The CompTIA A+ certification is a good place to start for people looking to pursue an IT career.

Edward Marchewka, head of information security at a large urban school district in the U.S., would certainly concur. Having earned the certification, he acknowledged that he went the route he did mainly because of business considerations.

“My specific motivation was I had started a company with a friend of mine,” he explained. “I felt it important to understand the technology better since that’s kind of what we were in. It was primarily a business driver and a requirement so that we could expand our business and continue moving forward with it.”

Earning A+ certification also gave the sort of credibility that attracts customers. In order to meet the requirements to be designated an A+ authorized service center, the company needed to ensure that a certain percentage of employees were in fact A+ certified. After the company he started with his friend closed due to the bust in 2007, the A+ certification definitely helped Marchewka find employment elsewhere.

A+

The vendor-neutral certification is required for service technicians at Dell, Intel, and Lenovo; recognized by the U.S. Department of Defence; and held by some 900,000 IT professionals, according to the CompTIA website.

In order to earn the certification, candidates need to adequately pass two exams — CompTIA A+ 220-801 and CompTIA A+ 220-802 — that cover maintenance of PCs, mobile devices, operating systems, laptops, and printers. The exams include up to 90 multiple-choice and performance-based questions. Passing scores for the 801 exam and the 802 exam are 675 on a scale of 900 and 700 on a scale of 900, respectively.

Exam Objectives

Specifically, the 801 and 802 exams, according to CompTIA’s objectives outline, measure necessary competencies for an entry-level IT professional with the equivalent knowledge of at least 12 months of hands-on experience in the lab or field.

Those who pass the tests should be able to do the following:

  • * assemble components based on customer requirements;
  • * install, configure, and maintain PCs, devices and software for customers;
  • * grasp the basics of networking and security/forensics;
  • * utilize troubleshooting skills to safely and properly diagnose, fix and document common hardware and software problems;
  • * provide customer support; and
  • * grasp the basics of virtualization, desktop imaging and deployment.

Sample Questions

Sample questions for the 801 exam include, as per the CompTIA site, the following:

Question 1

Objective: Identify types of network cables and connectors

Which of the following is the definition of an ST fiber connector?

a) Synthetic Tip
b) Standard Tip
c) Steel Tip
d) Straight Tip

Question 2

Objective: Given a scenario, demonstrate proper communication and professionalism

Customer satisfaction is best achieved by:

a) never minimizing the customer’s problems
b) being defensive
c) talking to coworkers while interacting with customers
d) being judgmental

Sample questions for the 802 exam, as per the CompTIA site, include the following:

Question 1

Which of the following does PXE use?

a) USB
b) DVD-ROM
c) CD-ROM
d) NIC

Question 2.

Which of the following application stores are compatible with iOS?

a) Android Market
b) Windows Marketplace
c) App Store
d) Amazon Appstore

Specific Jobs Requiring A+ Skill Set

The types of jobs that require having an A+ skill set include technical support specialist, IT support specialist, field service technician, IT support administrator, field service technician, and IT support technician.

Interview: A+ Certification Earner

InfoSec Institute’s Intense School recently interviewed Marchewka to get his take on the A+ certification.

Intense School: What skills are required to earn A+?

Marchewka: There are two exams. The 801 is going to be your nuts-and-bolts skill set, which is just knowing specifics of how a computer functions at its core levels—How does the processor interact with the RAM? How do the communications within the system interact? The reason this is all important to know is that it gives a good [foundation] for the 802 [exam], which is the troubleshooting section. So if you know how RAM interacts with the processor and how that all functions…you can troubleshoot a system better. And that’s another skill that’s important—being able to take a bunch of independent pieces of information and tying them together into the bigger picture to solve the problem.

Intense School: Are there any certifications that it might make sense to pursue before going after A+?

Marchewka: It’s almost your base level type….If you’re starting out, that’s going to be the key. That’s the one that I think kicks it all off. CompTIA actually has a certification roadmap … And it all starts with A+. It’s just that fundamental knowledge that people should have.

Intense School: What sorts of certifications should someone consider pursuing after A+?

Marchewka: I did Network+ right afterwards and I think that’s something else other people should consider. Get the A+ to get you your hardware, software troubleshooting basics, and it also touches a little bit on networking. But then you can do Network+ so that you get a much deeper understanding…of how to troubleshoot a network. After that [Network+], it depends on which direction you want to go in IT—if you want to go security, if you want to go server, if you want to go database.

Intense School: As important as A+ is, are there professionals who might not necessarily need that particular certification?

Marchewka: Someone who’s got 20 years of experience or a significant amount of experience probably doesn’t need it—they’ve got the experience on their resume to back it up. The A+ is going to…get you in the door. It’s not going to get you a job; it’s going to get you an interview. The A+ is great for anyone who wants to prove what they know.