If you are in the IT industry, most likely you will need to keep up with technology by obtaining a certification, attending a product training, attending a boot camp or a combination of these. I’ve gone through many different programs and have a few lessons learned that could help you with your future education planning.
First off, choosing a certification path can be challenging if you are not sure what skills you should invest in obtaining. If you are not being assigned training and need advice, it is best to look on LinkedIn for jobs you eventually take on and see if there is a common certification requirement or asking somebody that has that job about certification recommendations. If you work with a popular vendor product line, speak with your solution provider and see what training is available to make you an expert. Specializing in a technology will most likely make you more valuable. For example, a general routing and switching skill will most likely not be as valuable as a firewall security specialist or collaboration VoIP expert.
When considering exams, know how long the exam certification period is and what is required to maintain certification status. Many exams are moving towards an annual fee and activity credit requirement meaning you have to pay anywhere from $100 and higher every year as well as submit activities that relate to the exam. For example, you have to attend conferences, speak at events, read books, attend future classes to earn enough activity credits per year. I’m lucky enough that my employer pays these fees for me since I have a few of these requirements. Also try to find something you are passionate about. I’ve taking all sorts of exams and the ones that were around something I was interested in were the best experience. I’ve tried to force myself to take boring exams and many times I give up due to other obligations. Don’t lie to yourself about preparing for an exam. Book the study time in your calendar and do it or give up.
One final tip is to make sure the exam is not about to expire or be replaced. Typically exam material is updated every 1-3 years so it would suck if you spend four months preparing for a exam and find the entire thing has changed by the time you are ready to take the exam. On the flip side, it would also suck to train and take an exam that just came out meaning you are not sure if what you are studying is the best material. Try to target a middle ground between the exam being too new or old.
When considering a training class or boot camp, the first thing to be aware of is ALL TRAINERS ARE NOT THE SAME! You need to consider best value as well as cost or you may find you are wasting your money. Large training providers don’t mean they offer more than smaller providers. In my experience, larger providers tend to actually offer less value. Reason why is smaller providers tend to guarantee the class, have better trainers, offer more material and provide more customer care. Some things to watch out for are
- Some larger providers will offer a lot of classes however they are not guaranteed! They offer a class with the goal of “hoping” to fill enough seats and will quickly cancel the class if they don’t meet that goal. I’ve had a situation where I paid for a class and had it plus 4 future classes in other cities cancel. I had to eventually fly (on my dollar) to another city and stay in a hotel (on my dollar) just to attend the class. BTW that class was also one of the worst I’ve ever taken. The provider was the cheapest and now I know why. In the end, I spent the most for the class plus wasted countless hours planning for classes that cancelled.
- Some larger providers will outsource training meaning it’s a crap shoot regarding the trainer you get. I’ve had really bad teachers that just read slides and pretty much are a waste of space.
- Some training classes will offer “bonus” material that is better than the actual class. I’ve had a provider offer an additional certification that isn’t as popular as the certification I was aiming for however the material for the less popular one was really good.
- Some teachers are in the field and can provide real value while others are just contractors. Some teachers even use classes as a method to find new hires. Don’t be shy to ask your teacher about job offerings.
- I find some providers are cheap about little things. They won’t provide lunch or snacks, will contract out crappy locations for the class and don’t have a clue about customer service. I’ve taking classes that offer snacks, lunch and free after hour lab time while other classes didn’t offer anything and were hosted at a site under construction IE people are drilling in the walls next door while the teacher is trying to do their job.
So my personal recommendation is ask the following questions. You may find the provider that charges a little bit more is actually the best provider.
- Do you guarantee the class will happen or am I buying a seat for a class that needs a specific headcount to happen? If the answer is its not guaranteed, you probably want to consider another provider. Don’t let them talk around it meaning “oh its almost guaranteed to happen”. I’ve heard that and had the class cancel.
- Who is the teacher and do they have references? I’ve had classes with teachers that have published books on the topic. Those are the best classes since you know you are getting the right guy.
- The boot camp / class if for ***** however what other material is included? What makes your class better than my other options? Are there additional training, workshops, etc.?
- Is the exam fee included? Many boot camps include this. Also ask if they provide the test the last day or if you need to go to a testing center.
- Shop around and if you find an offering that is much cheaper, share this info with the better value provider. You may find they can cut some costs or comp something such as provide a free hotel. I had one provider provide a hotel room since they host the class out of the hotel and have a block of rooms that are use or lose. They were more than happy to comp that for me.
- Ask your employer if they have any deals worked out with certain training providers. Larger companies tend to have account managers from the larger providers that can help you.
NOTE: This can be a trap as well! I’ve had a few situations where I was forced to use a larger training provider that offered very little value. If the company provided options are weak, work with the one you want by assisting with getting them on your company approval list. It may be a little extra legwork but I’ve found its worth it verses taking a crappy class.
- See if any peers are interested in similar classes. You could also ask your boss to reach out to other people or groups in your organization for people that would join you in the class. Having a few people taking a class gives you buying power with a training provider. Also some providers may offer a special training for your organization at a discount if a specific number of people want to take the class.
- Search for promotions around holidays and the end of the year. Most providers have quotas to meet so typically you will find sales such as end of the year discounts for classes. You could also ask a provider to keep you on a mailing list if a class is currently too expensive so you get a ping when a promotion becomes available. They probably know what type of promotions will become available if you ask them.
The last topic to mention is brain dumps. For those that don’t know, there are companies that provide a copy of the exam or similar questions to what is found on the exam. If you are using such sources, make sure you actually learn the material. Hopefully these sources are testing your knowledge of what was learned after a training course however be aware that exams are designed to test your capabilities and knowledge of a topic. Brain dumps may help with entry level exams however anything meaningful will require learning the material so why cheat during the foundations for something you will need to learn later for the harder exams? Spend the time and learn the material unless you just don’t care about the exam IE you are being assigned / forced to do it.
Hope these tips help you with your training journey.