Where do I start with certification? Is A+ the first certification?

This question is asked often, maybe by a new support tech or even a 10-year veteran on the help desk. So what is the answer?

 It depends. (I know I hate that answer too.)

A+ certification is a vendor-neutral certification that certifies the competency of service professionals in the computer industry. It is for anyone who wants an internationally-recognized credential as a competent computer service professional. Many of my students have the skills without a certification.

The A+ exam originally covered two objective areas: hardware and operating systems. This was (and still is) done with two exams. Each exam is $194 and may have as many as 90 questions with 90 minutes to complete. Both exams must be passed to receive the certification. The current exams cover the following:

CompTIA A+ 220-801: Covers computer technology fundamentals, such as PC installation, configuration, mobile devices, and networking as well as safety procedures and prohibited content.

CompTIA A+ 220-802: Covers installing and configuring PC and mobile operating systems, as well as common functions in networking, email, and security.

I have had students schedule both tests for the last day of class and pass both. So why?

Because they’ve had considerable experience, and they felt confident in their knowledge of the topics.

Many people who work as Help Desk and Tech Support staff have been troubleshooting and building PC’s long before they began a career. The 5-day class may serve as a refresher or expand the knowledge of those experienced students with some new details. Also, some may prefer to take part in a self-study with a good book.

How long is the certification valid?

If you earned a CompTIA A+, Network+ or Security+ certification prior to January 1, 2011, the certification is considered good for life (GFL) and does not expire. The current CompTIA A+ certification is good for three years from the day of your exam. The CE program allows you to extend your certification in three-year intervals through activities and training that relate to the content of your certification.

More info on the Continuing Education program can be found here.

The “where to start” question may also be answered by asking, “Where do I want to end up?”

Network+ may be a better start for those who are looking at network administration. Security+ may be right for those who want to focus on security career. Microsoft also offers MTA (Microsoft Technology Associate) classes and exams for those just starting out.