Locating Print and Online Study Aids

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I recently received a letter from a despondent reader about dismal job prospects. He said he had a degree in CIS and A+, Network+ and MCP certs. After a long and apparently fruitless search for a rewarding job in programming, he seemed ready to give up. “I’ve almost decided that being over 45 and wanting a full career is hopeless in IT. Am I right?” he wrote.


Well, no, not exactly. The lack of job security, frequent scarcity of job opportunities and quick-changing nature of the field can be frustrating and understandably so. Yet today’s technology professionals are very fortunate. They live in a time when it’s never been easier to locate the tools they need to broaden their skills and knowledge. A multiplicity of training vendors offer IT pros a wealth of highly focused and engaging electronic and print content. Plus, there’s a wide variety of training materials available for free on the Web and in local libraries. These can help you prepare for certifications that will enhance your career prospects.


The availability of quality learning content serves as a ballast to all of the issues—outsourcing, cost-cutting, obsolescence and so forth—that can make employment in the IT industry problematic. These training tools can help IT professionals adapt to changing business environments, thereby keeping themselves employable even as the sands of technology shift violently below their feet. Here are a couple of pointers to keep in mind as you seek out the resources that will keep you in the game:


First, a quick lesson on libraries. You’d be surprised what your local library has, especially if you live in a major city. Go to the main branch of that library system (it usually has the most books by far) and gape in awe at the shelves of books on the subject of technology. Or, if you have a major university nearby, go to its main library.


Most of these larger libraries operate on the Library of Congress’ classification system, as opposed to the more well-known Dewey decimal system, which means all technology subjects fall under section “T”—easy enough to remember, right? To be more specific, information technology topics fall between the range of T58.5 and T58.64. That span probably doesn’t seem too broad. All I can say is: prepare to be surprised. Also, other themes peripheral to IT are located within this T section. For example, technical education can be found between T61 and T173. Telecommunications, which seems to merge more and more with IT every day, is in subset TK (specifically, TK5101-TK6720). For more information on this system, visit http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/lcco_t.pdf.


You’ll find a wealth of resources online, too. However, it can be a little trickier to find quality study aids on the Web. Much of the information on the Internet is circumstantial, prejudicial, dated or just flat-out wrong. You’ve got to look at many of the sites you visit with an extremely critical eye and evaluate them thoroughly before trusting them as a reliable source.


To begin with, make sure your searches are as focused as possible. If you’re looking for information on Google, MSN, Yahoo! or any of the bigger search engines, make sure to use specific words and phrases. For instance, if you’re hunting for information on relational databases, use the search term “relational database” instead of the more general “database.” Also, if you’re studying a subject that has multiple meanings in different fields—say “security” or “storage”—you might want to skip the big search engines altogether and try looking via smaller sites’ search functions. Our own Web site (www.certmag.com) has a feature called Certscope that’s an excellent example of this.


Additionally, avoid brain dumps. Aside from the inherent problems with using a resource employed by cheaters, the fact is that the information contained therein is often undependable. Do you know how they got those answers, and when? Is that the latest version of the exam? Would you stake your career on it? It’s better to stick to sites run by reliable, well-known institutions. They have an incentive to offer accurate data because if they should provide you with erroneous information, you’ll have financial, legal and/or social recourses for dealing with them.


Happy hunting!

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