CompTIA Certification Overview

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When it comes to serving the needs of IT professionals—especially for first-timers or those at the entry level, it’s still true that nobody does it like CompTIA. Numerous CompTIA certifications—especially A+ PC Technician and Network+—remain nearly universal, must-have credentials for hundreds of thousands of IT professionals worldwide. But there’s more to CompTIA than basic, entry-level credentials, as this overview should demonstrate. Here, our goal is to survey the complete range of CompTIA’s certification offerings and to explain not only the topics they cover, but also the benefits they offer to their holders. Table 1 provides a quick summary of CompTIA’s various credentials. (Please note that some items, such as e-Biz+ or CTT+, originated outside CompTIA; that’s why the table includes an origin column.)

Understanding CompTIA
It’s important to understand CompTIA’s organization and activities in order to understand its certifications. To begin with, CompTIA is an abbreviation for Computing Technology Industry Association. It’s a consortium, where members pay to join and participate in the design and development of various credentials. The members drive CompTIA, in the sense that they request and fund the work necessary to create or maintain its certifications. Thus, it’s entirely reasonable to view CompTIA’s offerings as credentials that are designed to serve the computing industry as a whole—which explains their strong inclination toward vendor-neutrality. It’s also reasonable to see CompTIA’s credentials as answers to perceived industry needs to assess and demonstrate key skills and knowledge in its workforce.

It’s also important to understand that the design of CompTIA exams depends on painstaking job-task analyses and interaction with key subject-matter experts (SMEs) in the topics and technologies covered. Also, CompTIA’s work proceeds “by committee,” in that self-selecting members from industry, government, academic and end-user organizations and communities choose to participate.

Previously, building a CompTIA exam took lots of time and effort. Until recently, CompTIA would typically review and revise its exams on 18- to 24-month cycles. Recently, however, it’s announced that it will start researching new questions immediately after an exam goes live and will cycle new items through their question banks on an ongoing basis. Thus, instead of massive refreshes or upgrades every other year, question banks will change incrementally all the time, so that old material can be removed as new material is added. This is much more in line with other major certification programs and should help keep CompTIA certifications more current. But exams will still occasionally need revised objectives and new exam numbers to indicate major shifts in coverage, which is why you’ll still see mention of exam upgrades here and on CompTIA’s Web site.

With this information in mind, let’s look at the 11 certifications that CompTIA currently offers (note that exams marked with an asterisk in the “Version Info” column in Table 1 have either been updated recently or will be upgraded soon).

A+ is CompTIA’s most significant and popular certification program, with more than half a million individuals now A+ certified. The A+ aims to identify qualified, knowledgeable PC technicians with six or more months of relevant experience who can handle both the hardware and software sides of PC installation, configuration, troubleshooting and support. As such, it’s a real cornerstone of the CompTIA certification program (and is recommended as a prerequisite for many other CompTIA and third-party credentials as a consequence).

Obtaining A+ certification requires passing two exams: one on core PC hardware, the other on operating systems technologies. Both sides are quite comprehensive. On the hardware side, topics covered include everything from basic PC installation, configuration and upgrade to diagnosing and troubleshooting hardware, as well as preventive maintenance for PCs. Other key hardware topics include coverage of system components (motherboard, processors, memory and so forth) and printers, plus basic networking concepts, interfaces and components. The operating system exam covers OS fundamentals, OS installation, configuration and upgrades, as well as diagnosing and troubleshooting OS and software problems. As on the hardware side, the OS side covers software topics related to networking as well.

Some experts argue that A+ is a basic requirement for any savvy IT professional who works with PCs. Whether your take is pro or con on that subject, there’s no arguing that A+ is among the most prevalent of all IT certifications and remains an enduring topic of great interest and attention. An upgrade to the current objectives (and a revision to both exams) is scheduled for November 2003. For more information, visit

CDIA stands for Certified Document Imaging Architech—that is, a technician who understands the principles, practices and architectures of document imaging and document management systems. More specifically, CDIA+ candidates must understand all major topical areas and technologies related to planning, designing and specifying imaging systems. Although this is CompTIA’s oldest credential, it is not as well known as many of its other offerings. For those involved in document imaging, it’s a useful and important certification, but the total size of this population relegates this certification to niche status. For more information, visit

CTT stands for Certified Technology Trainer and is a credential originally developed by the Chauncey Group to certify individuals qualified to teach on a broad range of technical subjects. The CTT+ credential not only includes a written exam, but also requires candidates to submit a detailed application to document their teaching knowledge and experience, as well as a videotape to demonstrate their in-class teaching skills and techniques.

The CTT+ is widely recognized in the technical training industry and may be substituted for vendor “train the trainer” credentials in programs from companies such as Adobe, Netscape, Autodesk, Lotus, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle and Sun, among others. Because the CTT+ permits individuals to train in numerous programs and also costs less than many of the vendors’ own “train the trainer” programs, it’s an excellent value and a highly prized certification. Estimates of the size of the CTT+ population range from 45,000 to 55,000. It’s a good credential for active technical trainers. Please note that CompTIA revised the objectives for the CTT+ program on Sept. 9, 2003, and that all new candidates must test against these new objectives. For more information, visit

Of course, e-Biz is an abbreviation for electronic business and describes the general subject matter for this exam. It’s aimed at both technical and non-technical professionals who work in or around some kind of e-business environment. Thus, the exam focuses on individual knowledge and understanding of basic concepts, processes and technologies related to e-business activities. Topics covered not only include important e-business initiatives and implementation issues as well as technical elements in an e-business infrastructure, but also key needs analysis, planning and pure business considerations.

Business and technical professionals who seek to plan, design, implement, maintain or use e-business tools and technologies should find the e-Biz+ exam interesting. Unlike other CompTIA exams, this exam was purchased from the Gartner Institute in 2001 and ref

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