pop quiz: What do CCNA, MCSE, and VCP stand for? If you don’t know, there’s a good chance one of two things eventually will happen: You’ll have one or more of those acronyms after your name, or 3/14/2013 12:40 PM Eastern

Why IT Certifications Matter

Mar 14, 2013 4:40 PM, By Tim Kridel




Pop quiz: What do CCNA, MCSE, and VCP stand for? If you don’t know, there’s a good chance one of two things eventually will happen: You’ll have one or more of those acronyms after your name, or you might be out of a job.

Short for Cisco Certified Network Associate, CCNA is an entry-level certification that says you know how to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size routed and switched IT networks. Those skills are valuable for AV integrators because signage, surveillance, and other AV applications increasingly run over IT networks.

“The AV and IT merge has already happened, and now Cisco is a videoconferencing supplier,” says Vince Faville, account relationship manager at Video Visions, which specializes in videowalls. “It is becoming essential to understand how Cisco currently fits in the AV ecosystem as the IT director is becoming more involved in the AV decision. The AV integrator needs to understand and be able to explain the ramification of AV on the network.”

No one is saying that CCNA, Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) or Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) will elbow out the CTS or DCSE that many AV pros have after their name. Instead, the consensus is that IT certifications are increasingly important for everything from establishing credibility with a client to career advancement.

“Many times now, the IT staff within a company are in charge of the AV systems,” says Darren Cheshier, Clockworks Consulting Services’ owner. “Also, it’s nearly mandatory for AV systems to be a part of the building network to allow for remote support and service.

“AV personnel must be able to communicate with the IT department in terms they can understand. AV companies must be able to answer, ‘How will this equipment affect my network, and how much bandwidth will it use?’”

IT tools automate a lot of processes for analyzing and troubleshooting networks, but their effectiveness depends on the skills of the people using them.

“Typically we use software tools like Wireshark, Wi-Spy, and AirPcap, but these require the dealer to know about hardware, as well,” says Nic Scott, Crestron’s solutions manager. “[For example,] what is the difference between a switch and a hub, or what is the difference between a monitor port and a network tap?

“There’s a lot to know, and many times it’s onsite learning. But you can prepare yourself for that onsite learning by understanding the terms and technologies that are available.”


Why IT Certifications Matter

Mar 14, 2013 4:40 PM, By Tim Kridel




INTEGRATOR KNOWLEDGE NECESSARY

In the past, having a few people on staff with IT credentials could help an AV integrator stand out from its competition. Now it’s become almost table stakes, especially with IT integrators muscling into markets such as digital signage and videoconferencing. So it’s surprising how many AV integrators—both individually and the companies they work for—aren’t flocking to IT certification classes.

“This transition has been in the works for years, and I haven't seen the urgency from the industry to move in this direction—especially the integrators,” Cheshier says. “Currently only the larger integrators have started to move in this direction. Mid- and small-size integrators haven't seen the light yet.”

That could hurt them in more ways than one. From a revenue perspective, for example, certifications could provide the credibility necessary to access AV gear remotely via the client’s IT network. Without that credibility, it can be difficult or impossible to upsell that customer on professional services that require remote access.

From a brand perspective, the IT staff’s cooperation can ensure the kind of remote access necessary to identify and fix problems before they become noticeable to the client. In an industry as competitive as pro AV, reputation can make or break a sale.

“In my personal experience, the ability to understand and communicate properly with IT professionals has been absolutely essential to supporting and maintaining client relationships,” says David Judy, director of technical operations at Technical Innovation, an integrator specializing in video. “Having the ability to interface and connect with the IT professionals I worked with resulted in relationships based on trust and respect.

“The IT teams we work with became more willing to provide remote access into their systems allowing us to provide a level of support that would have never been possible otherwise.”

10 CERTIFICATIONS TO CONSIDER

Sound & Video Contractor surveyed a variety of vendors, integrators, and trade associations to identify which IT certifications are worth pursuing. Not surprisingly, multiple Cisco certifications made the cut.

“A CCNA or a CCNP will get you 95 percent of the way on everything I’ve ever dealt with on the AV side,” says Paul Richardson, IT director at Conference Technologies. “The reason why the Cisco certs are so relevant is even if it’s not a Cisco router, switch or firewall, since Cisco is so prevalent, you can extrapolate the rest. If you happen to find yourself on a Juniper or ADTRAN or something, if you’ve got that Cisco background knowledge, you’ll get all the concepts.”

Sometimes the client’s needs determine which certifications to start with. “Find out what sort of certifications are being required of anyone that is working on that network in their facility,” says Chuck Wilson, National Systems Contractors Association’s (NSCA) executive director. “The clients are starting to specify what certifications you must have to do work in their place.”

Here are the certifications that ranked the highest. They’re listed in (mostly) alphabetical order because the value of each one depends partly on the types of IT skills you’re looking to add.

Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

Cisco says this program is for entry-level network engineers—people with one to three years of experience—who want the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size routed and switched networks.

“CCNA is a recognized baseline for understanding and configuring IP networks,” Judy says. “This certification covers the essentials needed to understand STP, routing protocols and VLANS, among other things.”

Like many Cisco certifications, CCNA has a few specialties and related programs. “Cisco also has the CCNA Video and Cisco Video Network Specialist programs available to AV integrators,” says Blair Conley, director, video go-to-market, Cisco Worldwide Channels.

For more information about CCNA, visit www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna/index.html. For Cisco Video Network Specialist, visit https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/video/video_network_specialist.

Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)

Officially there’s no prerequisite for CCNA, but Cisco and others say the CCENT certification can be helpful.

“The CCNA curriculum is not easy and can be very difficult for someone new to information technology systems,” Judy says. “These certifications are valuable regardless of the network infrastructure manufacturer, but I recommend finding a Cisco Certified Training Partner to assist with training and preparation.”

AV pros often start with CCENT when they begin adding IT certifications. “CCENT is Cisco’s entry-level certification and covers a body of knowledge that is roughly analogous to [CompTIA] Network+,” says Melissa Taggart, InfoComm International’s senior vice president for education and certification.

For more information about CCENT, visit www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/entry/ccent/index.html.

Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

CCNP covers the planning, implementation, and troubleshooting of local- and wide-area enterprise networks. It also provides the skills necessary to work with specialists—such as the client’s IT staff—on advanced security, voice, wireless, and video solutions. Cisco recommends having at least one year of networking experience.

For more information, visit http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/professional/ccnp/index.html.

Cisco Certified Design Associate (CCDA)

CCDA covers the skills required to design basic campus, data center, security, voice, and wireless networks.

“CCDA helps AV integrators understand the proper architecture and design of an IP network,” Judy says.

For more information, visit http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccda/index.html.

CompTIA Network+

The Computing Technology Industry Association’s Network Plus certification is another common entry-level program. It covers network technologies, installation and configuration, media and topologies, management, and security.

“Many AV professionals are already pursuing certifications such as CompTIA Network+ in order to gain a better grasp of the IT systems we interface with,” Judy says. “This certification is a great starting place for AV professionals who need to build a foundational knowledge of the networks we interface with.”

“It’s a good basic certification,” Wilson adds. “That’s the one I suggest people start with.”

CompTIA Network+ also is a prerequisite option for joining the Apple Consultants Network. That makes it worth considering if you work in higher ed, where faculty and students frequently expect to be able to use their iOS or Mac device for presentations. Apple hardware also is increasingly common in the enterprise market, thanks partly to the growing number of companies with bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies.

“The leading BYOD [product] is some form of an Apple device,” Wilson says. “This certification can get you started toward understanding the issues of BYOD in a networked environment.”

For more information, visit http://certification.comptia.org/getCertified/certifications/network.aspx.


Why IT Certifications Matter

Mar 14, 2013 4:40 PM, By Tim Kridel




Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)

MCSA is an example of how unified communications is blurring the lines between AV and IT.

“MCSA can be a valuable certification for a variety of reasons,” Judy says. “Many of the monitoring, scheduling, and asset management solutions we provide today require a Windows Server and in some cases an SQL Server.

“The setup and configuration of these applications in a server environment, with communication between multiple servers oftentimes necessary, can be a daunting task for even the most adept AV professional. Add Lync, Jabber, and other enterprise applications in the mix and it becomes difficult to even have a conversation with a client if your team is not well trained and prepared for the plethora of complexities involved.”

MCSA also is worth considering because it’s a prerequisite to MCSE.

For more information, visit http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/mcsa-certification.aspx.

Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE)

MCSE is a family of eight certifications, many of which are relevant to AV applications. For example, MCSE: Private Cloud could be useful for cloud-based video services.

For more information, visit http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/mcse-certification.aspx.

VMware Certified Professional – Cloud (VCP)

VCP-Cloud also can be useful for working in cloud-based AV environments, including public, private, and hybrid architectures. This certification covers the installation, configuration, and administration of a cloud environment using vCloud Director and related components.

“The way the industry is moving, I’d say that two years from now, those Microsoft and VMware certifications are going to be as relevant or more relevant than the Cisco certs,” Richardson says.

For more information, visit http://mylearn.vmware.com/mgrReg/plan.cfm?plan=32558&ui=www_cert.

BACK TO SCHOOL?

There’s no shortage of places where AV pros can get certified.

“You can’t go to a bookstore without tripping over a couple of books for these certifications,” Richardson says. “You register to take these courses through Microsoft or Cisco, and on their websites, they have a list of testing centers. The testing centers typically also are training centers.”

Those centers aren’t limited to major cities.

“Every city has a place where you can send your employees during the day or even at night to get these network certifications,” Wilson says.

Community and online colleges are two other common options.

“DeVry is possibly a good resource,” Cheshier says. “They are teaming up with companies like Cisco and Microsoft to customize their curriculum so that students can easily pass the certification tests.”

Network+ is an example of how certs often have multiple training options. “CompTIA does not offer its own training for Network+ certification, but training is available from a wide variety of third-party vendors, in a wide array of formats,” Taggart says. “You can easily find books, online courses, and classroom courses for Network+ exam preparation with a simple Internet search.

“Instruction styles may differ wildly, but the content will be the same. Choose the preparation method that suits your learning style.”

Finally, if you’re heading to a major tradeshow, check to see if there are any IT certification classes.

“Increasingly, tradeshows such as ISE and InfoComm are offering excellent learning opportunities,” Conley says. “But we are just seeing the beginning of that trend.” One example is InfoComm’s new Networking Technology course, which debuts online this spring at the organization’s annual show.

“InfoComm does not offer a Network+ prep course, but most of the content on the Network+ exam content outline is covered, from an AV perspective, in Networking Technology,” Taggart says. “Networking Technology will also be offered as a classroom course during the preconference education at this year’s InfoComm Show in Orlando. ”

Familiar Ground

If your background is in AV rather than IT, and you want to start on familiar ground, here are three additional options.

CEDIA Networking Theory and Practice

This three-day course has been around for a while, but this year, it’s taught by Cisco-certified trainers and held at Birmingham City University in the UK. By the end of the course, attendees should be able to implement TCP/IP connected hardware in 95 percent of residential installations, CEDIA says. They also get 21 CEDIA educational unit points.

The course covers topics such as 802.11 wireless networking, router configuration, VPNs, segmentation and subnets. Attendees also learn how to define an IP addressing scheme for a project and perform basic troubleshooting tasks on LANs.

Pricing: About $833 for members and $1,090 for non-members.

For more information, visit www.cediaeducation.com/courses/networking.

InfoComm Networking Technology

This course provides renewal units that are good for all CTS levels. It’s a prerequisite to Networked AV Systems and is intended for AV pros who design, implement, maintain or manage networked AV systems. The class covers the basics of IT and IP networking, including physical and data link layers, addressing, servers, security and troubleshooting.

Pricing: The in-person class is $950 for members and $1,350 for non-members. Online, it’s $49 and $89, respectively.

For more information, visit www.infocomm.org/cps/rde/xchg/SID-033BE67F-CB2CFA78/infocomm/hs.xsl/35557.htm.

InfoComm Networked AV Systems

This three-day course provides renewal units that are good for all CTS levels. It covers topics such as:

  • How AV applications affects enterprise networks
  • Understanding client needs for networked systems, trade-offs between quality and bandwidth, and how to navigate conflicts between network policies and customer demands
  • Software applications such as remote monitoring and management, streaming, and conferencing.

InfoComm recommends having a CTS-level understanding of AV technologies and design principles and a CompTIA Network + level of understanding of networking technologies and design principles. Or take the pretest to see if you’re ready.

The class provides renewal units that are good for all CTS levels.

Pricing: $900 for members, $1,300 for non-members

For more information, visit www.infocomm.org/cps/rde/xchg/SID-8E00D0FF-D5F99DF2/infocomm/hs.xsl/31989.htm .


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