On the ground with TestOut Conference 2014
If you’ve had your eye on the Certification Magazine Twitter feed this week, then it won’t surprise you to hear that our team recently attended the fourth annual TestOut Conference, held this year at Solitude Mountain Resort, nestled amid the heavily forested summits east of Salt Lake City, Utah. TestOut is a global certification company that markets simulation-based certification training software, as well as sponsoring its own certification program. TestOut’s Pro series of certs includes the likes of PC Pro, Network Pro, Security Pro and more.
The conference welcomed attendees at an evening mixer on Tuesday before getting down to the serious business of discussing certification Wednesday morning. Developer Don Whitnah opened the day’s presentations by previewing TestOut’s upcoming product releases, including a long-in-the-works HTML5 overhaul. What Whitnah really wanted to talk about, however, is a problem that makes key personnel at every IT company in America lie awake at night.
“Over the next 12 months,” Whitnah said, “TestOut will have to update every product we sell.”
Gone are the days of releasing a product that stays on the market for three to five years, or even two to three years. Whitnah pointed out that the most recent major upgrade to Google’s popular Chrome web browser was released … June 10. The challenge for TestOut and other certification providers is to keep existing products current, while still finding the time to explore new ideas.
The next presenter was one of our own, Certification Magazine executive editor Rocky Steele, who told the crowd of mostly IT educators that the market for current and first-time IT job seekers is looking bullish. The overall IT employment outlook is still iffy in some respects, as remains true of the broader economic recovery, but IT hiring is getting stronger, and the demand for certification is keeping pace.
Steele also disclosed some tidbits from the early stages of our latest Salary Survey PLUS, which is focused on the Cisco line of certifications. Among the developing trends, nearly 43 percent of those surveyed believe that having a Cisco certification was either an “influential” or “very influential” factor in landing their current job. Additionally, 55 percent of respondents say that they use skills learned or enhanced by getting a Cisco certification at least several times a day, with an additional 22 percent relying on those skills several times a week.
New Jersey educator Joseph Ramm, an IT instructor at Passaic County Technical Institute, energized the crowd with his presentation about motivating students. Ramm said that Al Pacino gets him fired up — and his uncanny Pacino impersonation drew a big laugh — but since there aren’t enough Hollywood actors for every classroom in America, he had some other ideas as well. For one, Ramm said, it’s important to identify whether students are intrinsically motivated (driven by curiosity, love of learning, personal sense of accomplishment, etc.) or extrinsically motivated (driven by a desire to get good grades, earn a perfect test score, make lots of money, and so forth).
Ramm said that students also respond to challenges, and that he’s had success getting them invested in his subject by, so to speak, throwing them to the wolves on the first day of class. He keeps old computers on hand and welcomes new students by telling them to take the computers apart … then put them back together, if they can.
The first day ended with TestOut marketing director Ladd Timpson introducing TestOut’s new partner program, aimed at promoting the Pro certification line by rolling out enhancements like instructor certification, and certification ID cards. Following lunch, afternoon and evening activities in the surrounding outdoor splendor, including an action-packed road trip to the Utah Olympic Park in nearby Park City, left conference attendees both energized and exhausted. (Extrinsically motivated hikers on the slopes above the resort were rewarded by the sight of a young bull moose resting on the shore of a tiny mountain pond.)
Despite the evening workout, nearly everyone seemed to be in attendance on the second day of seminars and presentations on Thursday, which was kicked off by Brian Gall, director of IT education at Berks Technical Institute in Pennsylvania. Gall shared insights about making IT program graduates more marketable to employers, a topic that fueled a recent overhaul of the BTI tech education program.
Among other productive changes, he said, the school made IT certification a requirement for graduation, as well as requiring students to participate in the school’s tech club, repairing and upgrading computer equipment for other students, faculty and staff. Feedback from employers, Gall said, was that students who don’t have a certification don’t get jobs. Even a cert in a non-job-specific subject can be a deal-maker: Earning a certification shows the ability to focus, process new material, and make and keep commitments.
Graeme Hoinville, Coordinator, Information Technology, Richmond College, AU, gave a brief overview of Australia’s education environment and the regulations faced by training providers. The use of LabSim, specifically the Capstone exercises and the Custom Exams, allows Hoinville to perform summative assessments to prove the competency of the student’s abilities.
Presenter Robert Jorgenson, director of the cybersecurity program at Utah Valley University, said that IT professionals can have a potent influence in other ways. Jorgenson led a discussion of advisory boards composed of experienced professionals whose expertise can help an IT education program thrive, providing guidance, facilitating access to funds and equipment, arranging mentoring and volunteer jobs, and more.
The day’s presentations (including a handful not detailed here) wrapped up with a short message from TestOut CEO Noel Vallejo, who said it hasn’t been easy to stay in business 23 years, and emphasized that his company’s vision is driven by meeting the needs of certification students. “At the end of the day, I believe that we’ve survived because our attitude is, ‘We want to make your students successful,’ ” Vallejo said.